David Harbourne

The Victory Lent from Values

“Okay,” said David Harbourne, accepting six extra pounds of sausage into his delivery basket.

The little boy was only ten years old, but there was something about him—the sense that he was reliable, honest, hardworking, and full of potential.  Cowall, a small rural community in Herefordshire County, was a close-knit community hidden safely away in the hills of England, and its strong values seeped into its inhabitants from the day they were born.  That’s why the local butcher in the small rural town first recruited David to deliver meat despite his young age—indeed, he knew the child he saw before him could be trusted.  “Why don’t you take some extra meat while you’re out making deliveries and see if you can sell anything else?” the butcher asked.  It was David’s first day on the job, but he had never been one to turn down responsibility and wasn’t about to start now.

When he showed up at the end of the day without a single sausage left in his basket, the butcher was incredulous—David had sold each extra piece of meat, and in the months that followed he would become an expert at crisscrossing the countryside on his bicycle, returning to the shop for more sausages after he’d sold everything he could carry and often clocking twenty-five or thirty miles of travel in a single day.  Now living in the D.C. metropolitan area and serving as President of Fusion UV Systems, Inc., those early days selling sausages were the first expression of the innate and invaluable skill set that would set David apart from his peers and propel his ascent up the ladder to the pinnacle of professional success and satisfaction he has reached today.

Spurred by the first oil crisis that shocked the nation in 1972, Fusion was founded by five physicists all working in Rockville, Maryland, in the area of alternative energy.  Cold fusion was among the energy sources they were examining, and during those studies, they discovered they could generate UV light using microwaves.  Shocked and fascinated by the discovery, they seized the opportunity to explore that technology and founded the company, and Fusion has been growing steadily ever since.

Where do we reap the benefits of the products of Fusion in our daily lives?  Today, the company specializes solely in UV curing technology—a lesser-known but startlingly prevalent component of many of life’s most common objects.  Fusion uses its technology to cure, or polymerize, adhesives, coatings, and inks on various substrates like glass, plastics, and woods.  A significant proportion of furniture, for instance, has a UV curable varnish.  All no-wax floorings have UV curable clear coats that give them their high-gloss, stain resistant quality.  Every piece of optical fiber in the world has a UV clear coat to give it strength.  The black borders of car windshields are made of UV-curable black ink.  CDs and DVDs have UV-cured ink and a UV-cured lacquer.  Every flat panel display, from cell phones to iPads to TVs, is manufactured through multiple UV-curing applications.

When David first joined the company as the North American Sales Manager in 1981, the enterprise was called Fusion Systems Corps and had two business units—one specifically using UV light in the manufacturing of semiconductors, as well as the UV curing business that is Fusion UV Systems, Inc. today.  David soon advanced to international sales director, then to marketing, and then to President of the UV curing business in 1992.  The company went public in 1993 but was then acquired by a UK holding company in 1996.  The other business unit was sold two years later, and the business that David had been running then became Fusion UV Systems, remaining a subsidiary of the UK company today.

Today, Fusion is set apart by the breadth of its clientele, serving a wide range of industries and market segments after gaining a global reach over the years.  It boasts a diverse revenue base in terms of both geography and industry type, which has held it in very good standing for several decades.  The enterprise has approximately 200 employees, 110 of which are based in the US.  All of its standard product manufacturing is done in Maryland, while the customization integration engineering that comes afterward must be done locally at job sites across the world.  “We learned the hard way that it is not optimal to do a custom integration for a client in Japan when you’re sitting here in Gaithersburg, Maryland,” David explains.  “If you want to do the job right the first time, you need to be close to the customer.”

This proximity to his clients, both geographically and relationally, is a lesson that can certainly be traced back to David’s earliest days selling sausages in the rural hills of England, and he credits the knowledge for why he was the most natural choice for President when opportunity presented itself.  “In order to be successful at running a business and making it grow, you have to have a firm understanding of the customers’ needs,” he affirms.  “That’s my basic philosophy.  You have to be out there with the customers, which I was.  Working in sales for Fusion, I was in the right place at the right time because I was working so closely with the customers.  Not only was it the aspect of the job that I most enjoyed, but it also put me in the position to serve as a liaison between the client and the company, enabling me to really keep a finger on the pulse of what was working and what wasn’t.”

Not only was David ideally suited to develop an expertise in reading his clients, but he also has a strain of opportunism in his blood that extends through his lineage.  His grandfather and great-grandfather had a business breaking horses for the Army and were exceptionally busy during the First World War, and his father carried on the business until its functionality trickled away and he transitioned over to delivery services.  This perhaps explains David’s innate sense of how and when to lead—an inner sense that is influenced, as well, through the values instilled in him by the surrounding community.  “In a small village like mine, you couldn’t do anything without getting found out, so we learned honesty and integrity very quickly,” David laughs.  “Whether it was a prank or something more serious, you always got caught!  I also learned gentility and kindness from my mother and her side of the family, which have certainly come into play through my experience with sales.”

