What You’ll Learn
- The success of any project relies on collaboration and open communication. By engaging everyone in the process, you can create a supportive and inclusive environment where ideas thrive.
- Transitioning from an individual contributor to a manager is a challenging process, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. Let go of the need for control and focus on nurturing the growth and success of your team members.
- Remember to persevere during difficult times and find new ways to approach challenges as a team. Embrace change, be adaptable, and continuously seek innovative solutions to overcome obstacles.
Timestamps[01:25] Tad’s background & introduction to a strong work ethic
[07:36] Reflection of growth as a leader
[10:25] The shift from individual contributor to manager to leadership
[17:32] Managing large projects as a manager vs. as a leader
[24:44] Advice for ESOP members
How to Listen or Watch
Listen below or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Watch below or @Empowered_Ventures on YouTube.
Read the full transcript here or below the following media links.
Chris Fredericks: Welcome to Empowered Owners, the podcast that takes you inside Empowered Ventures. I’m your host, Chris Fredericks. In each episode, I’ll have a discussion with one of our employees to discover and highlight their distinct personalities, perspectives, and skills while also keeping you in the loop with exclusive news, updates on company performance, and a glimpse into the future plans of Empowered Ventures. This is an opportunity for me to learn more about our amazing employee owners and an opportunity for you to hear regularly from me and others from within Empowered Ventures.
On this episode of Empowered Owners, I’m talking with Tad Calahan, President of TVF. Tad started with TVF in 2007 as Assistant Controller, steadily progressed through various leadership roles over the years, and assumed full leadership of TVF in April 2023. Interestingly, Tad grew up in Elkhart, Indiana, where many of our fellow EVers live and work at Paramount Plastics. Tad went to Purdue University, where he majored in finance. I love this conversation and believe it highlights how dedicated and thoughtful Tad is as a leader in person and how passionate he is about TVF, its people and employee ownership.
With that, let’s get to the discussion. Tad Calahan. Welcome to Empowered Owners. Thanks for joining.
Tad Calahan: Yeah. Thanks, Chris. Thanks for having me.
Chris Fredericks: So I thought a good place to start for us might be thinking back a little bit. We’ve worked together a long time. At this point at TVF, our careers have largely overlapped. And something that has always really stood out to me about you and just watching you and how your careers developed and how you’ve approached it is just how you’ve always had this continuous improvement mindset and growth orientation to how you approach work. And I think even life in general. And I’m really curious where you think that comes from.
Tad Calahan: I think for me, a few things. Part of it’s upbringing, childhood I grew up with single mom, brother and sister, were much older than me, eight and eleven years older. So kind of had to fend for myself a little bit. Played sports a lot, competitively as a child. So just always wanted to improve and build my skills and try to compete. So I think that competitiveness kind of builds in you as a kid. And then I think as you grow and you get into your professional career, really just trusting in others like you did coaches, right when you’re little, you’re trusting in coaches to help you get better at whatever that thing is. I think that’s no different for me, really just trusting in mentors and people that you work with that give you sometimes feedback you don’t want to hear. But being self aware and being able to be open minded and trusting others that really want to see you be the best that you can be and really allowing that feedback. Because ultimately, for me, based on my life and everything and just really wanted to excel and be better for me and my family and try to make their lives better than what I had growing up. We didn’t have a whole lot. Mom worked a lot. So I think just the work ethic that she brought and instilled in me, and I just think it’s more exciting to always try to be improving upon yourself and the way that you interact with others, the way that you go about your business, it’s just maybe that competitiveness, I think, that really drives me.
Chris Fredericks: How about with your mom? What did she do? What was her work?
Tad Calahan: She worked at a place called Miles Laboratories. It was one of the big employers in Elkhart where I grew up. But she was in QA, so she did a lot of quality control for diabetes. And then Miles Laboratories. Everyone knows Bayer Pharmaceuticals. They ended up acquiring Miles Laboratories in Elkhart. And so she worked there for, like, 38 years. Basically, her whole career was spent there. And so, yeah, she worked a lot of hours, really just trying to do the best she could for me growing up.
Chris Fredericks: So would you say you learned like, a work ethic from your mom? Potentially?
