Do you know what you were put on this planet to do? It sounds like a loaded question, but it’s one that Jay Tuthill—chairman of the global manufacturing firm Tuthill Corporation—wants to help the world answer. That’s why he and his team produced The Search for Aliveness: a docuseries aimed at bringing together diverse perspectives from around the world in thoughtful conversation about how we can all strive to find deeper meaning in our lives.
As the owner of a family company that has thrived for more than 127 years, Jay understands the impact that having a profound sense of aliveness has on people, both personally and professionally. We spoke to Jay about the value of encouraging employees to be their authentic selves, the secret to running a company that has operated for more than a century, and what he hopes to accomplish with The Search for Aliveness.
Vault: Tell us about yourself and the history of your family’s company.
Jay Tuthill: In the late 1800s, my great grandfather created a company to produce brick to feed Chicago’s building [construction] boom. It was this brickyard that gave birth to what we know today as Tuthill Corporation: a worldwide manufacturer of pumps and blowers and other types of rotating industrial equipment. As for me, I’m a sixty-something fourth-generation guy – a position many would say has but one duty: “Don’t screw anything up.”
Vault: What have been the most important factors in Tuthill’s success and longevity? If you could pinpoint a “secret ingredient” to thriving as a company for over 100 years, what would it be?
JT: I’ll try to distill it all into three basic things:
Discipline: We do what we say we will. We hold ourselves to a higher standard. We reinforce who we are at every turn. And we respect the power of a strong balance sheet.
Improvement: The natural human reaction to success is to keep doing the same thing as a way of perpetuating success. Sounds pretty boring, doesn’t it? Happily being stuck in yesterday turns out to be a death sentence. That’s why we need the best our team can bring every day. How can we build a longer life pump? How can we reduce our internal error rate? And so on. A hunger for improvement is the only way to keep a good thing going.
Flexibility: While “improvement” is typically an evolutionary process, “flexibility” often demands a more dramatic, discontinuous move away from past practices. It tends to be less about products and markets and more about people. Tuthill’s move toward Aliveness is a good example. And for me, it’s been the most important life lesson I’ve ever known.
Vault: Tuthill is often called “the company with heart”. What does that mean to you? What is the “heart” of Tuthill?
JT: We love pointing to the fact that everything starts with the original pump – the human heart. What we’re really saying is that our people must “want” to do what they’re doing – they have to “want” to play the role they’re playing. We have people who have found their place as members of our improvement team. We have others who take great joy from being part of one of the most productive manufacturing teams around. And more who love proving to our customers that dealing with Tuthill is something different. Something better, like “Those Tuthill people – they really listen. Maybe that’s why we’ve solved so many challenges over the years.” It sounds trite to some, but it’s all about showing up with heart.
Vault: How important is culture to the success of a company?
JT: I have a deep bias when it comes to the word “culture”. Culture isn’t something you do. Culture is the result of thousands of choices made day-by-day inside every organization. And where do these choices come from? They come from the underlying values that exist within the company. Yes, those values must be honored by leadership, but they must also be present in the company’s opinion leaders. A strong culture naturally grows over time when there is a strong set of values in place. I knew we were getting somewhere when we could make a mistake – violate our values – and then recover quickly because the culture had become strong enough to make the mistake so obvious. So now, ask yourself this question: “When you can trust the culture, what becomes possible for each employee?” The answer is, “Just about anything!”
Vault: What do you do to foster Tuthill’s culture, and how can other leaders cultivate a sense of community in their companies?
JT: I promise not to preach here. After all, I still have good days and bad days like everybody else. For me, the key to the castle is authenticity. What kind of “authenticity” am I talking about? A very personal type of authenticity, where “what’s happening on the inside of a person is exactly what is happening on the outside.” We humans can sniff out B.S. so quickly that it’s crazy to believe otherwise. Having been too slow to remove leaders who failed to understand this reality, I can promise you, there are few things more damaging than an inauthentic leader. So my assignment is clear: Demonstrate a leader’s heart in all decisions and all dealings – as best I can.
Vault: Tell us a bit about The Search for Aliveness. What was the genesis of this project—the inspiration? What do you hope to accomplish with the series, and how have you found the response?
JT: Fundamental to our belief in Aliveness is our assertion that every single one of us deserves the chance to become the person they were put on the planet to become. It’s not a religious concept, though for many of us it’s a spiritual thing at its core. Think of it this way: You can choose to go wherever the winds may blow, or you can be intentional and chart your own path. Which sounds more alive to you?
How better to “Wake the World” to this possibility than to offer a self-discovery series like The Search for Aliveness? So for us, the whole thing is about learning from others who are on a similar journey and just generally spreading the word. You see, the real world has a way of limiting our ability to dream. We intend The Search for Aliveness to be the perfect antidote for this. It’s important to listen to our deepest wants. It’s important to dream about ‘em. And it’s important, once we hone the dream that fills us with endless energy, that we begin making the choices to bring this dream ever closer. Whether the audience is 8,000 miles away or already within our four walls, that’s what we’re working to create.
Vault: How does Tuthill seek to promote aliveness in its employees?
JT: We try like crazy to be consistent with our values and behaviors. This just naturally provides a trusting environment that invites our folks to pursue what’s important to them. If it’s a different job in the company, we try to make that happen. And if the “want” is to write children’s books, well, we’ll help that person transition to a track that will take them in this decidedly non-Tuthill direction. We’ve lost some good people as they’ve pursued their hearts’ desires and we’ve celebrated every single one of them.
Vault: What’s next for Tuthill Corporation? For the series?
JT: For the series, we cast our net worldwide in Year 1. In Year 2, we’ll be shifting our focus to celebrating aliveness we find within Tuthill’s fundamental markets. Water, food, chemicals, and energy are the worlds we know best. With this more finite approach, we hope to inspire increasing Aliveness in the people and communities that represent everyday life. As for Tuthill, we expect to be occupied with two things: (1) Becoming ever more alive within Tuthill so that we find uncommon success and (2) using that success to pursue our purpose: Wake the World. Let’s just say we’ll be busy with both for a good while to come.
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