A number of years ago, I was at the Stiklestad Lodge near Fort Ranson, N.D. for the then-annual Titan Machinery Pheasant Hunt. In addition to the Titan Machinery managers, the event drew a lot of friends of Titan co-founders Dave Meyer and Peter Christianson, including manufacturers, lenders and fellow dealer-principals.
As these things generally went, there was always a lot of B.S., laughs and tall tales shared in the lodge after a full day of hunting (and a few “feats of strength” with barstools – ask Meyer about it). But at some point, John Arnold (of Minnesota dealer group Arnold’s Inc.) shared that he and Meyer squared off on the basketball court in high school. When Meyer circulated over to the bar to refill his glass of wine, I made an off-handed comment in front of Arnold and others that intimated that Meyer was reportedly “soft in the paint.”
My friend Meyer was not amused and argued he “was anything but soft in the paint.” Arnold liked my joke better than Meyer did. I was lucky not to have “gotten ejected.”
So our athletic records, and how they help define us many decades later, can be every bit as serious as one’s business, and no laughing matter.
North American Equipment Dealers Assn. (NAEDA) President Kim Rominger (far left, #11) played with Larry Bird (center) at Indiana’s Lick Springs Valley High. While Larry Bird would rise to fame and fortune in the NBA, point guard Kim Rominger would soon hang up his Converse high-tops in favor of an equipment dealer association career.
On a couple of occasions this year when our farm equipment writings meandered into the sports realm (first on North American Equipment Dealers Assn. President’s Kim Rominger’s famous teammate in Larry Bird and then more recently with observations as stat-man for my son’s basketball team), some banter ensued -- among our own staff and the farm equipment businesses we serve -- about the “glory days.”
Our staff shared how grade school sports took us into the big city to play up to and rise to the competition, myriad stories of perseverance (our Digital Media Manager Michelle Drewek has a great story on her prized Most Improved Player award) and what we still draw from those experiences today in our career life.
In addition to Arnold and Meyer, I’ve known that sports refined the skills of many of our industry’s leaders. There was former Case IH Executive Jim Irwin who’d been signed by the Los Angeles Rams, Adam Timmerman (Super Bowl lineman turned Deere dealership GM) and many others. To name just a few more, now-retired OEM executive Russ Green and Mark Foster (see below) both started their careers as coaches, and Farm Equipment columnist George Russell was a 3-year varsity manager of the Harvard baseball team that made it to several College World Series.
1971 BENTON CENTRAL SECTIONAL CHAMPS (INDIANA). The bespectacled Mark Foster (retired Birkey’s Farm Store executive, comments shared below) is in the first row, second from right. “We won our sectional my senior year by winning two games by a grand total of 3 points and one of those games was in overtime,” he says. The photo shows 6 guys without warmups, and Foster and 3 others played every minute of the two games. Foster intended to be a basketball coach but ended up with International Harvester instead. “If I had stayed in teaching/coaching I probably would have been fired,” he jokes. “IH was a good career path for me.”
Lessons Learned from a High School Hack. As for me, I was an injury-prone high school hack who learned a great deal about myself through comebacks from multiple injuries (2 of my 8 knee surgeries came during high school), position changes and trying to overcompensate for a lack of athletic ability (the desire was there, though).
While I can forever boast (and do – just ask my sons) of a great varsity football stat line – averaging a TD every other reception and a 22-yard average – my teammates say (and also say so fairly often) that getting injured after 2 games certainly helped. I had to forgo the gridiron as a senior in hopes of remaining healthy for basketball, so that 2-game varsity football career was over at age 16.
In basketball, I was disappointed and humbled to be moved down to the J.V. squad as a rare junior on the team (to get me the minutes I’d missed due to injury), but was able to contribute to the varsity as a senior. Thanks to a defensive-minded coach, I could get onto the floor, and he looked the other way on my 4.5 points per game. To this day, one of my proudest moments is being elected captain as a part-time starter on a team that had 5 college-bound athletes. I’m convinced that the 1987 captain was the least athletic player in our program’s storied history and possibly the only 1-year letterwinner.