Tad Calahan: Yeah, I absolutely did. I saw how much she had to go through for me and trying to do the best she could. She wasn’t college educated, so really had to overcome some of that educational background with hard work and reliability and discipline. So seeing that and saw how it worked for her and how much we had to I guess I don’t say struggle necessarily, but really go above and beyond to try to have things that a lot of other people maybe take for granted.
Chris Fredericks: Growing up in playing sports or outside of sports, any other mentors come to mind from your youth?
Tad Calahan: I think probably the first one for me was actually was my fifth and 6th grade teacher. His name was Mr. Lambright. His reputation was kind of a disciplined teacher, and I think it was for some reason, we had a connection. And not that I necessarily needed all the discipline, but I think it just helped me evolve and grow and mature for what you need at that phase. And then I think, other teachers throughout my time, my 7th grade teacher, he ended up being our golf coach. His son was also my age, so families were familiar, and he challenged me in different ways. And then throughout my professional career, I’ve had two or three different people, including yourself, Chris, that have really helped shape and mold me and give me feedback that maybe was hard to hear at certain points in time, but really taking it to heart and trusting that people are looking out for you. And there’s a reason why you’re getting that information and for people to really want to help build you up.
Chris Fredericks: From what I’ve gathered and seen in person, even with some golf, you were an exceptional athlete. You excelled in multiple sports and golf and hockey especially. I think when you transitioned to career, you went to Purdue, got a degree in finance, and then you transitioned to building a career. Did you find that competitive drive that you had in sports just easily translated right into work life, or did that take a little bit of a different amount of time or anything happening to bring that into work life as well?
Tad Calahan: I think it was naturally just part of who I am. I will say the competition part. Sometimes I have to keep that in mind because sometimes that competition comes out in the wrong way. But I will say, for me, certainly it’s always been part of who I am. Always trying to be better, always trying to be the best professional I can be in my career. Just like growing up in sports, everyone wants to be a pro athlete, right? So you’re trying to be better, but there’s always someone better than you that’s I think hard for a lot of people to embrace, especially when you are having success athletically growing up. But I do think there’s a lot of similarities with team sports or even individual sports, and how you can relate that to a professional career. Part of being a part of a team and understanding your position and how you contribute. But obviously, a team doesn’t win and lose by just one individual. You have to communicate. You have to build a culture and a togetherness across a team to really have a big impact. And maybe to some degree, Chris, the fact that I had golf and hockey as an individual sport and a team sport maybe helped bring a little bit of that diversity in the sense of individual accomplishment and the things that you have to do to try to get better. At a sport where you’re on an island, either you do well or you don’t, and it isn’t fully on you. And then part of a team sport where you can have a great game but still lose the game in the sense of the team just maybe not performing at its optimal potential. So continuing to kind of work through things, difficult times where you feel like you can’t get to that goal or you can’t reach an objective and there’s always time left and never really trying to give up on something. And continue to figure out how can we position the team or how can we think about things different, come up with a new game plan.
Chris Fredericks: So when you think about the evolution of your career, and it’s largely been at TVF, although you did have a few years before TVF and other companies, how would you say that you’ve grown personally just from the early years to now? What are some of the key areas you feel like you’ve made progress?
Tad Calahan: I think the main thing for me well, I think a few things I think early on, two things happened for me and one. You’re trying to learn and absorb and understand what being a professional looks like. So you’re doing a lot of observation of others, and you’re also trying to soak in as much information as you can. Right. I think the other thing for me is really trying to make a mark for yourself. And I think sometimes early in careers, you can overcompensate and try to be someone that you’re not, trying to be what you think it should look like in order to try to get that opportunity, and also being comfortable knowing that you don’t have to have all the answers. Right. It’s okay. I think early in your career, it’s hard because it almost makes you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, and that’s what you’re protecting against. But as you kind of lean in, you get further into your career, I think you get more comfortable in the sense that you’ve had some success, you’ve got some things that you lean on. You don’t feel quite the amount of pressure to really have to, quote, unquote, know everything or always have the answer or those kinds of things. And so I think for me, that was the main thing for me is try not to be someone that you’re not just because you think that’s what you’re supposed to be. Just be yourself.
