Leaders with Impact Series:Profile of Wally Brant of Indiana Oxygen
EIG: What do you believe is the key factor in the staying power of Indiana Oxygen?
Wally Brant: I would say that we don’t fit the profile of a company that has reached the 100 year mark. We stayed the same size for quite awhile because growth wasn’t a requirement of the founders of the company. The firm was generating enough cash to support both employees and the owners in the fashion they wanted.
The second generation followed in their footsteps, and didn’t create a lot of change. However, at that time we had some internal problems, and had to remove the individual in charge, during a family split over some practices that were less than honorable.
When I I took over 30 years ago, I misjudged our problems drastically, and it was a very dark period for awhile. Our loan was called by the bank, and we were close to having to shut the doors. It was a scary moment you don’t ever want to experience twice.
However, I have to say – to steal a line from Mark Twain – that it was the “darkest of times and the best of times.” It exposed shortcomings and issues were brought to the surface that demanded change. We redefined ourselves after coming out of that episode, day by day. It wasn’t a sudden process, but it was a product of coming into work and doing the right things day after day. Our current success is the result of 95 years of doing the right thing time after time.
EIG: Could you name a single important lesson that you took away from that close call?
Wally Brant: The culture and identity of the entire organization is created and cared for by the leader of the company. The irony is that – to borrow a line I heard at a seminar – the leader is like a turtle on top of a fencepost; he didn’t get there by himself.
EIG: So you believe in promoting from within the company? How do you foster leadership skills?
Wally Brant: Recognizing leadership skills, giving incentives for good leadership and promoting from within makes the most sense for our company, and I think in general. It’s more cost effective, and it inspires others who recognize they have a career path.
We have career counselors who talk to employees about what they want to do and then we provide training and opportunities for development. We look for those who want to put in some extra effort to excel at the opportunities. We aren’t always successful, and have had to reverse a promotion. That’s rare, though, and we want to make sure we provide all the tools for success.
EIG: What else would you like to tell other members and leaders?
Wally Brant: Part of the tools that saved me during some of the hardest times was networking. I joined a buying group, a leadership group (which eventually became Executive Impact). Don’t be so smug that you think you have all the answers. It’s not just joining the group that’s important, but it’s the participation. It’s doubtful you could bring a problem to this group but that one of them will have already seen it and created a solution.
Share your experiences with others and learn from theirs.
To learn more about Indiana Oxygen, visit their website: Indiana Oxygen.