20 Questions with Tom Edwards, president of Ruskin
Originally published: 07.01.13 by Terry Tanker
HVACR Business Publisher Terry Tanker recently spent the afternoon with Ruskin president Tom Edwards at their corporate headquarters in Grandview, MO. The company manufactures a wide range of products including dampers, louvers, zone control products, and energy recover products to mention a few. The two discussed management skills, mentors, Ruskin Guiding Principles, social media and recreational activities.
1. What is your strongest overall management skill?
Maximizing the skills of individuals on our team and an ability to process the evidence, solicit additional data and then determine a sensible plan forward.
2. Was that skill learned from a mentor, an attribute from your engineering background, or was it innate?
All of the above. Mentors are key. The most impressionable mentor many of us have is our first boss. He taught me our main goal is to always look for what we have to offer, differentiate it from the competition, and maximize it to our best advantage.
3. What management skill(s) have not come so naturally, and how have you worked to improve them?
Public speaking. That was something that took a long time to develop. However, through practice and repetition, I actually really enjoy it now.
4. What would customers say surprised them about you?
They don’t expect me to know as much as I do about Ruskin product applications. If you’re in a leadership role you have to know how products are used and how to sell them. Apple CEO Steve Jobs, was the best salesman ever – right?
5. What do you enjoy most about the sales process?
It’s always been interactive. Ruskin trains about our products, during this process we get questions. With questions come opportunities for better data, ease of installation ideas and new products. For example, our new wireless damper testing device (Inspector) was conveyed to us from customers who wanted to test it without climbing a ladder.
6. What interpersonal skills have you worked to improve?
Active and focused listening without interrupting. It is a skill I’m focusing on.
7. You travel fifty percent of the time. How do you mentor others and spend enough time with your direct reports?
Monday morning staff meetings via conference call is a great tool. Each participant discusses their functional area. We discuss marketing, operations, finance, HR, examine plans, share ideas and best practices. The whole idea is to knock down silos to make sure there is better awareness around the company.
8. What are the Ruskin Guiding Principles and why did you develop them?
They are Train and Listen, Always Develop New Products, Make it Easier, Deliver on Time, Reduce Shipping Cycles and Quality Goes Without Saying. After becoming president in 1995, we had a meeting to establish the values of the company. The Guiding Principles do just that.
9. I asked one of your managers how you solved problems. Would you like to hear his response?
[Absolutely]. He said, “Immediately! If you bring Tom a problem he’s going to solve it right there. It’s not, I’m going to have to get back to you, or I’m going to have to think about this and let you know, he’s going to pick up the phone, get to the root cause and together we’re going to solve this right now”.
10. Would you agree?
[Laughing] That’s true. We just completed a personal dynamics inventory profile (Tom shares a portion of his regarding problem solving – its very complimentary.) “Mr. Edwards uses abstract reasoning, creativity and is able to access the complex issues in unusual situations that arise in his role. He’s able to isolate variables and determine the fact patterns and root causes etc.” [Laughing again] Tom says, “And, of course, I am flexible enough to change my mind when the facts change.”
11. You completed your MBA in 2008. At this stage in your career, why did you feel the need?
As they say, ‘to sharpen the saw’. It was a lot of extra work and time, but it was worth it and has helped me and Ruskin in the process.
12. Are your internal or external communication skills better?
I’m an equal opportunity communicator! And as I mentioned earlier I always enjoy customer interaction especially if we’re getting ideas we can address quickly and provide them with the associated solutions. Any process that creates new ideas and creates growth opportunities is where I find excitement.
13. What frustrates you?
When I meet with someone (at Ruskin) and say ‘here’s an opportunity’ and they don’t give me that warm fuzzy feeling that not only will they run with it, but take it to a new level – and own it.
14. What qualities do you look for in other managers?
A get-it-done mentality. That sense of determination, urgency and accountability that indicates they have the situation handled.
15. What do you like most about your job?
I really enjoy my boss and the relative autonomy he affords us. We have earned the right to drive our own decisions in terms of the four Ps of marketing, in operations, and where we make investments. I believe this is all due to consistently performing as planned year after year.
16. I was impressed to see you have a Twitter account and use it. How did you start?
It was part of my MBA program. It was an evolution. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. The business aspects of LinkedIn appeal to me the most because of all the business groups involved and the amount of business information available. Twitter ties in nicely - a post on LinkedIn goes there and to Twitter.
17. What about Ruskin’s social media focus?
In our industry, I am a firm believer that the mother ship is the company website. The rest of it (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) may create some noise, but everything you need to know about Ruskin products in detail is on our website – including ‘how-to’ videos.
18. What makes up the Ruskin Companies?
In addition to the Ruskin brand of products, I am also responsible for Lau (OEM fans and parts), Ruskin Rooftop Systems (rooftop accessories – e.g., ERV’s, economizers), Eastern Sheet Metal, Reliable and Swartwout (Industrial air control).
19. What do you do for fun?
We have a second home and boat on the Lake of the Ozarks - we love the water!
20. Any favorite sayings or quotes?
“The task is always easier when we remember we are here to serve others.”
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