Kirkpatrick gave up sales career to take over green business

Tom Kirkpatrick spent more than two decades classified as “the sales guy.” From 1976 to 1995, he was with Procter & Gamble , eventually managing the Eastern and Western sales divisions for its paper products. For three years after that, he was vice president of sales and marketing for Cincinnati Bell ’s Matrixx Marketing .

Despite, and because of, his success, Kirkpatrick was interested in running a business himself. “I wanted to see if I could take my skill set and go beyond,” he said.

He was 45 years old and acknowledges that it was a big risk to give up a significant salary, use his savings and home for financing, and start at “practically the ground floor.”

“Yet it was a good time, because if I failed, if it crashed and burned, I had time to recover. It was not a time for early retirement but a time where taking a risk was worth it,” he said.

Kirkpatrick met the founder of Eco Engineering , who was ready to sell after five years. What was a $500,000 local business with five employees in 1998 is now a $30 million company with 98 employees and projects across North America.

The Sharonville design-build company helps clients reduce their energy costs and ecological footprint by upgrading to efficient lights and lighting controls. Eco satisfied not just Kirkpatrick’s desire to be an entrepreneur but also his belief in being a good steward of the environment.

“This planet is an irreplaceable treasure we have to pass on to our children,” the president and CEO said.

Eco was a Business Courier Green Business winner in 2014. Major clients includeAT&T , International Paper and USG .

“We’ve moved from going up and down Cincinnati streets, knocking on doors and looking at small warehouses, to Fortune 1000 companies that have many buildings,” Kirkpatrick said.

When Kirkpatrick bought Eco, he had no experience in lighting controls. “In those days of six or eight employees, I spent a lot of sleepless nights over becoming an expert in energy efficiency,” he said.

Most of his time now is devoted to organizational development. Eco has been named one of the Business Courier’s Best Places to Work.

Looking ahead, Kirkpatrick projected that Eco Engineering can grow into a $100 million company in five years. He also wants to support more nonprofits and has set up an Eco Engineering Foundation.

Kirkpatrick is a Habitat for Humanity volunteer, and Eco upgraded Habitat’s local headquarters and ReStore, lowering electric bills by $600 a month.

“I loved selling Bounty, Charmin, Pampers,” Kirkpatrick said. “But helping nonprofits cut costs is a lot more fun.”

First act: Division sales manager for Procter & Gamble Co.; vice president of sales and marketing for Matrixx Marketing

Second act: Owner, president and CEO of Eco Engineering LLC

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