Chris Fredericks: That’s terrific. I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking back to when TVF became employee owned back in 2010. You and I both were there for a few years before that, and we worked for the founder of TVF for quite a few years. And the culture was a more typical privately owned kind of Dick Hansel’s way was the way. And we were all trying to make sure Dick was pleased with our work. And to some degree that was consistent, I think, with the way you’re speaking about trying to make a mark and live up to Dick’s expectations. Ultimately, I think, was on all of our minds. And then when TVF became employee owned, I feel like that for both you and I, we took advantage of that shift to say, okay, what kind of culture do we want to create here? And it seems to me that really helped both of us relax and lean into being ourselves more. And I’m curious if that resonates with you as well.
Tad Calahan: It does resonate for me. Those early days, I learned a lot. You had to be prepared, you had to make sure. But there was also a level of anxiety and trying to be that, like I mentioned earlier, somebody that you’re not. So I think employee ownership, it brings more togetherness. It’s a different environment, and certainly, I think, allowed me to kind of calm down a little bit and take things at a different pace and know that we were all in this together was kind of a really cool feeling.
Chris Fredericks: I think that’s a good transition. You’ve transitioned through your career from a great individual contributor to then a manager, managing a team, managing people, and now leader leading TVF, you’re president of TVF. So I’m curious just how you think about navigating each of those shifts over the course of a career and maybe even for me, just a pre comment for all the listeners. I personally don’t think going from individual contributor to manager to leader is the only career progression there is. I think being a great individual contributor is a great career in and of itself. And managing and leading are different careers too. It’s really ultimately about in my mind what fits an individual the best. And for you, you have navigated those different changes. So I’m curious, going from individual contributor to manager, maybe we start there. What do you think comes to mind in terms of making that kind of a shift successfully?
Tad Calahan: I think being great at what you do at an individual level, I think is absolutely a great career track and there’s a lot of people that can really excel in that. For me personally, I wanted something different. I was able to have an opportunity to be a manager early on in my career and I just really enjoyed being able to work closer with people and help people have success. And so I think for me it is the hardest transition. Speaking about going from an individual contributor to a manager, it’s probably the hardest transition to make and do effectively and successfully for a few reasons. I think when you’re an individual contributor that’s had success, it’s because of your own efforts and your own ability and appetite and motivation. When you go to being a manager, it’s a tough transition because you have to embrace that it’s not just your efforts. And I think a lot of times there’s this whole moniker of Micromanagement and Micromanagers, and I think that gets it’s a stigma, because I think a lot of people, they want to be a manager, but they don’t know how to let go. They don’t know how to delegate, they don’t know how to communicate effectively with their teams, to really multiply their influence and help their teams have success. You got to show love and that you want your team to have success. So sometimes that means really hard conversations. And so for me, those are the activities that differentiate management from an individual contributor, is making it more about your team and making sure that they have those opportunities and that you can kind of let go of it. Being about you navigate the team towards outcomes, objectives, whatever you want to call them and communicating really effectively with your team about the why of why we’re doing this and how it’s going to benefit everybody.
Chris Fredericks: For you personally, which of those do you think was maybe the easiest to make that change and which was the hardest? Like of all those different elements of becoming a manager.
Tad Calahan: I would say the communication piece for me was probably the easiest. I’ve always been comfortable having conversations, good and bad. It’s never easy. There’s always this level of nervousness. But I think early on I got comfortable with the fact that, one, it’s important as a manager to make sure that you are comfortable in those and that you’re doing it for the right reasons. And I think that’s something that I’ve heard consistently from people that are on my teams is they always know where they’re at. They always know where they stand. If there’s something that maybe is getting off the rails, I don’t let that simmer and let that build. We have that conversation in as close to real time as possible. The most difficult one is always letting go. Delegating it’s because when you have that performance individually, it’s really hard to let go of that because a lot of times that’s what you’re motivated by is the success and letting go and knowing that has to be less control about you and more about the team is a really hard thing to do. You kind of have to let go and trust it and surround yourself with great people that you feel and trust that are going to have great two way communication and that everyone’s clear on what we’re trying to accomplish.
Chris Fredericks: And it seems like surrounding yourself with great people is you just hit on another big key of being successful in management. What have you learned around that topic of how to surround yourself with great people?
