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How to Strengthen Company Culture Through Servant Leadership With Tim O’Keeffe of Huyett

Episode: 132

Tim O’Keeffe is a work in progress, and proud of it. Under his leadership at Huyett (formerly GL Huyett), the fastener company has expanded from a distributor-only business to a manufacturer and master distributor. In the process, Tim’s management style has shifted from dictator to democratic, and the company’s culture has never been better. Jason chats with the affable CEO about his leadership evolution, the work-from-home conundrum, and why his servant-style mindset starts in the parking lot.

November 19th, 1992. Light snow outside and this business was located in some metal sheds. The only room that was heated or cooled was the front room. Tim laughs about his first day as Huyett’s helm now. Back then, however, the cold hard truth of inventory control seemed overwhelming, especially for a guy who had worked alongside his father as a business broker, selling everything from neighborhood dry cleaners to wholesale warehouse operations. But Tim immediately recognized the tangible appeal of distribution. To this day, I still take a great deal of pride in the fact that we are part of the great American industrial machine. We have parts in the Mars Rover, John Deere tractors, cars, and trucks.

While the manufacturing side of Huyett’s business required Tim to think outside the distribution box, the journey to becoming a more effective leader forced him to turn inward. He credits monthly visits with an outside consultant for his growth. A lot of people say you get past the X age, you’ll never change. Well, I have, he says, adding, I’ve a ways to go, but it’s been very gratifying for me.

Tim believes that for all his intrapersonal work, Huyett’s success lies with its people–and the company’s in-office philosophy. Tim remains committed to on-site attendance even as next-gen job seekers might bristle at the requirement. How would you like to be the order picker that works in our warehouse operation and has to be here every day when you have people in the opposite where it can be optional? he asks. I just think that’s going to impair your culture.

Huyett intends to stick around for the long haul.


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I can go to the county fair and crawl underneath the combine and show my grandkids parts that ultimately trace back to us, and quite honestly, I take a great deal of satisfaction out of that.

My influencing skills are significantly affected by a command-type orientation, and that type of orientation really limits you as a leader.

As a leader, your job is to create an environment for people to want to come to work, to want to contribute, to want to be a teammate as opposed to an individual, to put the team above themselves–and I just don’t know of a way you can do that unless you model that servant-type leadership first.

If you’re in any type of environment where there’s a team, a team aspect, I just don’t think that work-from-home works. And, I think to be a servant leader, even as an individual contributor, you need to be in the office.

I think that someone young needs to read the Wall Street Journal, read the Harvard Business Review, and study the best practices of business in general, and not just in the wholesale trade because there’s a greater level of sophistication in other industries outside of this industry.






Distribution Talk is produced by The Distribution Team, a consulting services firm dedicated to helping wholesale distribution clients remove barriers to profitability, generate wealth and achieve personal goals.

This episode was edited & mixed by The Creative Impostor Studios.

Special thanks to our sponsor for this episode: INxSQL Distribution Software, integrated distribution ERP software designed for the wholesale and distribution industry.

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