Tom DeBolt

Tom DeBolt

“Great leaders will not weigh in too quickly, otherwise it shuts down any additional conversation.”  In making this statement, Tom DeBolt was describing a mentor of his, but it also reflects Tom himself.  Tom is the GM for Benelli USA.  They are the manufacturing company of world class shotguns.  The shotguns are works of art. He was named GM a few years ago and took over a company that had opportunities to expand their market share.  To do so, they needed to change their culture.  What had made them successful over the prior 20 years, would not keep them growing at the expected rate of revenue growth or profitability.  

Tom is thoughtful, strategic, and analytical.  He has a strong spirit of service to others.  He uses data to make decisions but is also very much in touch with the human element of decision making.  He weighs both before he makes his choices.  He shared with me the value of an interim leader.  

The Lutheran Church has a policy that requires an interim leader when the pastor transitions out of the church.  Tom sat on the committee to replace their pastor when he left their church after 20 years at the pulpit.  The church had an interim pastor for several months, to allow the congregation to “mourn” the transition and adjust to the changes of a new leader.  They then brought in the new church leader, who brought change to the church.

It’s the same pattern that Tom had witnessed in his GM role.  Prior to Tom’s arrival, there had been an individual named to replace a 20-year leader at Benelli.  The new GM was not hired as an interim leader, and his tenure was shortened by the challenges of replacing a leader who had created a culture.  That culture was now working through change.

When Tom took the GM role, his first order of business was to build trust, and find trust.  He had a good team, and they had a way of doing business that was not in alignment with where they needed to take the company.  They saw someone from the outside, coming into the role and it created a gap between the executive team and the management team.  How could he change a culture with people he doesn’t see every day with this gap?

The key was collaboration.  Tom asked great questions, listened to the answers and asked more questions.  His hunger for discovery, led him to the balance of using data and using his team’s anecdotal input.  He worked hard not to shut down input.  From the information, he received, he made some hard choices.  His choses included improving communication throughout the company.  He promoted from within; put more responsibility in the hands of his managers; held companywide meetings monthly.    He shared results toward revenue and profit goals.  He shared the challenges they were facing and the wins they had earned. He shared how they were tracking toward their annual company plan.  It had never been done before.

The executive team, with Tom’s leadership, created a mission statement and vision that the entire company could rally around.  They created a set of values and behaviors called the Benelli USA Compass that they live every day. They are changing a culture.

As I spoke to Tom I was struck by his humble and generous nature.  His story is one of personal growth through his openness to input and then the fortitude to make strong judgments.  Because of these skills, he has built trust in the organization.  Because of his willingness to have the entire groups participation in the process of building the mission, vision and values, they have a purpose that they all can rally around.  Tom’s understanding of how to change a culture comes from a high level of empathy.  He understands his people and their motivations.  He values their input.  Tom is now working to take that same level of commitment to relationships at all levels of the company.   They track adoption of the new culture that they have created together.  Great leaders, like Tom DeBolt, will not weigh in too quickly, so they don’t shut down any additional conversation.

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