High school athletics has taught us much about character, perseverance and team play. As the NCAA’s wrap up and baseball’s opening days take place, we went to some farm equipment leaders about the lessons learned from their sport-playing “glory days.”
Here’s a sampling of what we learned. Got your own story to add? Use the comment box below.
Winners Find a Way to Win
Sports analogies are huge in our company as Torgerson's loves to win and we’re not only externally competitive but internally as well. Many of us played high school or college sports and the work ethic and teamwork aspects really stick out to me.
Winners find a way to win whether that is putting together a great team, great "game plan” or simply outworking the competition. Although we have hundreds of miles between our locations we still work as a team throughout the complex.
–Chaney Bowen, Region Director, Torgerson’s, Lewistown, Mont.
Seeing ‘the Game’ Clearly
Playing team sports is an important part of being a good business owner and leader. Having played soccer, the captain role and team member roles are all part of being a leader in the business world while also being a team player to and with all levels of your organization.
The traits and skills I find from many years ago are being able to visually survey many different areas of the business to get a good read of the land/field/business all in one picture like the game being played on a field. And then, anticipating the movement of the ball and other players that are essential to making good business decisions.
–Paul J. Licata, President, BDi Machinery Sales, Inc., Macungie, Pa.
What Coach Rice Taught Me…
I definitely think being active in sports in high school or college has helped me be successful in my career and the stores that I managed.
When I was a freshman in high school, the football team was 0-24 in the previous 3 years. We only had 24 kids that went out for football and 14 of them were freshman, so several of us had to play. We were in the toughest conference in our division in the state, kind of like the SEC of the state. It was a long season, but we did break the losing streak in the first week of the season and won one more game that year. In the second to last week of the season, we played in a freezing rainstorm and our upperclassmen gave up and we got beat 75-8.
The next week was one of the longest weeks of my life. Our coach had a meeting with the freshman and sophomores before practice and said, “Sorry, but we are a team and we will be stronger after hell week.” We didn’t see a football the rest of the week (something that probably can’t be done nowadays). We played the number-one team in the state that week and hung with them for most of the game with mostly freshmen and sophomore players.
I wasn’t a big hitter and didn’t play much at all, but it was great to be a part of the team.
Fast-forward 2 years and we continued to get better and those kids that were freshman and sophomores turned the program around to where we had over 60 kids out for the team. Since I was still not great at blocking and tackling, Coach Rice came up to me and said “You are a heck of an athlete but with all of the talent we have I don’t have a spot for you on offense or defense. But I need you to learn how to kick.” He really impressed upon me how important we needed a kicker and that I’d be needed at some point of the season.
He was right. At the end of the year we needed an extra point to win the game with no time left and I made it. We went on to win State that year. The school has gone on to win several state championships, and several runner-ups in all sports in the last 30 years. Prior to our run, the school had only won two in any sport.
We discussed throughout the year that it is OK to win. It seems so easy but it is actually difficult to have that winning attitude. Every team always has their star players but it’s the role players that help you win. The coach had three rules for us.
- Be a good student
- Be a perfect gentlemen
- Turn into a great father and husband
I honestly disliked Coach Rice while playing for him. But when I see him today I give him the biggest hug I can and tell him how much I love him and thank him for turning me into the person I am today. As I started into management of stores, it is amazing how many days I use something that Coach Rice taught me.
I need rock stars in every department, but I also need the employees that know their role. If I have all A-Techs I have nothing but problems, because there has to be an Alpha. I need a few A, B and C techs. Then pick the ones that have the most growth possibilities to push them to grow.
When I interview people, the first or second question I ask is if they played on any sport teams in high school. If they say yes, I ask them if they liked the games, the practices or just wanted to wear the stuff. There isn’t a wrong answer but I know that for the most part they were part of a team. A team has a common goal and chances are they will be a good teammate for the people of Plains Ag.
