Last Tuesday October 31st our organization held what we call an “All Hands” meeting at the Boeing Museum of Flight. We call it “All Hands” because attendance is required for all Tideworks employees who work from our Seattle corporate offices. (Only a handful of front-line support folks valiantly remained behind to hold down the fort and respond to any urgent customer issues.) We were blessed to also have in attendance nearly 30 Tideworks employees from our U.S. offices and international locations. It was an opportunity to get (nearly) the entire gang together at one place and time to reflect, celebrate, contemplate our future, and just enjoy each other’s company. We call it an “All Hands”, but we could have easily called it an “All Hearts”, as it was truly a reflection of the heart and soul of our amazing organization.
This was not your typical rah-rah “State of the Union” meeting, where the executive leadership shares carefully selected information with the masses about the company’s great accomplishments and its solid financial status and then proceeds to prescribe how the enterprise is going to meet the challenges of the future based on the leadership’s vision and collective wisdom. To be sure, there were some “status update” aspects to our All Hands…but it was so much more than that.
As most readers will know, in September Tideworks underwent an important transition in leadership. After 30 years of service, the last 18 as President of Tideworks, Mike Schwank stepped down and turned over the reins to Thomas “TJ” Rucker. Appropriately, we began our event with TJ introducing himself to the crew, sharing not only his experiences (both professional and personal) but also his leadership style and approach. This was done with authenticity, transparency, and a good dose of humor as well. His introduction provided all of us invaluable insight into the make-up of the person who now leads our organization. And who doesn’t want to get to know their leaders better, their story, what makes them qualified to lead, and why we should follow them? That’s exactly what TJ did. And it was real…and authentic.
We then heard from leaders of the various groups that comprise our company. Todd Tatterson (Business Development and Professional Services), Amanda Gress and Michele Evans (Information Technology), Tom Van Buskirk and Hugh Gallagher (Product Engineering) each discussed their respective areas. They provided compelling presentations, not accompanied with pom-poms and confetti but rather with honesty and sincerity – frank conversations revealing the good, the bad and, yes, even the ugly about where we’ve been, where we currently stand, and what’s coming.
For many organizations, that might have been a wrap. Share a few fancy PowerPoint presentations, hope the employees feel good about their job and their company, and send them home with a nice branded pen and stress ball. For Tideworks, we were just getting started.
After an incredible lunch catered by McCormick and Schmick’s, we settled in for an afternoon session that really got to the heart of the day. Presentations from some of our key customers kicked off the afternoon. That’s right, we asked some of our customers to attend our ‘internal’ event; in fact, we whole-heartedly welcomed them into our All Hands. We wanted to hear directly from them, understand their issues and struggles, and ultimately gain insight into how we, as their technology partner, can better serve them and help them confront their challenges.
This session started with Juan Carlos Croston, Vice President of Marketing at MIT-Panama, sharing high-level information about the state of the industry; the financial condition of our terminal customers’ customers, the steamship lines (still pretty bleak); and a realistic view into the demand and over capacity picture of market place, with a special focus on Latin America. From software developers to business analysts, project managers to support technicians, we all received a rare and candid glimpse into the challenges that the carriers are facing on a daily basis and the types of pressures that these challenges are placing on the terminal operators in a very competitive landscape.
Next, we heard from Stacy Hatfield, General Manager at MIT. His presentation really brought home some of the issues Juan Carlos hit upon, this time from the perspective of an international, transshipment terminal operator. Stacy did a tremendous job of highlighting not only the pressures that MIT feels from the dynamic carrier market but also the difficulties they confront as a terminal operator whose primary cargo base (80%+) has nothing to do with the local market and could be handled at any growing number of transshipment facilities in the region. He also provided some insight into what MIT is doing to tackle those issues head on, both from an operations and technology standpoint.
Finally, we heard from Eli Bohm, General Manager at Terminal 18 in Seattle. Eli built upon the previous two presentations and shared his views and experiences representing a domestic, gateway terminal operator, where the two “L’s” (land and labor) are the biggest components in their operating landscape – both as operational expenses and in terms of operational constraints. Eli did a terrific job of emphasizing the importance of keeping cargo moving at the terminal and how a terminal operator can differentiate itself in a “commoditized” industry. Not surprisingly, technology – and in particular the Terminal Operating System (TOS) – have an increasingly important role to play in this differentiation, according to Eli. Whether providing deeper visibility into the supply chain or access to additional and more reliable data, Eli sees technology as vital in helping keep terminals competitive.
If it sounds like we ventured into the “doom and gloom” at our All Hands, it really wasn’t that way at all. These were open and honest discussions about the changing world in which we operate, work, ideate, and (hopefully with growing frequency) innovate. And these themes carried throughout the day, including into the next and (almost) final session.
TJ again led off this session offering us all an opportunity to have “open and honest discussions” about who we are and who we want to be. He stressed the core values of our enterprise, which – even as market conditions and our strategies may change over time – are enduring and never change. And the centerpiece of those values has always been and remains our people. Our people are our company. Our people are our strength. They make us flexible, adaptive and responsive as an organization. Our people, in a word, innovate. “Real people powering innovative solutions” is how TJ put it. He underscored the importance of our people by reminding them they are part of a family…not just a box on an org chart. He hit on the importance of working as a team…not multiple, independent teams, but one team rowing in the same direction. And he challenged us all to ENGAGE, ENGAGE, ENGAGE! But, valuing our people is not, in and of itself, enough. We must also continue to look outward and place emphasis on our customers; we must not merely satisfy them…we need to AMAZE them every time.
So, how do we amaze our customers? How do we help empower them to confront and overcome their challenges with the use of smart technology? In short, how do we continue to innovate, because the alternative is unsustainable and a certain death knell for a technology company? Well, a couple of my colleagues had an incredible idea. It was initially the brain child of Pearce Cobarr, Senior Marketing Specialist, and it quickly grabbed hold and is flowering into what is likely to become one of the most powerful and empowering programs ever launched here at Tideworks. We call it “Radical Innovation Goal” (or RIG for short), and its beauty lies in its simplicity. The idea is this. Tideworks has some of the best and brightest in our midst. Leadership in isolation shouldn’t set a vision for the future and decide what innovations Tideworks should pursue. Rather, our people (there’s that word again) should provide their dazzling ideas and help drive the direction of the organization. We’re not talking incremental innovation here. We’re talking RADICAL innovation, game changing type of stuff. (It’s a played-out analogy, but think of the kind of impact Uber or Lyft have had in the taxi industry.) And to help with the effort of fostering, developing and turning these pioneering ideas into reality, we’ve got four “Radical Innovation Guides” – Pearce Cobarr, Michael Davies, Amanda Gress and Derrick Brown. The program is just getting started, and already we’ve received dozens of amazing ideas from all walks of Tideworks!
You’ll have to excuse me if I seem a bit over-the-top enthusiastic. It’s because I am. Our All Hands event last Tuesday – which, by the way, was meticulously planned and successfully pulled off thanks to the efforts from many individuals, but most notably from marketing coordinator Erin Leahy – was an event like no other since I’ve been with Tideworks (over 14 years now). It was inspirational, uplifting and a truly memorable celebration of our continuing journey as a company. It’s these types of events that make me extremely proud to be a part of Tideworks – proud of our leadership, proud of OUR team, and proud of our family. These rituals and celebrations make up the fabric of our spirit as a company. And they provide the food that fuels our corporate soul.