Terry Tolbert, Vice President of Internal Aftermarket, has a unique perspective on change as he looks back on his career, which hit the 40-year milestone in June. He has traveled the country and the world for his work. He has held almost every role in a dealership setting, been on a team of two and led entire regions, and once reported directly to Ron Offutt, Founder and Chairman Emeritus of R.D. Offutt Company.
But before all that, he worked on airplanes.
He was a certified airplane technician working in Flagstaff, AZ when he accepted a job from the owner of the local John Deere equipment store, switching from airplanes to cotton pickers. It was the first of so many changes he has experienced in his career, and it kicked off a journey spanning the next four decades.
Through acquisitions and moves, Terry went from that small dealer to Empire Southwest, a CAT dealer in the region, to Imperial Machinery in Yuma, which became part of RDO in 1997.
By that time, Terry had worked in the service shop, the parts department, and even held a role similar to his current one for a span. With RDO, he went on to serve as Vice President of Southwest Ag, Vice President of Southwest Construction, and even oversaw the Vermeer business in California for a short time.
In 2013, Terry was offered the role he holds today, and he and his family relocated from the Southwest to Fargo. As it would happen, their first North Dakota winter proved the coldest on record in many years, a departure from the desert heat if ever there was one.
It is changes like this – in his life, his career, and the industry at large – that Terry reflects on today with a mixed sense of awe, pride, and incredible growth.
“It has been impactful seeing the progress not only of equipment but also the technology we use in the business,” he said. “Today, we always talk about the number of clicks it takes to get something done. Back in the day, everything took one click – a pen.”
The caliber of today’s machine learning and predictive analytics were unthinkable four decades ago, and Terry observed how so much has evolved around customers who really have not.
“They’re still farming, digging, and building. They’re waking up every day to grow and be profitable, just like they always have,” he said.
For Terry, the key to staying on top of change, and building a career along the way, has been partnering with people who are willing to help, then watching, learning, and asking questions of them, absorbing as much as possible and applying it.
Now, he is one of those people willing to help, and it is a difference he has come to see in himself. He is a competitive person who holds RDO’s Play to Win Core Value as his favorite, but today, as a senior leader, playing to win for him is more about the people around him.
“I’ve reached the point where helping and watching others grow is most rewarding,” he said. “For someone who’s highly competitive, that can be a tough thing to learn, but it means translating my experiences and winning in news ways, and it’s way more rewarding.”
Terry’s ability to win in new ways has also been notable to Chris Cooper, COO, who highlighted Terry’s record of successful leadership through a wide variety of work throughout his career.
“Terry has taken on responsibilities in many different areas along with a number tough projects that need to be addressed, and he’s always done a great job leading his team and making those tough assignments look easy,” Chris said. “In doing so, he provides great insight and direction to constantly push our aftermarket business forward.”
As just one example of the variety he has seen in his work, Terry was part of the planning sessions to establish RDO’s Core Values. He recalls the goal of the effort, led by Christi Offutt, Board Chair of R.D. Offutt Company, and CEO at the time, was to put into words how RDO had been doing business already – to define the company’s culture.
“At the time, I don’t think we knew the lasting impact of what we worked on.”
What has endured about that culture, since before it was formally defined and to this day, is that family is always at its core.
“Like any family, there are good times and there are bad times, and through it all, you hold each other together,” Terry said. “Some of us are adopted in, but once you’re in this family, as long as you are trying your best, mistakes are allowed; you learn from them. And you can expect a pat on the back when you earn it and a kick in the butt when you need it.”
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