Buckle Up: Evergreen Inspiration Fuels Tugboat Institute @5HQ Road Trip

Diana Price, Tugboat Institute

October 27, 2020

When Bill Roark, Co-founder of Torch Technologies and CEO of Starfish Holdings, was growing up in Eastern Kentucky, he had a dream: To own an auto parts store. With what he refers to as a “serious car habit,” the teenager spent every minute he wasn’t in school or courting his girlfriend—now his wife of 40 years—working on cars.

Fast forward, and Bill is living a dream he couldn’t have imagined then but has become his life’s work: “Lighting the pathway to freedom.” Bill leads a 100 percent employee-owned defense contracting firm in Huntsville, Alabama, with a mission to, as Bill describes it, “support our soldiers in the best way possible to make sure they have what they need to be successful and come home safe.” Torch Technologies, which generated over $500 million in revenue in 2019, develops, tests, and builds technical contributions for the military.

On October 13, Tugboat Institute members had the opportunity to learn from Bill and from Torch Technologies’ CEO John Watson, during the first stop in a series of Tugboat Institute @5HQ Fall Exemplar Visits to Evergreen® companies. The morning program at Torch began with a Fireside Chat with Bill and Tugboat Institute Founder and CEO Dave Whorton, which shed light on Bill’s personal story and key components of the business. John Watson then offered a deep dive into innovation planning and practices at Torch, and Bill followed with insight into the culture and compensation practices that attract top talent and help fuel sustained growth at the company.

Following the Huntsville visit, the event series continued, with three more stops at Tugboat Institute member-companies across the country. Each visit was attended in person by a small group of Tugboat Institute members, in accordance with local health and safety guidelines, and was live streamed to the wider membership. At each stop, members heard from company executives in the morning, participated in a Q&A session with each speaker, and connected via small-group breakouts (Zoom and in-person) to reflect on the morning’s content. For those who attended in person, the afternoon included a tour, lunch, and a Tugboat Institute Brain Trust.

The second stop was Boise, Idaho, on October 15, where Bret Moffett, CEO of POWER Engineers, along with CAO Jim Haynes and CFO Chuck Kemp, welcomed members and offered insight into the Idaho-grown global engineering firm. Through Bret’s Fireside Chat with Dave Whorton, members learned about the CEO’s upbringing and early affinity for computer science, key mentorship relationships that have led him to his current role, and the mission and values that guide the company. The Fireside Chat was followed by presentations by Jim Haynes and Chuck Kemp highlighting POWER’s culture of ownership and employee engagement.

On October 19, members visited ABC Home & Commercial Services in Austin, Texas, where they were welcomed by the company’s President, Bobby Jenkins. In a Fireside Chat with Dave Whorton, Bobby shared the incredibly close family connections that serve as a foundation for the company, Bobby’s love for the work that allows him to provide services that help his customers live healthier and safer lives, and his commitment to hiring exceptional talent to continue to grow and diversify. His dedication to philanthropic work in the communities he serves was also clear, as he described efforts he and his team have led in Austin, reflecting his philosophy that “Doing good is good business.”

Matt Burns, ABC’s Vice President and CFO, then presented the company’s story of diversification, from pest control to a now-wide array of home and commercial services, a model propelled by leveraging the existing customer base over time. The morning concluded with Bobby’s insight into the unique succession planning on his father’s part that led to his leadership of the Austin business, as well as to the establishment of two entirely separate companies led by his two brothers, and his current efforts toward planning for G2 to G3 succession.

The final stop of the Tugboat Institute @5HQ series, on October 21, was hosted by Chrissy Nardini, President of American Metals Supply Co. (AMS), a family-owned sheet metal distribution company headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri. Founded by Chrissy’s father in 1962, AMS has grown through his and her own leadership from one location in Springfield, Illinois to eight locations in six states. In a Fireside Chat with Dave Whorton, Chrissy shared the story of her entry into the family business, the unique, focused distribution model and laser focus on customer service that drive the company’s success, and the personal true north she has found in parenting her two adopted sons.

Following the Fireside Chat, Shelly Liley, Head of Employee Engagement at AMS, detailed the expansive employee benefits and People First orientation that drive recruitment and retention efforts at the company. COO Chuck Hitchcock then offered insight into the HVAC industry to provide context for the unique product niche AMS occupies in an otherwise commodity market. He described how this product focus, tied with high service levels and customer intimacy, drive customer loyalty and their above-industry profits.

There’s no question that Tugboat Institute events in 2020 have looked and felt different, and Tugboat Institute @5HQ was certainly a new take on the organization’s Fall Exemplar Visit experience. What remained consistent in this event series, as in all Tugboat gatherings, was the curiosity, generosity, and wisdom shared among these leaders, who, bound by their commitment to the Evergreen 7Ps™ principles, came together to learn from and support their peers.

Diana Price is Content Director at Tugboat Institute.

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