Ron Offutt built RDO Equipment Co. on values that emphasized hard work and integrity, along with experience farming potato fields since childhood. An entrepreneur and farmer, one thing Ron openly admitted he was not: a manager.
With a mind for business and the big picture, Ron relied on those around him to focus on the company’s greatest assets – its people. One of the company’s most people-focused leaders is Chair of the Advisory Board, Christi Offutt.
Christi values people and an environment that rewards hard work balanced with having fun. Her style is something she started early in her experience as a manager and one that has stayed with her throughout the years.
Finding What Worked
During the summers when she was in high school, Christi worked with local grocery stores to supply sweet corn from the Offutt family farm. Part of her job was managing the workers who picked corn. Christi chose to pay workers per pound versus per hour, a unique system that allowed them to earn a very good paycheck – and resulted in an added bonus for her.
“I’d get the best people, some who’d return year after year,” she recalls.
Her focus on people and culture certainly worked for Christi back then and today is showcased in the RDO Equipment Co. Core Values and stakeholders.
Christi joined RDO Equipment Co. in 1997 as the company was transitioning to be a publicly-traded one. While it was a significant part of the company’s history, many recall the public years as a bumpy time and one during which the company lost focus on what was most important.
“It’s something that happens to a lot of public companies,” Christi admitted. “In an effort to focus on the numbers, you lose sight of what really matters and that’s people.”
When the decision was made to take the company back private, Christi felt it was the opportunity to put focus back on people and, with that, time to redefine and relaunch the company’s Core Values.
“At the time, we had a mission statement and ‘core values’ but they weren’t clearly defined,” Christi explained. The first step in reestablishing and defining RDO Equipment Co.’s Core Values was an effort by the Leadership team.
Approximately 25 members of the Leadership team gathered for a two-day session. Through various exercises, brainstorming sessions, and sharing of historical stories, the group identified what was most important and began to build RDO Equipment Co. Core Values:
Partner with Employees
Build Customers for Life
We Do What We Say
Play to Win!
Steve Dewald, RDO Equipment Co. Chief Financial Officer, was one of the participants. Roughly 20 years later, a few key parts of that meeting still stand out to him.
“We all agreed on the major themes and what needed to be covered in the Core Values, but there was a good amount of discussion over the actual words we chose,” he recalled.
Why so much focus on a few words? “Because words matter,” Steve said.
The team knew the importance of establishing the right Core Values that would speak to the future of RDO Equipment Co. and the new direction they wanted to go. The discussion also led to debate over one Core Value in particular – Play to Win.
“At the end of the day, we felt it was a good representation of us, showing our competitive edge,” Steve said. When asked if he has a favorite Core Value, he responded with a grin, “Play to Win. It’s unique and has that little edge to it.”
While the RDO Equipment Co. Core Values were established and clearly defined after the meeting, there was still work to be done in the company’s mission to implement its new focus.
In 2001, Christi took on the role of Chief Operating Officer and began a series of steps toward a fresh company culture, one that was built on trust and transparency.
“I wanted to share everything we could with team members, removing any sort of cloak of secrecy,” she said. A big part of this was introducing the new Core Values. Christi also began focusing on an area she started looking at when the company was transitioning back to a privately-owned one - stakeholders.
With the company’s heavy focus on shareholders during the public years, Christi began exploring the concept of a stakeholder philosophy. After reading and learning more about it, her thoughts focused on the ideas of balancing stakeholder interests and adding value to each of the stakeholders.
Christi took the stakeholder philosophy concept to the Leadership team to further explore how it could be implemented into the business.
“We started discussing how we, as leaders, serve those who have a stake in what we do,” she said. Those conversations led the group to identify and establish RDO Equipment Co.’s key stakeholders:
Christi recalls the process of selecting the key stakeholders – and mentions one that almost wasn’t included.
“The one that was fuzzy for me was communities,” she said. “I thought of it as more of a secondary stakeholder, not necessarily a primary one. But that’s one now that I’m so proud of; how much our team members have embraced it and all we do for the communities we’re in.”
For anyone familiar with the company, it may be difficult to imagine an RDO Equipment Co. that doesn’t have its Core Values and stakeholders front and center with everyone, from Leadership at the Field Support Office to team members in the field. But it didn’t happen at the snap of a finger.
Establishing the Core Values and stakeholders was a big step in the right direction to where Leadership wanted the company to go. The two concepts, while developed a few years apart, really began to marry together with increased efforts to shift the company culture.
In the years following those initial meetings and discussions, Christi and the Leadership team continued their proactive effort to be more open with all team members, frequently sharing everything from company financials to new ventures. The increased transparency helped to build trust, and a new energy around the Core Values and stakeholders.
Thinking about the company’s 50th anniversary in 2018, Christi reflected on the years behind and shared excitement for the ones ahead. And while plenty is bound to change in the next 50 years, she’s confident that one thing will remain the same.
“I firmly believe a stakeholder model is the best way to run a business today. And it will be the best way to run a business 50 years from now.”
RDO Equipment Co. is celebrating 50 years! Learn more about our history by clicking here.