On The Edge

The second of three profiles of Genesis 3's founding partners.

Skip Phillips is Mr. Vanishing Edge. Period. End of story. Phillips has won international acclaim, specializing in this pioneering and breathtaking field of expertise. He has set the standard for hydraulics in vanishing-edge pools. He's written several articles on hydraulics and vanishing-edge design, and has the design contract for the largest number of vanishing-edge pools in one location at Anse Chastnet in the West Indies.

But make no mistake: He's Mr. Vanishing Edge only in terms of pool design. It's inconceivable that Phillips will ever lose his edge in terms of his headlong quest for knowledge. Or his take-no-prisoners approach to standards. Or his blend of creativity and utility that are signature statements in his works of water art.

The edge is born of desire, heritage — and necessity. Not only is Phillips the president of Questar Pools in Escondido, Calif., he's a co-founder of Genesis 3, the fast-growing international collective specializing in education for pool professionals.

Since its genesis in 1998, the group has attracted some 500 participants to its elite education programs. Students run the gamut geographically, intellectually and mechanically. They bring varying levels of expertise, demands and questions. Phillips welcomes this, saying that unless you're challenged, you can't be counted on to challenge others.

"There's a risk every time we do a program," he says. "Our credibility is on the line every time. You've got to be willing to stand up there and take a hit. If your stuff isn't great and it doesn't challenge people, you're out.

You're done.

"But nobody can go head to head with us. We have yet to get caught flat-footed, especially on mechanics and hydraulics."

RIGHT BACK AT YOU

Like Genesis 3 partners Brian Van Bower and David Tisherman, Phillips can take a challenge — and he certainly can dish one out. He's very outspoken, particularly about standards and those in the industry who scrimp on them.

"Ninety-five percent of the time, pool hydraulics don't meet the industry's minimum standards," says Phillips, who has been retained in over 270 cases as an expert witness for state and civil workmanship defect litigation and standards-compliance cases.

"There is a total disregard to the operating parameters of the system. It's big pumps and little pipes. There has to be more care, more thought, more planning."

Such expertise and passion are in his blood. Phillips's father was a calibration technician on the Atlas Missile Guidance System. "When I was growing up, we made devices measuring diameters, always experimenting," he says. "You have to have that desire for knowledge.

"I'm known as Mr. Vanishing Edge, but I had to study, to figure things out for myself, come up with solutions."

That can't happen without being open to new concepts, philosophies and ideas. The same kind of receptiveness is a must when dealing with customers. "I not only listen to what a customer likes, but how they like to use the pool — and what they don't like," he says.

While others often strive for either utility or art in their designs, Phillips makes it a challenge to marry the two. One of his masterpieces is a $250,000 pool on a golf course in Rancho Mirage, Calif. It's built entirely of black granite with a vanishing edge that overlooks the course. The design is capped with a bronze statue of a girl, caught in mid-stride to create the illusion she's running on top of the water.

Phillips stresses that in addition to their unmistakable aesthetics, his works of art are structurally and mechanically sound. "There are people out there who have pretty pictures of an otherwise hideous project," he says. "Our goal at Genesis 3 is to make sure that the entire project hits on all eight cylinders: in artistic and re.ective qualities, being structurally well-founded, the hydraulics and the sanitation system being well thought out, the design, the architecture.

"We really want to pick this apart from top to bottom. That's a journey, not a destination. That's going to continue to evolve."

REVOLUTION, EVOLUTION

That was the spirit behind Genesis 3's evolution — although Phillips recalls, "When we formed it, we didn't have an idea of what we were going to do with it. We shared a common vision of raising standards to a higher place. Once we were challenged to do a school, it's taken on a life of its own."

Tom Driscoll was at the first program. The owner of Cabana Pools Aquatech in Houston, he's now in select company as a Genesis 3 associate member, which puts him on the front lines of some of the most exciting innovation in the industry.

"I'm always looking for a way to improve my thought process, my education," he says. "The program opened up my thought process; it made me want to look at and explore what I'm doing and take it a level further. Plus, they're a great group of people."

Driscoll has been to Level 1 and Level 2 programs and also attended Genesis 3's first drawing school. "When I get back, I can't wait to apply what I've learned," he says. "It lets me separate myself from the other pool companies out there. Now, when someone asks me, 'What's the difference between you and the pool company down the street.' I can tell them there really is something."

Driscoll stresses that the program is not a panacea. "You're not going to come out of it knowing everything," he says. "But you come out with the tools to learn more. They show you how to think differently, all that's possible out there, all the resources."

EVERYONE'S JOURNEY

Phillips agrees. He and his partners relish the role of experts, but they don't pretend to know everything. In fact, sharing the journey of knowledge is their goal.

"That's what generated this," he says. "We wanted to learn. We didn't want to teach. This doesn't mean we can't receive information. It doesn't mean that if we come across someone who could take me to school on water in transit, I wouldn't be the first one in the class to take notes.

"Most [seminar] structures are set up so that they don't outstrip the intelligence of the people attending. I want the best people not because they're know-it-alls, but because they recognize there's a lot to learn."

Along those lines, the Genesis 3 partners have been known to consult with associate members to ensure that participants get as complete a presentation as possible. Phillips chuckles about the enthusiasm of Paul Benedetti, the owner of Aquatic Technology Pool & Spa in Morgan Hill, Calif.: "We need to lace his drink with a sedative. At one program he cornered me on water transit stuff when I was trying to eat. We ran our rock program past him because he picks everything apart."

Participants share the notion that whether it's foundation principles or complex rock formations, the quest for knowledge is never fully satisfied. "There's so much more involved now, so many more possibilities," says Lynn Forrest, also an associate member and the president of Aqua Classic Pools & Spas in Clute, Texas. "I was a good pool builder before, but Genesis 3 has helped me take it to another level."

When asked how he has benefited from the program — he attended the second Level 1 program and the first Level 2 — Forrest says, "In every way. My structures are better engineered, and my knowledge has increased tenfold in terms of what's out there, and in paying more attention to detail."

GETTING THREE TO AGREE

As open as they are to new theories, the Genesis 3 partners all have strong personalities and opinions on how to do things. "One person told me he can't believe we ever agree on lunch," Phillips says. "And yes, there have been disagreements, although we've never argued about money."

On this, they always agree: "Disagreements are settled on a 2-outof-3 vote. If it's a potentially big change, like a fundamental change in our structure, it must be unanimous. I'd say among the three of us, David is the least likely to change his mind. But he's not afraid to listen or admit to the rare occasions when he's wrong."

All three steadfastly agree on the benefits of the program's amenities, which include exotic locales and fine food and wine demonstrations.

Phillips says that just as their program is based on the premise of water as art, "Food is art. Wine is art.

And to market to our type of client, you have to interact with them on a more cerebral level.

Of course, there is always more to know. Phillips says the program's next focus will be outdoor living — "the big picture: fire, food, patios, outdoor dining, incorporating art into all that. We're going to do a program on color theory and balance, how to look at a color palette; making vessel, deck and home colors compatible."

For Phillips, that never-ending search for the next knowledgeexpanding project has spawned a life of luxury, important contributions to the industry he loves, and an international reputation that is unsurpassed — not to mention over 100 local, national and international design awards. And there is so much more to come, as his knowledge and edge grow ever sharper.

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