Growing up in Germany, Josef Matosevic was drawn to a trio of separate, but equally important axioms about running a business: being part of a team, setting big goals and outworking the competition.
“I believe in putting a dirty rag in your pocket, coming in on a second shift and putting a welding helmet on,” Matosevic says. “I (also) like to work with people, I like to make things better. And I’ve always had an ability to be visionary, and see how things could be better. Back then I didn’t know how to get there.”
Now 51, Matosevic has arrived.
He utilizes all three of those principles while at the helm of one of the oldest and largest manufacturers in the region, Sarasota-based Helios Technologies. Matosevic was named CEO of the company, with $923.14 million in revenue in the past 12 months, in June 2020. Helios develops, makes, markets and sells customized electronic control systems, hydraulic cartridge valves and quick release couplings, for use in everything from tractors to boats to hot tubs. It has customers in 90 countries.
The timing of Matosevic’s CEO appointment — the culmination of 25 years of working his way up at other engineering and manufacturing firms worldwide — was dicey at Helios. For one, the pandemic was in its infancy, with uncertainty raging. Matosevic also came into the Helios role after the previous CEO, Wolfgang Dangel, was fired for what company officials called a violation of company policy and exhibiting “poor judgment involving a consensual relationship with an employee.”
Matosevic has proven to be the right leader at the right time for Helios, at least in several metrics of stock and financial performance. On the former, shares of Helios, traded on the NYSE, have increased 57% since Matosevic was named CEO, from $38.89 on June 9, 2020 to $61.29 on Aug 24. Shares have reached as high as $114.89 during Matosevic’s tenure.
The company, meanwhile, is zeroing in on hitting $1 billion in annual revenue. That would not only be a major milestone for Helios, founded in 1970 as Sun Hydraulics, but would be a significant accomplishment for a Sarasota-Bradenton company. The only other locally born company in the region with more than $1 billion in annual revenue is Venice-based impact-resistant window manufacturer PGT Innovations, with $1.16 billion in revenue in 2021. Lakewood Ranch based Roper Technologies, with $5.77 billion in revenue in 2021, moved to town in 2007.
“Our long-term goal is to build a large-cap company,” Matosevic says, which includes having market capitalization of at least $10 billion. (Its market cap was $1.96 billion through Aug. 24.) “That’s the horizon. We believe we are very well positioned to get there at the right speed, with the right people. We have a very sound balance sheet. There’s really nothing standing in the way of us continuing to grow.”
In a recent interview at a Helios office in south Manatee County, just outside the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, Matosevic expanded on his vision for Helios, his must-dos as a leader and upcoming challenges. Edited excerpts:
Why Helios: “I joined Helios because I believe in the core values and culture of the company. The culture was very strong. There were strong principles of innovation and research and development. It fits with who I am and my values. It was just a good foundation for me to build what I wanted to build.
First things: Matosevic says like many CEOs, one of his first moves was to go on a company listening tour. With far-flung facilities worldwide, in June 2020 that wasn’t such an easy task. “I used the two ears and the one mouth in the right order. I did a lot of listening and traveling and getting to know the products and the customers. Everything you usually do as a new CEO coming in but I chose to do more listening, less speaking. I learned about the good, the bad and some of the ugly. That drove a shift of thinking.”
Old days: The company name changed from Sun Hydraulics to Helios in 2018, a forward-thinking move that partially reflected something of an acquisition binge it had been on. Brands it had acquired included Enovation Controls and the Faster Group. Yet prior to Helios — Sun in Greek — the business was set up as silos.
That’s not the kind of collaborative organization Matosevic thought would be sustainable. “Helios was run more like a holding company. We acquired companies and as long as they were making money for the company we left them alone. There were only a few people allowed to talk to the subsidiaries.”
Matosevic adds that by doing it that way, Helios missed out on “close collaboration, proper leverage” and the ability to develop talent.
New days: Matosevic got to work on changing the structure and strategy. “Slowly but surely we changed the company from a holding company to an operating company. We embarked on a major vision, communicated to the Street effectively. We had some core goals.”
How to: Matosevic says at first, Helios “didn’t really have substantial plans in place,” to become an operating business. “So that drove me to bring in people across all the companies to have honest dialogue,” he says. “’Here’s where we are as a company, here’s where I believe we can have an impact by changing how we think.’ It became a collaborative effort of me accomplishing what I wanted to accomplish without forcing it into the organization. I just dropped breadcrumbs knowing exactly where I wanted to be.”
A small focused team complemented the trail of breadcrumbs, with people from each company, Matosevic says, “who cut across manufacturing operations and leveraged the good and avoided the bad.”
Find the why: Helios strategically acquired companies, but Matosevic says, “not to go to the top line. We are very capable of doing that ourselves organically. We bought the companies more for acquiring technology. That makes us very difficult to follow. We want to separate ourselves from the competition.”
Other acquisitions were to bring the acquired company’s top assets into the Helios orbit: its people. “A couple of companies we acquired had nothing to do with products,” Matosevic says, “and everything to do with acquiring talent.”
Challenging environment: Even with all the good news and things happening at Helios, Matosevic keeps one eye around the corner. “You have a major pandemic, you have tremendous cost pressures, inflation in terms of commodity prices, logistics are out of control, you have the war, you have labor shortages.”
But wait, there’s more. “What always sticks in my head is access to talent, access to labor. Growth is good but I never underestimate that it takes people, and having access to people is extremely important.”
Live and learn: Matosevic’s previous career stops include COO and interim president and CEO of New Port Richey-based commercial foodservice equipment manufacturer Welbilt and executive vice president, global operations, for specialty vehicle company Oshkosh Corp.
The biggest takeaways there and his other roles bring Matosevic back to when he was growing up, knowing he wanted to be in business, if not necessarily a CEO.
“I’ve spent a lot of time traveling the world and making mistakes — with a lot of scars on the back. You learn it all comes down to winning the hearts and minds of the people. People don’t follow companies — they follow people. If you get the right level of enthusiasm, the right level of engagement and build the right level of trust you can build an organization that can achieve anything.”
(This story was updated to reflect that one long-term goal at Helios is to reach $10 billion in market capitalization.)