Class of 2016
By Vicki Ikeogu
Originally published: Jan. 8, 2017
SARTELL — From cars and boats to butterfly valves and flow control systems, manufacturing has played a major role in Bryan Burns's life.
"It started very young," Burns said. "When we lived in Singapore, we had a Saturday routine with dad where he would take my younger brother and I to the ... radio factory for General Motors vehicles." His father was a GM executive.
"Every Saturday morning we went and we stopped in the factory, we did a tour, and then it was on to McDonald's."
It was a fascination with how basic things were made and the processes behind them that lead Burns to, in part, follow in his father's manufacturing footsteps.
With successful careers at Eastman Kodak in Rochester, New York, and Knoxville, Tennessee's Brunswick Corp., Burns thought the move to Central Minnesota to oversee a Crestliner facility in Little Falls was only going to be temporary. A stepping stone onto bigger and better things.
"We thought we were moving here for two to three years," Burns said. "And we just never left."
Six years ago, the former chief executive of Crestliner was recruited to join the manufacturing leadership team at Sartell-based DeZURIK. With a passion for performance and innovation, Burns assumed full leadership of the company in September 2013. He has been committed to expanding the company's international presence along with acquiring new product lines and developing more efficient customer service capabilities.
It is his commitment to growing local manufacturing that has earned Burns a spot in the 5 Under 40 Class of 2016. Burns recently sat down with the Times to talk about his plans both with DeZURIK and in the community he has grown to love.
Question: What about DeZURIK really prompted you to come from your job as a chief executive in Little Falls to the Sartell manufacturing company?
Answer: Couple things. First and foremost was the team. When I was recruited, the team really impressed me. And that included (owner) Granite Equity (Partners) as part of that leadership team. It's a terrific brand. The DeZURIK brand is among the best in the world at what we do. So there was this great legacy. And it was very close by. I lived in Sartell the whole time I was working in Little Falls. And then the last part of it was really the fact that DeZURIK is privately held and it was more balanced in terms of what we wanted to accomplish as a business, what we wanted to accomplish in the community and what we wanted to do for employees.
Q: In your three-plus years as president and CEO of DeZURIK, what role have you played in helping the Sartell-based company grow?
A: First challenge was much of the leadership team when I joined retired about the same time as Larry (Larry Korf, former CEO of DeZURIK). So first and foremost was going out and hiring a new leadership team. Whether that is promoting from within or finding folks on the outside. Now we have all of those positions filled. I've been leading the sales team the last few years, so I spend a lot of time with the sales leaders with their sales teams and with customers. I spend a lot of time traveling with that whole sales team, trying to better understand how we can continue to grow and support our customers.
Q: What is your strategy behind the growth of DeZURIK?
A: It's balanced between international and North America. Our strategy really revolves around a few areas. Up until a few years ago, most of our sales resources were right here in our headquarters. And there is a need to move them out closer to the customers. So that's one big area that we've been working on and been having a lot of success with. There's a component of this that is products. So making current products better, cost reducing current products, launching new products, acquiring additional product lines that are complementary. So there is that whole product piece.
Q: Where do you see DeZURIK going in the next five years?
A: It continues down those few things that we just talked about. Extending our field sales presence. Even though we are a few years into developing those, it will take many more years to complete. Continuing to build out our product line and capability. And then the area that we haven't talked about is the customer experience. We are good at what we do. We are in the top quartile from a customer experience perspective when we survey customers. But it's a product category — valves or flow control equipment — where I think being top quartile doesn't necessarily mean that you are providing a great customer experience. So we are good, but we can be so much better. And there is a lot of innovation that we can do around the customer experience.
Q: Between your work with DeZURIK and in the community, what sort of legacy do you want to leave behind in 20 years?
A: I don't have much of an ego, so leaving a legacy tied to my name doesn't matter to me very much. What I hope would happen is that if it does come up in a conversation, people will recognize that through my contributions, those organizations are better off. That I did it in a way that benefited the most people and was fair. If I can do that, I would be very happy. But I don't care if my name's attached to that or not attached to that. The goal is the organizational health, not anything that I've done myself.
Q: Who in your life has been an inspiration to you, and what makes their qualities so special?
A: My dad (Mike Burns), is an incredibly hard worker and has had very successful business careers. Certainly, I've modeled a lot of my traits and desires after what he's done. And then when he was off working, my mom (Vicki Burns) did a phenomenal job of moving my brother and I all over world and taking such great care of us and making sure we were doing well in school. So, parents certainly the largest impact. And more recently, Larry Korf, former CEO at DeZURIK, has been a tremendous mentor and continues on in his board chair role. Al Kremers, the former CEO at DeZURIK, has been a great mentor as well. And those two complement each other very well. And then Rick Bauerly, who runs Granite Equity. Rick is one of the people who thinks furthest into the future of anyone I know. Whether that's employee well-being, whether that's community impact, he's taught me a lot. He's very patient, far-seeing person. And he teaches me a lot. And I think I'm developing some of those skills because of him.
Q: What advice would you give to other professionals, especially young professionals who are just starting out on their career journey?
A: Be very curious about everything you do.
Occupation: President and chief executive officer with DeZURIK.
Education: Bachelor's degree in finance from Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pennsylvania, and a Master of Business Administration from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
Family: Wife, Hilary; daughters Addison, 11, and Caitlyn, 9; son Alex, 6.
Hometown: Kokomo, Indiana.
Community involvement: Board member of St. Cloud Area Family YMCA and member of the Community Schools Planning Initiative for Sartell-St. Stephen schools. Burns also does some teaching at the Anderson Center.