The pool industry provided a second chance for Jack Manilla
Photography by Scott Murrish
Jack manilla had it all. After years of working for large corporations and “chasing the golden ring,” as he puts it, he had acquired large homes, condominiums, boats, cars and other toys. But he ended up in business with people whose values were in stark contrast to his, so he cut ties — and lost everything.
At age 53, Manilla was living in a pink Florida Cracker bungalow in a Florida orange grove. His children were paying the rent for him and his wife, Paula. Manilla went on job interviews around the country, but nothing was working out. He had given up, telling Paula that his next stop was applying to be a Wal-Mart greeter. He says he went through a spiritual metamorphoses and transformation during that period. When he finally let go of his ego and was willing to start over, he says, he received a phone call from a good friend, who worked in the pool industry.
Through his friend’s connections, Manilla had an opportunity to own a pool construction business, Portofino Pools, in Jacksonville, Florida. Despite insisting he had no money, the seller, Al Jackson, was determined to make it happen. Jackson helped Manilla secure a bank loan to buy the business’s assets; an attorney wrote up a one-page agreement. Each month for the next 10 years, Manilla wrote Jackson a check to pay off the principal. One of Manilla’s sons gave him some working capital so he could run the business and paid for an apartment for them to live in Jacksonville.
Manilla worked hard, and the business grew. He spent his time in the field and looking for new business, and Paula worked in the small retail location and helped with paperwork. But after evaluating the marketplace and listening to his customers, he saw an opportunity.
“I decided to stop new construction and go full time into service,” Manilla says. “When I did renovation projects, I found I could do them in a couple of weeks, but I would end up with a gross margin equal to what I would make taking six months to build a whole new pool.”
This was a much faster cycle and he would make more money. He spent the next five years working in the field as the head pool cleaner, growing primarily residential accounts. Eventually he started picking up commercial work, and once his reputation grew, things took off. At the behest of his wife, Manilla stopped working in the field and came into the office to manage the business.
With all of his success, it was time to give back. Manilla began taking leadership positions in the local and national industry associations. Now he is chairman elect of the board of directors for the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals.
Bringing knowledge and training gained from his days working for midsize and large corporations, Manilla helped the industry raise the bar of professionalism, becoming active within the pool associations, attending meetings, and encouraging various training classes and courses.
He became so passionate that people receive proper training and certifications that he became an instructor — first to train his own employees, and then for other companies. As more training requests came in, he founded Portofino University. Manilla has travelled the world teaching companies how to properly build and maintain pools.
“I consider it, in a humble aspect, quite remarkable to come from the pink house in the orange grove into the pool industry — and now to be chairman of the board elect of the largest organization in this industry in the world,” Manilla says.
He says it’s all a testament to his peers, who had confidence in his background and skills. “I feel very humbled,” he says, “that I can contribute back to this industry and provide a good lifestyle, even improving economically and otherwise, for the hundreds of thousands of people who work within the aquatics industry.”