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Automotive Executive’s Pioneering Mindset

Want to understand automotive executive Ron Meier? Grab a copy of Willa Cather’s My Antonio-a 1918 published novel that’s stuck with him for decades. In the late 1800’s story, Jim and Antonio’s families settle on the Nebraska prairie. Though their lives take very different paths, they remain lifetime platonic friends. Throughout the book, Cather captures the great American spirit, portrays the vast landscape and reveals the mindset, determination and willpower of the pioneering people. “The characters and setting bring North Dakota childhood memories back to me and remind me of the many who’ve come in and out of my life over time,” reflects Ron.

Natural Pioneer

Ron’s attraction to pioneering stories comes naturally. In the fall of 1966, the Meier family of seven relocated from rural south central North Dakota to Ypsilanti, Michigan. Worn out by farming, Mr. Meier boarded a train for Michigan where he secured a Ford Motor Company job. After finding housing, he sent for his family who moved the day after Thanksgiving, pulling a small rental trailer behind their car.

Ron is adaptable to relocations. To date, he has lived in eight places, mostly for work advancements. Today he and Karen, his wife of 35 years, reside in southern California. They are the proud parents of five sons and a daughter. Their lives are blessed with two grandchildren and two more are expected in 2017. Theirs is a full and rich life created by the personality traits Cather used to describe pioneering Midwesterners: hardworking, faithful, persistent and determined.

Rising through the Ranks of the Automotive Industry

Ron worked his way up the automotive industry career ladder using these pioneering traits. In 1978, he started as an hourly employee in the Hydra-matic transmission factory (a division of General Motors). Today he is the Western Executive Regional Director for Chevrolet in Moorpark, California. He’s responsible for sales in 13 western states, including Alaska and Hawaii.

His path was anything but a paved highway. Along the way, he was an apprentice powerplant mechanic and a Journeyman (skilled tradesman) powerplant mechanic at Hydra-matic. He paid his own way through night school, earning a Bachelor of Business Administration (Accounting and Finance) degree in 1984. He then was a salaried cost accountant at Hydra-matic. His MBA in International Business followed in 1990.

General Motors World Headquarters then offered him a staff assistant role in the GM corporate accounting and finance department. In 1995, he became a GM administrator working in numerous staff functions as a people leader. Four years later (1999) he was relocated to the field staff as a financial administrator supporting the GM Sales, Service and Marketing staff.

Ron became a Buick and GMC Zone Manager (OH, MI, PA and KY) in 2007 and was promoted to Senior Zone Manager (IL, IN and WI) in 2013 before promotion to his current role of Western Executive Regional Director.

“I’ve stayed with GM because I’ve developed a passion for what I do. Additionally, I work around some of the best and brightest people in the industry. GM has evolved into a well-run, innovative and dynamic company in a dynamic industry.”

Recession & Celebrity at GMC

Ron’s most memorable career experience is the 2008-9 economic recession. “These were troubled times filled with high anxiety. No one knew how things would turn out. In times like these, it becomes abundantly clear how important faith, hard work, focus and the values instilled in childhood are in overcoming adversity.”

Because of what Ron does professionally, throughout his career, he has had the opportunity to meet many public figures like Peyton Manning, Shaquille O’Neal, Erin Andrews, Fred Couples, Dierks Bentley, Luke Bryan, and more. Meeting these individuals makes him realize that people generally have the same hopes, fears, concerns, etc. no matter how famous they are. “They just perform on a larger stage.”

Leadership

Ron’s first leadership role was drum major for his high school marching band. “Back in those days one was chosen based on musicianship, physical ability and leadership. I realized then that people do not necessarily follow you because of your title, but they will follow you if you lead them.”

Traits of a Good Leader

  1. A good leader sees diversity of his group as a strength and finds ways to extract the best thinking from its members. “Over the years, I’ve found when people understand how what they do fits into the overall success of the organization and they feel they’ve contributed to that success, I’m on my way to developing an engaged, high-performing team.”
  2. People relate to leaders who are comfortable in their own skin and show some humanity.
  3. A good leader is also a good teacher.
  4. A good leader is a powerful and prolific communicator who not only focuses his group on what needs to be done but also the “why” behind the “what.”
  5. A good leader defines what success looks like and effectively conveys how this success benefits the entire group.

Selecting Leaders

Ron looks for several characteristics in leaders. “You don’t need to be a leader of people to possess these characteristics. Each is important in business. You are more likely to succeed if you can build an organizational culture where these are valued.”

