Lessons in Innovation and Integrity at Radio Flyer

Diana Price, Tugboat Institute

April 16, 2019

There’s no question where you are when you arrive at the Radio Flyer headquarters in Chicago: the world largest wagon (actually—according to the book of Guinness World Records!) proudly stands in front of the entrance to the historic building, which was completely renovated in 2017.

Founded in 1917 by Italian immigrant Antonio Pasin, the iconic American brand thrives today under the leadership of Antonio’s grandson, Robert Pasin. As Chief Wagon Officer, Robert stewards the legacy of Radio Flyer, the leading maker of wagons and a wide range of other award-winning children’s products, honoring his grandfather’s vision, ingenuity, and generous spirit while growing the innovative, Evergreen business for the next 100 years.

Last week, Robert and the Radio Flyer team welcomed Tugboat Institute members for two days of learning during the Tugboat Institute @RadioFlyer exemplar event. Robert shared his grandfather’s inspiring journey and the company’s evolution, offered insight into the business and the family, and spoke openly about the challenge and reward of navigating his personal leadership journey.

In a Fireside Chat with Tugboat Institute Founder and CEO Dave Whorton, Robert noted his immense gratitude for the opportunity to continue to build the business Antonio founded, led by his values. “My grandfather was defined by his commitment to integrity—both in the products he created and in his personal relationships—and by his magnanimous nature,” Robert said. It’s that approach to family, business, and community that have guided Robert through difficult periods in his and the company’s trajectory and continue to guide the Evergreen leader today.

From that foundation, Robert’s personal commitment to excellence have led Radio Flyer to continually innovate award-winning products that honor the heritage of the wagon that launched the company while designing new products that delight and inspire children. Tom Schlegel, Chief Innovation Officer, offered members a deep dive into the strategy and product design that continue to drive the company’s success in their market—as well as candidly sharing the “failures” that provide essential lessons and opportunity for growth.

Members also gained invaluable insight into the award-winning People First practices from Amy Bastuga, Radio Flyer’s Chief People Officer. Over 11 years, Amy has worked closely with Robert to implement programs and practices that ensure employees love their jobs and are empowered, inspired, and happy. Amy’s presentation, which highlighted five key elements of the company’s people practices, offered tactical steps and emphasized the throughline of mission, vision, and values across talent acquisition, management, development, and engagement.

The presentations from Robert, Tom, and Amy were enhanced by opportunities on each day for members to process their learnings through small, working-group activities that connected participants to one another and to the content.

Members found further opportunity for connection with their Evergreen peers during “Best-of-Chicago” experiences. On Wednesday, the group toured at the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park, a perfect follow-up to the day’s theme of innovation and design, followed by a fabulous meal at Chicago steakhouse STK. On Thursday evening, members gathered at the world’s premier comedy club and school of improvisation, The Second City. The group heard from Kelly Leonard, Executive Vice President of The Second City and author of Yes, And, who offered insight into how the “Yes, and..” approach to improv can transform conversation and thinking in business and leadership. Kelly’s presentation was followed by a meal at 1959 Kitchen & Bar in The Second City, during which several members shared their gratitude to Robert and the Radio Flyer team for the unique opportunity to step inside the business and learn from a company and a leader that so clearly exemplify Evergreen principles.

There’s no doubt that Tugboat Institute members left Chicago with innovative ideas, new and deeper relationships with their fellow members, and inspiration to take home to their teams, families, and communities. We are so grateful to Robert and his team for partnering with us to share best practices and to offer vital encouragement to our members on the Evergreen path.

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