I have used what Coach Rice has taught me to turn two stores around. In Holyoke, Colo., we went from mid-teens market share to 60-70% market share. I trained my replacement and he has continued to grow the store’s numbers. In Burlington, Colo., we’ve gone from around 10% to above 30% market share in 18 months.
There is a book called Beyond Xs and Os: What I Learned About Friendship and Success from a College Football Legend. It is about famed football coach Hayden Fry and how he built the Hawkeyes at the University of Iowa. I learned that if I can hire head coaches underneath me, it will make my life easier and our team more successful. It is OK that they are better than me and I encourage them to be better than me.
I love it when one of them tells me they are going to take my job. We had one in Burlington tell me that very thing in her review this year, so we are starting to train her to do that in 3-4 years.
If it wasn’t for sports in high school and one year of college, I feel I wouldn’t be where I am today.,
–Curt Parker, Store Manager, Central Plains Equipment, Holyoke, Colo..
‘Buying in’ to the Team Concept
Simply, “It’s always about the team” and everybody has to share this value.
–Darrell Pankratz, AVE-PLP Holdings, LLC, Hutchinson, Kan.
Loss Can Be A Victory
I competed in Martial Arts, Kickboxing & MMA from junior high and into my mid-30s and learned several valuable lessons from the early days. I would say a couple of the most common traits that I utilize in business today are:
1. Pushing myself to continuously try and improve myself and others around me.
2. Knowing that sometimes even a loss can be a victory. It's all about perspective.
–Wayne Brozek, WB Global Services, Scotssbluff, Neb.
Sports a Prereq for Sales Leadership
I played some in high school, but nothing of note. My competitiveness came as a result of being the fourth child and needing to claw my way to the top, and a bit of a temper with a short fuse.
I firmly believe in competitive sports being a prereq for leading a sales team.
–Clayton Camp, CEO, Kern Machinery Inc., Bakersfield, Calif.
Wanting to Win vs. Hating to Lose
Lessons Learned. I grew up in a small town playing three sports and went on to play two in college. I had some great coaches but the one lesson they all seemed to instill was to “control what you can control.” You can’t control what the other team does, you can’t control if the grass on the field isn’t ideal and you certainly can’t control what other people do. But you can control your attitude and your effort.
In business today, the same lesson is true. You can’t control how much it will rain or if it’s still snowing in April. You can’t control if the markets are up or if steel is expensive. But you can come to work each day with a good attitude and put forth your best effort. The results will work out over time. Stop worrying about the things that are out of our control.
Additionally, to be a good member of a team, you must communicate and be honest. Too many good teams fail because they won’t “talk on defense” or make excuses about why something went wrong. Communicate with your employees and your bosses. Don’t worry about sugarcoating what happened to try to look better. Just be honest and then the issues are easier to deal with.
Traits & Skills. Bouncing back from adversity. People who play team sports understand there are hundreds of plays in a game. They aren’t all going to go perfect and the majority of them do not. People who compete understand in the real world not everything is going to go to plan. You can’t quit because you had one bad call with a customer or something didn’t go quite correctly. Sometimes you lose and you need to bounce back from that loss quickly in order to do your job and not let it carry over into the next appointment.
Everyone wants to talk about their competitive desire and how they love to win. I believe people who truly compete take it a step further. It's not that they don't love to win, but rather they hate to lose. It’s easy to feel good after wins, but what happens after a loss? Do you work harder? Do you make changes? If you are driven by the desire to not lose you do everything possible to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
–Jason Dannelly, Location Manager – Fargo; Marketing Manager – Ag Division, Ag Spray Equipment, Fargo, N.D.
Benchwarmers Win, Too
This old dealer was not an athlete, but did play second string on the basketball team. My boyhood friend and idol, Randy Taylor, and I were sitting on the back row behind the starters playing tic-tac-toe.