  1. Personal Capability
  2. Results Oriented
  3. Acceptance of Responsibility
  4. Accountability for Results
  5. Strong Interpersonal Skills
  6. Being a Change Agent through Innovation
  7. Strong Character and Integrity

Principles & Values

“The dumbest mistake I made in my early life was thinking that reaching out to others for help or guidance was a sign of weakness.” Through conversations with others and a lot of self-reflection, Ron’s realized reaching out to the right people at the right time can be a smart move. “It enables you to get a fresh perspective and resolve a lot of issues, perhaps more quickly.”

Live By

  1. Be Responsible– “Own It”- Doing so helps one acknowledge his mistakes, take corrective action and learn from mistakes rather than pointing fingers at others or circumstances.
  2. Be Self-Motivated-No need to wait for an invitation to do what needs to be done…do it!
  3. Put Others First-Be part of something bigger than yourself. While some self-indulgence can be healthy, the majority of time should be spent in service of others.

UpSide of Downs a 501(c) (3) Non-Profit Organization

Ron and Karen put these principles to use in 1996 shortly after their son Steven was born with Downs Syndrome. They created UpSide of Downs in response to a lack of helpful information for parents and caregivers of these children. “We wanted current and less depressing information.” Initially they assembled materials into a booklet but today have a website that has branched into an informational source for caregivers of special needs children, adults and captives of dementia disease.

Not on the Golf Course

One’s not likely to find Ron on the golf course. “If pressed into service because of work, I’ll go and have a good time. But, the amount of time needed to become decent makes me turn away from the game.” Instead Ron spends as much time as he can with his family, attends church regularly and works on projects around the house, whittling away his “to-do” list.

Ron’s greatest joy comes from the blessings of seeing what wonderful people his children have developed into and the fine people they’ve married. Seeing the legacy being passed on in the parenting of their children is an added bonus.

Happy and Proud Influencers

If asked, Ron’s three cited influencers would likely list the same source of personal joy. Each of them possesses pioneering traits similar to the characters in Cather’s My Antonio. His dad Steve had a strong work ethic, a deep Catholic faith, a sense of humor and was known for how well he treated people. His mom Margaret taught him the skills for living and values that kept him on the straight and narrow. And, his wife Karen, the mother of their six children (two with Down Syndrome), has been a gift to his life. She managed their family life while he completed two degrees, primarily through night school; navigated many corporate relocations and supported him through his own life’s journey.

Share this with others who will learn from Ron’s journey and approach to life, especially those seeking to be leaders with a pioneering mindset.

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.

© Copyright. April 2017. Linda Leier Thomason

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Midwestern Values Led Tomlinson Straight to the Top

Sales Executive Reflects on 36 Year Career

Mike Tomlinson became a member of Aflac’s prestigious Hall of Fame in December 2015. This honor recognizes individuals who’ve had a significant career impact on Aflac’s 62-year existence. Currently, Mike is the youngest member admitted into this elite group of 17.

How did a Detroit Lakes, Minnesota  native and 28-year resident of Watertown, South Dakota reach this level in a Fortune 500 corporation that regularly lands on the annual 100 Best Companies to Work for list?

It wasn’t luck or connections. It was hard work, dedication and Midwestern values.

Father’s Influence

Mac on violin with Amazing Rhythm Aces in MN in 1920’s.

Mike’s father Mac (Marion) had the biggest impact on his life. “He was my business role model. He instilled a strong work ethic in me and extremely optimistic attitude toward business opportunity in America.” Mac founded two successful businesses and purchased another. His father, who was 72-years-old when Mike was born, retired from the day-to-day management of Tomlinson Lumber in Callaway, MN in his late 70’s. “One of the hallmarks of the lumber company’s success was treating the 50+ employees so well that they stayed long-term and performed very well,” recalled Mike. “Dad also became a Christian later in life and this had a profound impact on the business values he instilled in us.”

In retirement Mac developed a large tract of lake property that he owned in Detroit Lakes MN. Mike and his brothers and sisters worked shoulder-to-shoulder with their dad to improve and sell these lake lots, all the while learning valuable life and business lessons.

Values Guiding His Life

Mike is led by three values that guide his everyday life. They are:

  1. Tell the Truth. As his dad used to say, “Tell the truth and you only have to remember one story.”
  2. Under Promise and Over Deliver. Always meet or exceed expectations. Be careful not to overcommit.
  3. Listen More Than Talk. Ask good questions and really listen. “I was really impacted by Stephen Covey’s advice in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to ‘Seek first to understand and then to be understood’.”

Family + Music Man

Mike’s greatest joy comes from having a great family. He and wife, Michelle, have been married 40 years. They are the proud parents of three sons-Jeremy, Jesse and Jackson-and grandparents of five girls and eight boys. An ideal day for Mike, now retired from his 36 year Aflac career, is spent traveling and experiencing God’s creations and relaxing with his family.

