Forty years ago when I founded Info Tech, I had no concept of what it might take to lead a company. My only real job had been teaching and doing research as a member of UF’s Statistics Department. I loved my job, particularly the teaching part, but there was no leadership involved, unless one counts trying to get students motivated to study a subject in which few were really interested and by which most were truly intimidated! In the early 1980s when Tom Rothrock and I became partners and Info Tech began to grow, we necessarily had to make “policy decisions” that affected those joining our little company. I use quotation marks because we had no employee handbook, no strategic plan, nothing more than our instincts on which to base decisions.
Looking back on those early days, I think my Dad deserves credit (or blame!) for my leadership development. I grew up in an entrepreneurial family, with my Dad becoming a second-generation leader of a manufacturing company founded by my grandfather. I observed Dad’s unwavering commitment to his employees; watched him grieve when he lost a truck driver to an accident over one Christmas season; saw him reach quick agreements when the union contract was up for renewal by being transparent and caring during the negotiations. Over time nearly all competitors went under by refusing to change, while Dad worked with his team to make changes that allowed his company to survive and thrive.
So Dad’s leadership DNA led me naturally to adopt his philosophy in developing Info Tech’s culture. I figure we are all into this together, one corporate family, so treating one another with caring respect just makes common sense. Being transparent about our finances, sharing profits in good times, sacrificing together to pull out of bad times, is not only the right thing, but also the smart thing, to do. Treating customers as part of our extended family means doing whatever it takes to make them want to continue doing business with us. While business manuals may advise doing whatever it takes – including if necessary harsh personnel decisions — to maximize profits, Tom and I believe that profits follow naturally from doing the right thing by our Info Tech family and our customers.
The advice that runs through nearly every religious tradition to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is actually a darn good guide to business decisions. I’ll close with one example to illustrate this. At some point along the way, Tom and I had to decide what sort of policy regarding employee’s taking paid time off to be with very sick family members. Although I had read about companies agonizing over this, weighing the balance between the cost of time off and lost productivity, the decision was easy for us: Family comes First. Take the time you need, know that your Info Tech family will be supporting you and your ailing family member, and you will be welcomed back when you are ready to return. Our determination to maintain our family culture makes decisions like this easy.
As we transform into a second-generation company and make strategic changes to continue our growth and success, one constant remains: we are determined to maintain our sharing and caring family culture.