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The utility wrangler

He's growing his company water system by water system - so that a Philly-area company now controls water delivery everywhere from Texas to Maine.

Mark Kropilak of Aqua America. (Curt Hudson / For the Philadelphia Daily News)
Mark Kropilak of Aqua America. (Curt Hudson / For the Philadelphia Daily News)Read more

Mark Kropilak

Senior vice president of corporate development - i.e. the growth guy - for Aqua America, the water utility holding company based in Bryn Mawr. Under Kropilak's steady hand, the company has morphed from regional company to national player, serving more than 2.8 million residents in more than a dozen states.

And he's not just a salesman:

Kropilak, his wife and two teenage sons live in Valley Forge, in an Aqua-serviced area. No Brita water filters at his house: He joked that the water is so pure, "I don't even use a cup."

How he got into the water game: Kropilak was first driven by legal aspirations. A western Pennsylvania native, he went to law school at Columbia University. After a stint at the Philadelphia law firm Morgan Lewis, he came to Aqua America as an assistant general counsel. Eventually he realized he wanted to get in on the deal-making; one Villanova MBA later he got a seat at the table. Aqua has expanded into seven states under his leadership.

He doesn't wear a mask but...: Kropilak works such long hours he referred to himself as the "Phantom of the water company." During his days on the legal side he'd often be there until 3 a.m. working on deals. These days he tries to get home before midnight.

If you're looking for stock tips: Kropilak thinks he's in a growth industry. "I think water is going to continue to be a very valuable asset. I think clean, safe drinking water is going to be in increased demand."

OK, let's address the critiques:

Many of Aqua America's acquisitions are public water companies. Some argue that governments sell public assets for a one-time cash payment, leaving residents to deal with higher fees and less regulation of services, but Kropilak thinks private management can be a boon. "A lot of times the municipal manager will feel the municipality shouldn't be in the water business. Usually there's a visionary that says, 'I don't see the need, we're not any more efficient than a private business.' "

Even 50-year-old execs have a goofy side: A few years ago, on a ski trip with the kids, Kropilak learned to snowboard. Now, he's added surf lessons to his regime. And he's taking guitar classes, too. (Ask him to play "Against the Wind" sometime.) - Catherine Lucey,
Daily News staff writer