by Gritter Griffin
October 1997 – Longbar, Sarasota Bay, Florida
On that fateful day two men are fishing Sarasota Bay running their boat along the deep side of Longbar looking for snook. A cold front has just passed and a hard wind is kicking up whitecaps. As the men ease along the bar in their boat they can see snook lying in the deeper potholes up on the bar. The technique for stalking these fish is to stay on the deep side, sight the snook, stop the boat, and cast to the snook. They could see the bar. They could see the potholes. They could see the snook. Their challenge this day was stopping and stabilizing the boat.
With the bar on the leeward side of the boat, the wind was constantly pushing the boat onto the bar and spooking the snook before they could be caught. Even when they hooked one of the snook the rest were scattered by the boat drifting up on the bar and over their hiding places in the potholes. The men tried every trick they could think of but even with an anchor in the water the wind would gust and push and twist their boat around the anchor line inevitably spooking and scattering the snook.
One of the men in that boat on that day was John Oliverio.
His frustration mounted throughout the morning at seeing so many fish and being able to catch so few. As he struggled once again to keep the boat steady so a cast could be made he began thinking - What kind of device would hold the boat steady? What would it look like? How would it operate? Why wasn’t it already done?
It was right then that John Oliverio had a moment!
A singular thought process that would change his life and define shallow water fishing forever. It was a moment that, ultimately, was the birth of the Power Pole.
John Oliverio is not an engineer by any degree. He is not a hydraulics specialist. He is not a certified mechanic. He is not an electrician. He is not a computer geek. He is not a welder. He is not an electronics specialist. What John is, though, is a man with an insatiable curiosity about how things work and a desire to build things that make sense.
At the age of twenty he began his first job when he started his own business designing, building, and delivering custom hot tubs. This what he was doing for a living on that fateful day in 1997 and he was doing it well. But he just couldn’t shake the idea of a deployable anchor system.
John went home and immediately started thinking of ways to accomplish the task and began drawing and tinkering with various designs. His first thought was to use a multi-stage hydraulic cylinder like the hydraulic ram in a dump truck. He realized that, while it would work statically, it would not handle much in the way of the stress of a side-load.
Then he saw, on the back of an old boat, an outboard motor lift of the old scissor type. This formation made sense to him so he set about building a prototype. The very first design was built in his living room from a Lego kit. Then came challenge after challenge to create a product that would work, withstand the elements, and last. After he was satisfied that his model would likely work he gathered up some aluminum parts – mostly angle – along with some bolts, washers, pins, and a hydraulic pump. He then got some friends in the welding business to tack it together for him.
It worked! It actually worked.
But all was not blue sky and light breezes just yet. Much taming of the original beast was necessary before this gadget would be functional on a boat. The first few times John hit the down button on the hydraulic pump the spike punched holes in his driveway. After getting the creature under control and taming the hydraulics to a point that a controlled descent and ascent were possible it was ready for a sea trial. It was large and loud and clumsy and slow and needed significant refinement but it worked. John used this original for about a year on his own boat.
Subsequently, he asked Len Mriscia his longtime friend and driveway/garage companion during the many-faceted efforts to build and perfect the device if he would like to get involved in the financing of a company to build the anchors. They negotiated, a deal was struck, hands were shaken, a business plan was drawn up, and JL Marine Systems became a reality.
Over the next two years while perfecting the design of the Power Pole, John continued to deliver hot tubs to pay the bills. Then, in the fall of 2000 John introduced the Power Pole at a redfish tournament hosted by the IFA. A well-known, no nonsense, angler by the name of Greg Watts was intrigued by the device and, after seeing how it worked, bought the first Power Pole for the exorbitant sum of $247. Greg’s twin brother Bryan didn’t immediately see the need for such a device but after they fished a tournament in Titusville the following month Bryan became the second person to purchase a Power Pole. John knew then that he was onto something potentially big. The Watts boys were very well known and highly successful anglers on all the redfish tours and it wasn’t long at all before many others noted the advantages of the Power Pole and orders began to pick up significantly.
In 2001 John took to the road and traveled all over the Gulf Coast with the Watts brothers to every redfish event. He carried Power Poles and ice chests of Gatorade, water, and beer to lure the anglers to a stopping place so he could expound the virtues of the Power Pole. At the end of that year and after many, many, days away from home and family John had sold 200 units. Power Pole had become a force to be reckoned with.
After that year on the road, the growth and popularity of Power Pole expanded at an almost logarithmic rate far outstripping anything John had envisioned. But he never stopped working. He never stopped perfecting the Power Pole. He never stopped improving every aspect of the device. He developed an extremely robust R&D department and gave them the latitude and freedom to work without boundaries, to build, to try, to seek, to find – answers and results. The consequence of his easygoing style of leadership is a crew and a company that runs almost by itself. John empowers people to be their own motivation, to grow and develop themselves within a matrix that nurtures individuality and, yet, thrives on teamwork. This team has successfully continued the development and distribution of one of the most popular and useful marine accessories in the world. In fact, after I saw a Power Pole in action for the first time my comment was, “The Power Pole is the best fishing invention since the hook!” I still stand by that statement all these years later.
Shortly after Bryan Watts purchased his Power Pole John obtained a 3000 square foot building to become the home of Power Pole. He then brought Robert Shamblin on board to run operations. Although, in the beginning, John thought the 3000 foot building was too large for their needs by 2007 they were in need of more space and expanded to an 8000 square foot facility. Then, in the fall of 2012 Oliverio purchased a state of the art, 40,000 square foot facility that is the current home of Power Pole.
Q&A with John Oliverio
RC: What advice would you give someone to help them duplicate your success?
JO: People have ideas all the time. To make them a reality you just have to make it, use it, believe in it, search for and find resources, and always, always, be true to the people who have helped you get there.
RC: What was your inspiration to start a hot tub business?
JO: I saw a niche market that I thought I could fill and my dad, who was genius enough to realize that I was not student material, helped me get started in my own business.
RC: How would you describe John Oliverio?
JO: I am a very laid back person and I believe in managing people in a hands off way. I let people find their own level without interference from me. That’s why I have such a committed, driven team – because we are all in it together.
RC: You are considered quite the accomplished competitive angler in your own right. DO you still compete?
JO: I still enjoy the challenge but I am so very busy with new projects that I don’t really have the time to compete much these days.
RC: What is your life advice for the folks reading this article?
JO: The only thing you have in this world is your honor and your word – don’t ever lose either.
RC: What is your pet peeve?
JO: People saying they will do something and then not following through.
RC: Where do you see JL Marine and Power Pole in 10 years?
JO: My goal is to stay focused on the future and make JL Marine Systems the largest marine accessory manufacturer in the world.
RC: What would you say to your customers?
JO: That we appreciate their support and a promise that we will never lose sight of one of our founding principles – loyalty to our customers.
JL Marine Systems and Power Pole have risen from an idea in one man’s head to a world class operation with a worldwide distribution. It is truly a unique product that has changed the very methodology of tournament and recreational fishing. And that’s not all. There is more, much more, on the horizon from JL Marine and that entrepreneurial maestro - John Oliverio.
(Ed Note: So, is the Power Pole really “the best fishing invention since the hook”? I certainly think it is. And you should beware that if you ever put them on your boat you will be hooked for life which is not really a bad thing at all.)