Tad Calahan: I don’t know that there’s a one size fits all. I think everyone kind of has to figure out for themselves what they need for themselves to feel comfortable getting those other things done. Trust, letting go. Delegating, what do you need from your teams in order to feel like there’s that cohesion and that two way level of knowledge? And so I think it’s something that you just have to kind of work through for yourself. I think it takes some time and some experience and some trials and tribulations to figure that out. But I think that’s okay. I mean, that’s part of the journey, right? Not everything goes perfectly all the time. And so maybe when you make some decisions that don’t end up panning out, learning from those and understanding and reflecting on that, it’s challenging. But making sure you have people that you can trust, people that can communicate with you, people that really embrace what you’re after, people that really want and have shared values in the sense of wanting to do a great job, they want to have pride in their work, they’re reliable. All the things, at least for me, that built that level of trust and that level of teamwork that I think is important for success.
Chris Fredericks: Then what about making the shift from manager to, let’s say, leader? How do you even think about the difference between a manager and a leader?
Tad Calahan: I think they’re similar, but different in the sense that leader, it’s even more broad. You’re influencing a larger group. Maybe not always, right? You can be a leader in smaller groups too. But I think for me, and I’m still learning, right? I haven’t arrived, I’m still trying to perfect my own leadership style and the ways that I can really serve my team. But I think for me, it goes from, I guess the best way I could kind of articulate is going from more of a tactical, hey, this is what we’re after. This is our mission within our team. We’re tracking progress, we’re tracking performance. We’re managing a team for more influence across an organization. From a leader, it’s more about creating more awareness around the direction we’re going, really empowering the organization, building culture. But for me, in my leadership journey, it’s really getting comfortable being uncomfortable, because I think you really have to let yourself out there a little bit more. It’s not just about you and maybe your team, your department or your function. When I think about leaders, it’s maybe more broad, right? You’re over multiple functions, you’re running a business, maybe you’re an entrepreneur, whatever, but it’s about really trying to serve your team and again, maybe even letting go even more and knowing that now you’ve got other leaders and other people in the business that have also mastered the delegation and the communication. And so how do you continue to serve and lead that broader group or the company in general towards whatever that long term objective or the really exciting future that you’re trying to paint for your teams or whatever that can motivate and get people out of bed every day and say, hey, I love working here. It’s a great place to work. I feel fulfilled. I love my team and the people that I’m around. I think that’s really some of the elements, I guess, in the way that I think about leadership, maybe differentiating from more of a tactical manager of maybe a department or portion of an organization.
Chris Fredericks: One or two examples are coming to mind that I think might be fun to just dig into from your background with TVF, both being big projects, let’s say. So the first one that’s coming to mind is the initial large ERP conversion that TVF went through. I’m going to say 2012. I forget now. And you led that project, your CFO at the time and led that project. That was the first time TVF had really fully accomplished a large ERP conversion like that in maybe 15 years or something. How did you approach that project and why do you think it was successful?
Tad Calahan: I’m glad you brought this up. This is probably one of the original times where I had like a light bulb moment where I kind of changed my approach. I think I was kind of in that transition at the time, and I had done past implementations much smaller in scale, but in my mind, hey, I’ve done this before. Hey, everybody, follow me. We’re going to do this. We’re going to knock it out. This is going to be great. What I maybe miscalculated was some change management and also the fact I knew and was aware of the past history of an ERP project and the fact that we haven’t really been able to do it successfully. And so that was on my mind. And how to mitigate some of the risk, how do I make sure this isn’t just about me, but how can I make sure that I acknowledge and respect all the other knowledge across the business to make sure that we do the right thing? So, a few things. One, I took it like a crawl, walk run mentality. The main thing is we have to get off the old system. The old system is holding us back. We all understand that. We all agree with it. So let’s try to just make sure that we can transition, get on a new system, and then we can grow and evolve and take on all the other bells and whistles in the future. But let’s mitigate risk by making sure we’re not trying to get a lot of what people call scope creep and try to do all these other fun things that come along for the ride. I think the other thing for me was getting comfortable with the fact that it’s not about the right idea or my idea, it’s about getting to the best idea. And I think that became really obvious for me through the project as I’m kind of leading discussions and understanding how we’re going to navigate this project. There was several times where someone on the project team would say, well, what about X? Or It won’t work for Y reason or whatever. And then it was like, oh, wow, that’s a really good point. I didn’t know that or I hadn’t thought about it. And so there were several of those moments and it was an area where I came to that conclusion of, you know what, these projects are successful not because of one individual. It’s about the team and it’s about how do we work together and how do we have really healthy conversation and share, hey, I don’t love whatever this idea is. What about this? And doing a lot of brainstorming and working together and eventually getting to a really good solution. And I think that’s part of what you spoke about not having a lot of what can happen. A lot of ERP or other system projects where it goes live and it’s very bumpy for a period of time or maybe just a really big issue comes up. I think for us, the way that we were able to mitigate that was because we went through a process where everyone was very engaged, was willing to share what they were uncomfortable about and what they liked. And so we were able to I guess I moderated that and coached us through those areas. And we ended up coming up with great solutions that had a lot of long standing success and sustainability for the ERP project. And I think that’s ultimately what I think allowed the team to get a lot of buy in, because early change is hard and change management is probably the other thing. Right. There’s a lot of change management that goes into these big moments in a business, but at the end of the day, proofs in the pudding, right? And people maybe are skeptical, but once they get on it and they see that it’s smooth and we’ve thought through everything and realizing that the team really put in a lot of time and effort, I think that’s where you can really have a lot of success with those projects.