Aside from the meat selling stint that kept him busy throughout his youth, David’s first job was at age eighteen as a laboratory assistant for the Severn River Board, which monitored pollution in river water.  He made a habit of saving the money he earned as a young man and continued along the professional path he was on until one of his mentors, William Winn Williams, called him into his office and blatantly proclaimed, “David, the work you’re doing is okay, but this isn’t you.”  Williams pointed out that David should really be in technical sales, handing him a newspaper advertisement for a job in the sales of medical diagnostics and encouraging him to apply.

As luck would have it, David won the position, launching him into his first full-time position in sales.  “It was a natural fit for me because, being from a small community, I really developed my sales skills in a friendly, personable environment in which I felt completely encouraged and completely at ease,” David acknowledges today.  “I’m a natural introvert, but that genuine and friendly atmosphere really fostered a confidence and sincere affection for people.  I sang solos in church in front of hundreds of people, and everyone would always say hello to each other on the streets.  I learned my relational skills in this close-knit community, and that sincere style of interacting with other is translated in my work today, despite its international breadth.”

David began with a small territory as a regional salesman, and two years later he became an area salesman with six people reporting to him.  He was then summoned to the company’s headquarters, where they told him he would be traveling to Romania and Hungary.  Before long, he had assumed responsibility for the entire Eastern European territory, and he was then hired by the largest manufacturer of laboratory equipment and supplies in the UK to serve as Director of Sales for a number of years.  That company handled a product line based in Maryland that made infrared equipment, and the enterprise that manufactured that product line actually approached David and asked him to launch their European operation.

David accepted the offer and advanced to even greater horizons.  “It was like running my own business because they basically funded it and then gave me free reign,” he remembers.  “I felt as though I was still young and had enough time left in my career for potential failure, so I gave it a try.”  His efforts were so successful that, after three years, the company moved him to the U.S. in 1979 to strengthen that operation.  The enterprise was then acquired, and it was time for David to plot his next move.

Confronted with a blank slate for the first time, David received a call from Korn/Ferry International asking him to come interview in New York.  Never one to turn down an opportunity, he accepted and soon found himself in the interview, faced with the challenge of explaining how he knew when to close a sale.  “I can’t tell you that,” David had replied.  “It might be the movement of a hand, the twitch of an eye, the touch of an ear, or something somebody says—when I see it, I absolutely know it, but I couldn’t put it into words.”  With that, David was offered the position at Fusion, and the rest is history.  “Today, I still couldn’t put the closing of a sale into words,” he avows.  Indeed, the process is so intimate to him as to be second nature, and so fluid and organic as to defy dissection and classification.

Under David’s leadership, Fusion’s track record of prominence has risen from its invincible trifecta of core values, which is composed of product leadership, operational excellence, and customer intimacy undergirded by a foundation of integrity that relies on the commitment of each individual team member.  Operating with honesty and integrity has always been a core value of the company, and a defining aspect of its business practice.  “In an ever-changing world, it’s of paramount importance to us that our core values remain a constant,” David explains.  “That constant thus forms the foundation upon which we perform business and upon which we conduct ourselves.  It’s what we are, who we are, and what we stand for.”

David’s leadership philosophy today is centered around his adherence of these core values and around his innate ability to read a situation, allowing him not only to close deals with exceptional proficiency, but also to pursue opportunities that optimize success while minimizing risk.  “An important part of leadership is to create a safe place for one’s employees and clients—a low-risk, stable environment that is most conducive to security and growth,” he explains.  At the same time, David has always operated with a deep sense of curiosity that allows him to push the limits of what Fusion can offer its clients.  In this manner, he is able to offer solutions that are visionary and innovative.  “The fact that Fusion is still here today, is still growing, and is a fully international company is an achievement I’m proud of,” he acknowledges.  “Most companies our size haven’t done what we’ve been able to do.”

Perhaps the most compelling example of these accomplishments came several decades ago, when Mitsubishi Electric tried to stop Fusion from doing business in Japan by essentially waging a patent war with the small company, usurping its designs and patenting them for itself because patent law at the time did not necessarily protect the actual inventors of a design.  Most people said the game was over for Fusion, thinking it had no chance in a fight against Mitsubishi, but Don Speero, who was President at the time, wasn’t going to let his brainchild go under without a fight.  With that, Fusion launched a plan to go up against Mitsubishi.  Don knew Ralph Nader and began focusing on patent reform, while David decided to go over to Japan and win Mitsubishi’s major customers over to Fusion—a truly David-and Goliath feat that he accomplished within eighteen months.  “We knew right was right, and we were going to do whatever it took,” David said.  Patent law was, in fact, reformed and universalized worldwide, and Fusion is still around to tell the tale today.

In advising young entrepreneurs entering the workforce today, David sums it up in one word: values.  “What do you stand for?” he queries.  “What do people expect you to stand for?  I think that, in today’s world, this is even more important than it used to be—that you know what you stand for, that you have high values, and that you refuse to compromise those values.”  It is precisely those values that have led him to victories both small and grand, and they continue to serve as a compass as he leads Fusion into the future.

David Harbourne

Gordon J Bernhardt


President and founder of Bernhardt Wealth Management and author of Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area. Gordon provides financial planning and wealth management services to affluent individuals, families and business owners throughout the Washington, DC area. Since establishing his firm in 1994, he and his team have been focused on providing high quality service and independent financial advice to help clients make informed decisions about their money.

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