20 Questions

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20 Questions

20 Questions with Ryan Kalmbach

CEO of Johnstone Orion Distribution

Originally published
Originally published: 1/1/2023

Publisher Terry Tanker sat down with Ryan Kalmbach, CEO of Johnstone Orion Distribution with twelve locations and 125 employees. The two discussed entering the business, and motivating employees on the value of training, and opportunities for 2023.

    1.    What was your childhood ambition?

I wanted to be some sort of international business “titan” – who knows what that meant!  I absolutely knew that I would NEVER work in the family business at Johnstone Supply.  I wanted to make my own mark on the world.

    2.    What is your favorite website?  

Alltrails.  I love to hike and Alltrails is a great resource to find new hikes wherever I am in the world.

    3.    What would people be surprised to know about you?

People would be surprised to know that I meditate daily.  

    4.    What was your last big purchase?

I am currently booking a 10-day family adventure to explore the Chiapas region of Mexico.  My next big purchase will be college for my two children.

    5.    Where did you get your career started?

My career truly started when I moved to Appleton, WI to take over and reopen a failed Johnstone location there.  My four years as branch manager in Appleton were truly formative for my career.

    6.    What is the first thing you do when you get to the office?

I do my “Power Hour” from the office: read, journal, meditate and plan the day.  I wrap it up by putting my shoes on (like Mr. Rogers) and going around the office giving out high-fives.

    7.    How did you become involved with Johnstone / Orion?

As a kid in the family business, I was making coffee and working in the warehouse.  I left for college and never planned to work in the business.  After college, I ended up living back at home and my parents offered me a job at Johnstone to make some money while I figured out what to do with the rest of my life.  They highly recommended that I work since I now needed to pay them rent.  Over the course of many conversations with my parents, I expressed my desire to make my mark.  We agreed to find an opportunity away from the existing business for me to cut my teeth on.  A year after working in the business, I moved to Appleton, WI to take over the failed store there.

    8.    What’s the largest challenge managing a dozen locations?

We grew from 6 to 12 locations on May 1, 2023, so integration is the key right now.  We have incredible leadership and management teams. When we have the right people in the right seats managing the business is fun and easy.  My focus right now is ensuring our teams at all 12 locations feel connected and on board with our vision and goals.

    9.    What is the largest opportunity for Johnstone / Orion in 2023?

Our theme this year with the merger is “Forward Together”.  Our biggest opportunity is to leverage the collective strengths and knowledge of our 125 team members across 12 locations.  We have a 2-year initiative to build out a world-class employee experience. Our goal is to be the best place anyone will ever work.  One key piece of this is leadership training and development is the belief that great leaders are key to a great company.

The biggest business opportunity we see is electrification.  In 2022, we began to put a tremendous focus on heat pumps, and we will double down on this effort in 2023.  We have drastically increased our heat pump inventory. Our Fresno and Sacramento Training Centers offer a comprehensive list of classes to get our contractor customers up to speed with heat pump technology.  

    10.    What are you and your team doing to manage the pending refrigerant change? 

We have an amazing training team and Training Center.  Starting this fall, we will begin training classes and online webinars to address the pending refrigerant change.

    11.    What aspect of managing do you enjoy the most?

My passion is to inspire people and teams to achieve their best, to achieve more than they thought possible. I love helping our people to grow and enjoy the time I’ve spent coaching and mentoring our team.

    12.    What do you regard as your most significant business achievement?  

Helping people on our team to grow, whether that is within their current role or to move up within the organization.  

I am also quite proud that we were awarded the Member of the Year award by Johnstone Supply in 2017.

    13.    What motivates you?

Helping our people and our customers to grow.

    14.    How do you motivate others?

I think positive energy is infectious.  I aim to spread positive energy throughout our organization through in-person interactions, text messages, video messages, emails, postcards, smoke signals –  whatever it takes.

    15.    What aspect of leading the organization is most satisfying for you?

Watching individuals and the team set challenging goals that push their limits and then watching them achieve these goals.

    16.    What business advice has served you well over the years?

“Get out of the car.”  There is a great story here that we don’t have time to tell.  The point is, stop thinking and just get out there and do it. Jump In.

    17.    What is your management philosophy? 

I am a control freak but have learned and am learning to “let go” - give our team the space and freedom to make decisions.  We implemented EOS starting in 2017 and have since migrated to the Pinnacle Operating system.  This guides the structure and philosophy of how we manage the company.

    18.    What are the three business principles that guide you?

Change occurs at the speed of accountability. 

It's all about the people. 

Decisions are made at the lowest level possible.

    19.    What is the most exciting thing happening at The Orion Group right now?

Our Training Center. The biggest challenge facing our industry is the shortage of skilled people.  We can quickly create new technicians and installers for our industry.  

    20.    You provide a lot of training tools for contractors – even branding and marketing support. How can they take advantage of what you offer? 

Our passion is to help our customers to grow their businesses.  We aim to make it easier for them to do business. We have a big focus on training through our two training centers.  This includes technical training and business training.  We believe that when we help our customers win, we win too.