Mike also enjoys music as a guitar player. He’s been a church worship leader for more than 25 years and played in the successful country rock band, Sagebrush, in the 1970’s. This northwest Minnesota band opened for and toured with national acts such as Black Oak Arkansas, The New Riders of the Purple Sage, Jerry Jeff Walker, The Bellamy Brothers, Alabama, and others.

His all-time favorite song to perform is Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream”. Why? Because, of course, “it epitomizes having a positive attitude and pursuing your dreams.”

Cancer Experience Begins Insurance Career

Mike’s mother Ozella passed away from a nine-year battle with cancer just three months prior to his first insurance agent interview. It was the cancer policy that drew him to a long Aflac career. “Even though my parents had excellent health insurance, I could see a clear need for a cancer policy to provide additional cash benefits to cover the multitude of non-medical (travel, lodging, meals, loss of income, etc.) expenses caused by this disease.”

As a 22-year-old, Mike was astute enough to recognize a company with great opportunity for growth and advancement, if he delivered results. And, once aboard, he applauded Aflac’s commitment to fairly and quickly paying claims and thrived in the pay and promote for performance culture. “I never really considered taking on or switching to any other companies or careers.”

Rising Through Aflac Ranks

Mike’s work ethic and business savvy led him to rise quickly in Aflac. He was a District Sales Coordinator (DSC) for five years before becoming a Regional Sales Coordinator (RSC) for three. It was during this time that his favorite Aflac memory happened. His NW Minnesota Regional Team broke the Aflac all-time production record (Wall of Fame) by coordinating a complex take-over of a block of Medicare supplement business in MN. This achievement required extensive collaboration and was one of his most challenging and gratifying leadership efforts in his 36 year career.

For nearly 20 years Mike was the North and South Dakota State Sales Coordinator (SSC) before becoming the Vice-President of the Central Territory (8 states in the upper Midwest)-a position he had for six years.

He then held several senior leadership positions at corporate before his retirement, including Senior Vice President and Director of U.S. Sales. Here he oversaw 70,000 U.S. associates and coordinators (independent contractors) and a team of 225 sales employees while managing a $125 million budget and a $1.5 billion annual sales quota. Predictably, sales positively turned 10.2 percent during his tenure.

During 35 years of leadership and management Mike’s teams achieved quota 27 years, or 77 percent of the time. When he retired, U.S. President, Teresa White said, “Mike has the admiration and respect of all of us. He is an outstanding leader, not only achieving 36 years of record-breaking sales but more importantly serving as a true role model of excellence in ethics, values and performance.” Chairman and CEO Dan Amos added, “Mike is a top performer and I’ve never known a finer person or better role model. His has been an impressive and motivational journey. Along the way, he has had a direct and positive impact on thousands of lives, including mine.”

 8 Life Lessons from Leading & Managing

For nearly four decades Mike had led and managed people and organizations. He shares these observations and lessons learned during this time.

  1. The #1-character trait that leads to professional success is persistence. It trumps talent, education and intelligence, though these are important too.
  2. Most people get sidetracked by working in their business instead of on their business to reach success. It’s good to step back and enlist the perspective and help of others and assess one’s business.
  3. Once an employee has been taught his job, stand back and let him learn from hands-on effort and results. Edge them out of the nest to fly earlier on their own.
  4. Think big. Don’t let your past limit your future. And, don’t sweat the small stuff. Most of it is small stuff.
  5. Invest heavily (time and money) in developing your people. Care enough about them to be honest and candid. Identify simple metrics (skills or activity) for improvement and monitor and discuss regularly. Praise progress as people respond much better to positive feedback than negative.
  6. Count your blessings regularly and work and live your life with passion. If you can’t enjoy the majority of your work, find something else to do.
  7. Integrity is important. If someone cheats on small things like golf or a sales number, they likely will cheat on bigger things. When I find people I can give a blank check to, I will give them the utmost responsibility.
  8. Work/Life balance is important. I suffered a serious heart attack at age 46 and now work hard to balance work with an appropriate amount of exercise, sleep and relaxation. The older I’ve gotten the more important my relationship with Christ has become. It’s easier to see through a mature lens that this is the ultimate “long-term planning.”

The Near Future

Mike considers himself to be exceptionally good at developing and executing strategy and staying calm and rational in tense situations. No one who’s worked with him would argue against that self-assessment.

Now, after almost two years of retirement and travel, he plans to continue to use his years of winning business skills as a consultant in the near future.

And, how he’d like to eventually be remembered, well that’s easy: “Being a loving husband, father and grandfather.”

 

 

Share with others who’ve had the pleasure of working with and learning from Mike.

©Copyright. March 2017. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.

What can I write for you? Contact me.