Ken Bockhorst eases in as CEO at Badger Meter

Posted by Patrick Leary from Milwaukee Business Journal on January 24, 2019

Ken Bockhorst isn’t intimidated by his first CEO role.

Bockhorst, 46, became the chief executive officer of Badger Meter Inc. on Jan. 1, and he’s just the sixth CEO in the history of the Brown Deer-based company, which was founded in 1905. You wouldn’t blame Bockhorst for harboring some apprehension, especially since his predecessor, Rich Meeusen, was one of the most prominent and outspoken executives in the Milwaukee area.

But Bockhorst isn’t nervous, and is excited to approach the position and the prominence that comes with it in a way that fits his sensibilities.

“I’ve come in here and really tried to understand what it is that makes this company great and then find what are the things that perhaps we could be doing better, and picked my spots where I felt I could make a difference.” he said.

Bockhorst isn’t coming into the Badger Meter role blind, and that’s by design. He has 15 months under his belt at the flow measurement systems and controls company, having joined as chief operating officer in October 2017 after leaving Menomonee Falls-based Actuant Corp.

He regards those 15 months, in the midst of which he was promoted to president, as vital to his readiness as CEO. The publicly traded Badger Meter has about 560 local employees and 1,600 total.

“Having the 15 months that I’ve had has been really beneficial because people have gotten to know me,” he said. “I’ve done the all-employee meetings. I do small-group meetings with 10 to 12 people at a time every month. Having that 15-month overlap with Rich, people know me, people are comfortable with me, and I think that timing was very helpful.”

Another thing aiding Bockhorst’s transition is the appointment of Bob Wrocklage as chief financial officer. Bockhorst said part of becoming CEO meant he would lead the process to name the next CFO, and while he stressed the process was thorough and considered a number of candidates, he was happy Wrocklage, a former Actuant colleague, was the agreed-upon choice.

For his part, Wrocklage said working with Bockhorst in his first C-suite role will make the job “more comfortable.”

“We both operate from a manage-by-fact philosophy,” Wrocklage said. “Data is very important. My inclination as I’m tackling problems or looking at scenarios is to not only trust but verify the decision-making process and to use data to drive answers. That’s the common cloth, if you will, between Ken and I.”

Wrocklage isn’t the only former Actuant employee to join Badger Meter under Bockhorst. Karen Bauer, who spent 11 years in investor relations and corporate strategy at Actuant, has led the same functions at Badger Meter since July.

“Ken is strong in two particular areas that you don’t see often,” Bauer said. “First, he builds relationships at both a professional and personal level. Second, while he is confident, he is self-aware enough to know he is not an expert at absolutely everything and therefore surrounds himself with talent in those areas where he may not have the background or skills and then makes those individuals feel valuable.”

Bockhorst also isn’t feeling any pressure to emulate the way Meeusen used the CEO role, insisting that while Meeusen’s unique style was beneficial to both the company and the community, he is “not here to replace Rich.” That said, Bockhorst and his wife have moved to downtown Milwaukee and Bockhorst has joined the board of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and the Greater Milwaukee Committee.

“But I can’t do 13 boards; Rich was on 13,” Bockhorst said. “What I’m doing is picking my spots and making sure I have the right amount of capacity to lead this business the way that it needs to be led and to pick my spots where I can make an impact in the community.”

As he looks forward at 2019 and beyond, Bockhorst hopes to preserve Badger Meter’s institutional legacy, while also focusing on capitalizing on the company’s technological capabilities to grow it organically. He also hopes to keep Badger Meter involved in what he calls the “smart city revolution,” and affirmed the company’s commitment to The Water Council, a nonprofit Meeusen founded.

“I get frustrated with stagnation,” he said. “As long as we continue to build on a culture of continuous improvement around safety, quality, delivery and cost, and every day we’re one step farther than we were yesterday, that’s really important to me.”

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