This blog post was written by the Chairman of Hytrol’s Board of Directors as part of our celebration of Loberg Day, in which we honor the legacy of our late founder, Tom Loberg. Tom believed in servant leadership, in empathy and in family. He routinely gave his time and resources to his community, both within Hytrol and the Jonesboro area. As someone who believed in the importance of relationships, Tom wanted his employees to feel like part of a family; he often referred to the company as “The Hytrol Family,” and this is a tradition that continues today.
What was Tom Loberg’s leadership style? I readily admit that many others are better equipped to report on personal observations of how Tom led. So many of our current employees or retirees – especially those who are honored on the 40 year pillars in the front office – had much better and more plentiful opportunities to see Tom in action. But my observations during the relatively brief period I worked directly for and with him continue to provide tools I use in the service of his company: Hytrol. I am pleased to have the opportunity to share these, especially for those who didn’t have the opportunity to know Tom and see him in action.
There are three hallmarks of Tom’s style that have come to me over that period: empathy, humility and gratitude.
Empathy is a word that is hard-wired into the ethos of Hytrol. Many of our employees remember when signs with that word on it hung on most walls at Hytrol. It’s part of our foundation because it was part of Tom’s approach to life and business. He wanted to put himself in the shoes of others and understand their experiences.
Frankly one can’t sustain success in leadership if you don’t focus on the people you are trying to lead. I think that’s why Tom was so successful as an engineer – he tried to understand problems from the perspective of others. I believe you can credit Tom’s empathy for the creation of our company. He took the time to understand Mr. Jarlsberg’s problem of moving seed bags and came up with a solution that works—Hytrol’s first conveyor, Old No. 1.
The next hallmark of Tom’s style, which is the one I’ve perhaps come to admire most, is humility. While Tom was supremely bright, talented and skilled, he knew he had limits and didn’t have all the answers. He recognized the need for help and surrounded himself with great people – and then he let them do their jobs. That humility leads to one of the fundamental principles of Hytrol’s business philosophy: we deal through distributors (now integration partners) because they bring skills and talents we don’t have. This produces a better result.
Humility also allowed Tom to do something many business leaders can’t: to recognize when you make mistakes and be courageous enough to fix them. That’s a lesson I’ve followed many times and one I encourage all of us to model.
The other essential element to Tom’s leadership style is gratitude. This one really is a complement to, and the other face of, his humility; he was grateful for the blessings that allowed him to succeed despite his limitations.
Gratitude extended to almost every aspect of Tom’s life. For the Hytrol family it is perhaps best exemplified by the annual Christmas gift and party he shared with employees. I heard him speak about this myself– he was grateful for the contributions the employees made to Hytrol’s success and wanted to reward them.
I used the word “blessings” in introducing this topic because Tom started with gratitude for God. That’s why there was a 4th chair at the table and why we still begin meetings at Hytrol with a prayer. Because, like our founder, we are grateful for the blessings of our Lord.
All of these things crystallized in Tom’s always-present enthusiasm and belief that the future of Hytrol was bright. That conclusion is inescapable if you adopt these characteristics. To take the time to understand others, to recognize the people who are able and willing to help, and to be thankful for what you can do and what others can do to help is a self-reinforcing approach that leads to solutions. And, in the end, that’s exactly what Hytrol does. We’re proud to incorporate some of Tom’s style into our own work and we challenge ourselves every day to carry his legacy into the future.
About the author: Robert Jones is the Chairman of Hytrol’s Board of Directors and a partner of Waddell, Cole & Jones, P.L.L.C. in Jonesboro, AR.