Chris Fredericks: And I remember, if I’m remembering correctly, just how much thought and effort went into getting the right team in place as well, to make sure every part of the organization was fully represented and the right people were involved to make that team effort such a success. I remember you just putting a lot of thought into how to assemble the proper team, even for such a large project.
Tad Calahan: Yeah, it’s a great point. One of the strategic approaches I took was making sure that we had representation for all departments. So the ERP project team, if you will, wasn’t just consisted of the IT team and a couple high ranking leaders or what have you. It was, okay, what are all the main functions of the organization? Let’s make sure we have someone that enjoys something like this because this is a journey, it’s a time commitment, there’s a lot to it. So let’s make sure we get the right people in the sense of signing up for what this is going to be, but also making sure that there’s diversified representation across all the functions. And ultimately that’s where a lot of those conversations came from that I just spoke of is it sounded like a great idea to someone in the supply chain or purchasing, but it was an awful idea for sales or the warehouse or accounting. And so we had to kind of go through that dialogue with the team. And I think that’s really what proved to be really successful for us.
Chris Fredericks: And now here we are eleven years later, and TVF is going through another ERP and potentially CRM too, at the same time. And I have all the confidence in the world that’ll be super successful knowing you and the team that’s involved. But just briefly, how are you approaching this one differently?
Tad Calahan: One, I’m less involved. Right. Part of being the transition from kind of manager to leader, I’ve learned that we’ve built a great team. We have a lot of historical knowledge. A large majority of the folks that were part of that original ERP implementation are still here. So there’s a lot of that history that’s still part of the company. So I also have a high level of confidence in the team and what we’re trying to accomplish. I’m a big believer of starting with the end in mind, so where do we want to finish? What are the things we want to accomplish? Let’s make sure we don’t bite off more than we need to, but let’s make sure we use this an opportunity to learn and grow and make the business better. Let’s not just take what we had before and figure out how we’re going to fit it in the new system. Let’s use an opportunity to be more efficient, more effective. But it’s about the evolution over the last ten years of TVF and the people that we’ve built, the tenure and the experience that we have. And I think that’s where it allows me to have the confidence to let go and not have to be at the center of that project. I still have a lot of knowledge of what happened and how it occurred and those things. So I definitely get tapped on the shoulder from time to time and say, hey, help us through this issue, or why do we make X decision and those kinds of things. But for the most part, the main leaders and the project managers are people that really have lived it and seen how we went through it. But also it gives them an opportunity to kind of rise up and take more ownership of this project going forward. But ultimately it’s about evolving the business and making sure we’re doing the right things for our organization and for the broader ESOP to make sure that we’re learning and growing and evolving in the organization and trying to be always improving.
Chris Fredericks: We’ve covered a lot already, but I definitely want to get to one more topic. So you just mentioned ESOP and we’ve talked about employee ownership and curious what being a leader in an employee owned company for quite a while now, and we have more companies joining our ESOP now and in the future, hopefully. What advice comes to mind for you, for company leaders and also the team members that are maybe embarking on their employee ownership journey now or in the near future.
