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No. 25 , Richard J. Heckmann



Estimated net worth: $125 million

When Richard J. Heckmann, 62, didn’t like the direction business was going at Carlsbad-based sporting goods company K2 Inc., he found a solution. In October 2002, he leveraged a seat on the board of directors to become the chief executive officer of the firm as it teetered on the brink of bankruptcy.

With his skills and experience at acquiring small companies and consolidating, Heckmann raised money and pushed the company towards better supplying customers with what they came for. Before he took over at K2, the company made skis but not the poles , a companion product that seemed incredibly obvious to Heckmann.

An extraordinary entrepreneur with a gift for recognizing what to do next, Heckmann’s penchant for building a big company through acquisition and consolidation has served him well.

Although he hardly needs the work, Heckmann has pushed K2 net sales to $1.3 billion for the fiscal year that ended in February, from $582 million four years earlier. Earning $1.29 million as the company’s chief executive officer, Heckmann also exercises his stock options and has acquired 60,000 shares of the company stock in the past two years.

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Heckmann sealed his wealth in the 1990s, when he founded the Pennsylvania-based water purification firm U.S. Filter with the realization that many companies, ranging from Coca-Cola to Intel Corp., depend on clean, pure water to produce their products.

He set out to build the nation’s largest filtered water company, acquiring several hundred small companies, and pushing revenues from $17 million in 1990 to $5 billion in 1999. He also attracted the interest of the French conglomerate, Vivendi S. A., which acquired U.S. Filter for $8.2 billion , about $100 million of which Heckmann landed, including $66 million in cash.

A graduate of the University of Hawaii, Heckmann served in Vietnam and studied small company management at Harvard University.

During the Jimmy Carter presidential administration, he served as the associate administrator for finance and investment of the Small Business Administration in Washington, D.C., where he oversaw the SBA’s small-business lending and venture capital investments. He’d already made his first million by then, by building the era’s largest prosthetic devices company and selling it to a larger medical corporation.

He is also one of about a dozen investors who bought the Phoenix Suns basketball team in 2004.

Heckmann spreads his wealth , and knowledge , around. Last year, he donated $6 million to UC Riverside to build the International Center for Entrepreneurial Management , named the Heckmann Center , under construction on a 20-acre parcel in Palm Desert, where he lives. He plans to teach and to generate support for the center.

“Some of the nation’s most talented entrepreneurs and business leaders live or spend time in Coachella Valley,” Heckmann wrote in a university press release sent to other CEOs. “Many are volunteering to work with Heckmann Center students to enrich their educations.”

, Marty Graham

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