Two starters really screwed up and the coach called time and grabbed Randy and me by the jerseys and said "Report and get in there." We were clueless. I took the ball out, threw a perfect pass to Randy, and he sprinted off with fresh leg speed TO THE WRONG BASKET.
The other coach has just put in two just as clueless subs and one of them ran after and FOULED Randy shooting at the wrong goal.
One ref blew the whistle then looked at the other with a blank, equally clueless stare. After an official timeout and useless search of the rule book they shrugged their shoulders and took Randy to the other end of the court and gave US two free throws. Our coach was in what we thought was cardiac arrest but just turned out to be pent-up resolve to have us run laps 'til the rapture came, we found out.
The moral of the story we learned was:
1. Even though you are not in the game directly, always know what is going on with all your players and know which way you are headed.
2. When bad things happen, make the best out of it.
3. When you mess up — fess up! No excuses, pay the penalty and go on.
4. Finally, be gracious in victory and in defeat — you will likely play (or sell to) the same “team” again so don't burn any bridges. You can shear an old sheep once a year — you can't skin 'em but once.
— Tim Brannon, Owner, B&G Equipment, Inc., Paris, Tenn.
Competition Brings Out the Best
I played high school football and basketball as well as scholarship college basketball.
I learned many life lessons from sports that have benefited me tremendously in both my personal and professional life.
I learned that a team is every player and every coach and every trainer and every equipment person all the way to the end of the bench. It takes every single person to be able to be as good as a team can be in sports and in business. Every person is important to the overall performance of the team. If a business has dirty bathrooms or unpleasant employees that is reflective of the entire “team.” Everybody in my business has business cards and is treated with respect, regardless of the role.
I learned that competitors are necessary to help me improve my athletic skills and equally necessary to make my business better. I treasure my competitors and my business strategies and, consequently, my business is better because of it.
I learned to compete like crazy on the court and to “leave it all out there.” It doesn’t necessarily equate to winning every event. Very few champions have had perfect seasons. It does mean that, even though you weren’t perfect, you’ve done your absolute best at that time.
I learned as much or more from losses than from wins. I also learned that losing is not fun, but can be done with dignity and professionalism. It’s OK to dwell and feel miserable on a loss for a few minutes or hours, but then it’s time to move on to the next “deal” and do the “next right thing” needed to be successful with the next opportunity.
–Alan Heskamp, President, Equipment Solutions, LLC, El Campo, Texas
Teamwork, Culture & Hustle – All 3 Needed to Succeed in Business
Teamwork and culture are synonymous on any team I played on or coached. I played quarterback in high school and ran track. I was small but fast and had the benefit of playing with good players.
I coached both our boys in Mustang basketball. The youngest had 13 kids on his team that all got along. We weren't very tall but we could run anyone to death and lost only 4 games from 4th grade to the end of sophomore year.
I guess I would add hustle to teamwork and culture. These are all attributes that have been consistent to me and my team members in sports, family and business. I haven't seen many successful teams, businesses, or families that don’t exude these three.
–Skip Klinefelter, Owner, Linco Precision LLC, El Paso, Ill.
A Coach’s Motivation Lessons
I participated in high school sports and entered the coaching field at the end of my playing days.
If there’s anything I took from playing and coaching it’s the lesson that success requires people that have a competitive streak. There are a lot of cliches out there about winning, but the bottom line is you want people that want to come out on top.
For success in sales, service, and parts, you need your people to be on the same page. In coaching, however, you learn early on that individuals are motivated differently. While one staff member reacts to a more direct approach, another member may need a softer tender approach. To get the most out of your staff, one needs to motivate them on an individual basis.
Finally, a mentor once told me when I was coaching was that if you listen to the fans long enough you will end up sitting with them. So be yourself, always look for ways to improve as well as learn from the best in the business.
–Mark Foster, retired owner of Birkey’s Farm Store, Williamsport, Ind.