North County Steward: Ron Dutt

Written by Caitlyn Canby, San Diego North Economic Development Council

North County Steward: Ron Dutt

When I stepped into Ron Dutt’s office, he good-naturedly offered me a fist bump, protecting us both from the customary, but often COVID-spreading, business meeting handshake. As CEO and Chairman of FLUX Power Holdings in Vista, Dutt’s commitment to his employees’ welfare prevented outbreaks and office shutdowns during the pandemic. Following strict guidelines to offer this kind of comfort and security in an uncertain time is an example of Dutt’s commitment to respecting, valuing, and building trust with his staff. 

“It’s been a wild two years. I think it’s been one of the most challenging times to manage a company, and I’ve had a long career,” said Dutt. Growing up in Ohio, Dutt moved to San Diego County in 2003. His previous leadership experience with multiple large public companies made him a desirable candidate to help FLUX Power recover from its rocky start in 2009.   

“It was a real long shot – I had doubts we could make it. We had little money,” said Dutt. “I told the largest shareholder, ‘Look, we have no revenue, no real product. It’s going to cost you $270,000 to shut this down because you really don’t have a product. OR… We could become the pioneer in a high-risk venture and come up with a lithium battery pack to power forklifts.” The market was in its infancy at the time. 

“I thought, ‘This is great. Forklifts are not sexy. You don’t go to dinner and want to talk about forklifts, do you? You want to talk about your Tesla,’” said Dutt with a laugh. “This is great from a business standpoint because you don’t have such a stampede of competition.” 

Since then, FLUX Power has grown from 9 employees to its current 131 employees, with over 50% consistent growth in the last 4 years. Their goal is to grow even bigger (they’re on track to revenue of over a couple hundred million dollars in the new few years) and to lead the forklift lithium-ion battery supply industry. 

“With lithium, it’s just better chemistry and a computer in the pack. They can provide more energy and power. The life cycle cost is less because our packs last longer,” said Dutt. Their batteries also provide telemetry to both the customer and FLUX Power; they use energy from the power grid more efficiently, cutting back on carbon dioxide emissions; and they require no retrofit to replace lead-acid batteries. These qualities have been attractive to large, high-performance fleets like those from Delta Airlines, Caterpillar, and PepsiCo.  

Flux Power has combined a superior product with a culture of mutual respect and trust with its employees, suppliers, customers, and investors. 

“We’re not a transactional company. We’re a relationship company,” said Dutt. “I learn stuff from everybody in the company, from the people cleaning the restrooms to everybody else. I look at my people and tell them, ‘If I can do that, I think you can too.’” 

Building a positive culture within the staff is critical for Dutt’s vision for FLUX Power. According to employee surveys, dysfunctional culture is the number one reason that companies fail.  

“It doesn’t work anymore for a CEO to be an autocrat,” said Dutt. “We are a better company because we have a meaningful team, and we invite everybody’s input. It’s not a consensus, but it’s about engagement. Get people thinking, coming up with ideas, and knowing they will be really listened to and taken seriously.” 

To help accomplish this, and to help reach their high-priority goal of profitability, Dutt values getting the right person in the right job at competitive compensation. 

“The way you DON’T keep your costs down, is to hire somebody below market (rate),” said Dutt. “They’re going to leave, and now you’ve got to recruit and train somebody. It’s disruptive. That costs a lot of money. Or you get somebody you can hire pretty cheap but doesn’t have the experience, and bad decisions happen. Those bad decisions cost us a lot of money.” 

Fortunately, North County is an excellent place to recruit talent, partially because it is a desirable place to live, according to Dutt. From its great climate that allows for year-round outdoor activities (for balanced living and stress reduction) to its plethora of restaurants and activities accessible within a reasonable distance, there is no shortage of amenities to attract talent. Gaining and retaining that talent does take some finesse.   

“Nowadays people are really in demand, and you need to offer an attractive proposition for their work life. A lot of people want to work from home. They’re trying to balance their life, and we make it work,” said Dutt. “If employee satisfaction is high, that leads to high customer satisfaction, and that leads to an improved market share of the business.” 

Dutt views living and working in North County, and especially for FLUX Power, as a privilege. Besides living close to the office to make a quick trip home for lunch with his wife every day, and living close to family, he said he enjoys “the environment, culture, and values of the professional people in North County. This is the kind of community I want to live in.” 

“North County is one of the greatest places to live in the world. It’s all part of the package, and what a wonderful package it is,” said Dutt. “Every place has plusses and minuses. You don’t get something for nothing. This wonderful package that we’re talking about is pricey, but you really do get what you pay for.” 

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