Tad Calahan: Depending on where you’re at in your journey. If you’re looking at an ESOP, first make sure you surround yourself with great advisors that are really proponents of ESOP because I think ESOPs can be overcomplicated. So making sure you’re getting the right people around you to help simplify and understand how to set one up to really leverage the community. NCO other know EV to some degree we’re big advocates of ESOPs but I know early on in our journey chris NCO was a big thing for us going to the conference understanding the different phases of employee ownership and especially starting out. Like, what are the right things that you need to do to really launch an ESOP in a really positive and successful way? Which what I took. Away from those. And I think what our experience was is communicate early and often, I think about sharing progress, being as transparent as you can be, and there’s different stages of that too. You’re not going to come out and all of a sudden just open up everything. But as an organization like TVF that started from being privately owned and not really sharing a whole lot at all to where we’re at today took time and there was multiple milestones. But as you can really challenge yourself to be as open as you can and transparent around what we’re trying to do, really build that ownership culture from day one and it comes around communication. I think the other thing we did that was wise is education. How is value created? Helping people understand to some degree the financial acumen that goes into building the value. But broad strokes, right? Like how does this work? How does it benefit me as an employee owner, what the changes are going to be? And then I think the last one is just to be patient and educate and let your team know that this isn’t an overnight success either. Setting the right expectations is really important. Once you’ve communicated and you’ve educated, then it’s about, okay, let’s continue to make sure that we’re building both communication, education, and then after a couple of years of good success, that’s where I think the light bulbs start going off. They start seeing statements, they start to see some of the trajectory, and it starts to really build that momentum. But it’s not an overnight success. And then I know even for now, what, ten years, roughly 1012 years in continuing to learn and grow and understand the different phases of employee ownership I think is also equally important. If you want ESOP sustainability, you have to always be looking ahead and thinking about and hearing case studies and other organizations that are dealing with other ESOP problems that you don’t necessarily see when you’re kind of in the early stages of your ESOP journey. And as you evolve and mature, there’s different challenges that come along and making sure that you’re really leaning into the whole community and understanding how to really make this the best ownership model that it can be because it’s really a super awesome thing. But it does take cultivating and it does take making sure that you’re doing it the right way and always monitoring how it builds the culture and the value of an ESOP.
Chris Fredericks: My last question, what advice would you have for all your fellow EV years?
Tad Calahan: I would say embrace it, enjoy. It’s a fun ride. It’s an experience that you don’t get at really a lot of other places. I mean, even some ESOPs maybe don’t lean into it fully and it still has that kind of corporate mentality or top down mentality. But I know for us, we really lean into the employee ownership and that everyone’s voices matter. It’s a great opportunity to have more influence and being able to bring your own expertise to the table and say, hey, I have a way to save us money, or I have a way to make us more efficient, or I have a way to grow revenue. Whatever the thing is that you do and how you contribute, lean into it. I think it can be a really fun thing, but it’s what you make it to be. And so if that’s not your jam and you just want to kind of hang back and do that, that’s fine too. But I think it’s for a lot of people that really want to be more connected to the organization. I think EV and what we’re building is a really special thing. And I’m not just saying that as part of this podcast, but that’s something I hear from a lot of people that have been a part of this for a long time at TVF and even now some of the other OpCos. I think we’re starting to see that. And there’s a consistent message across all the things that we’re building. And I think that’s really exciting. So just encourage people to really lean in, be a part of it, share your expertise, and together as a group, I think we can achieve a lot of great success in the future.
Chris Fredericks: Great advice, and thank you so much, Tad, for coming on Empowered Owners.
Tad Calahan: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks again, Chris, for having me.
Chris Fredericks: That conversation was a lot of fun for me. Tad and I have worked together for a long time, and it has been truly a joy for me to see him work and grow as a leader in person. When I think of Tad, I think of someone who cares incredibly deeply about people and the organization he’s part of. I’ve learned a lot from Tad, and I hope you found this conversation interesting and helpful too. Thank you, Tad, for joining me and also TVF’s Erica Roudebush and Jeff Swedberg for suggesting topics for the discussion. Huge thank you as well to Emily Bopp and the team at Share Your Genius for producing this episode. Remember, we want to hear from you. Please give us your feedback, suggest guests and topics for future episodes and tell us how we can keep improving the show. Reach us at [email protected]. Thanks for tuning in.