Driving Change with
Culture Leading the Way
A Part of the Equity Bank Entrepreneurial & Leadership Series of Dose Of Leadership
The Entrepreneurial & Leadership Series of Dose Of Leadership brought to you by Equity Bank and Richard Rierson is all about sharing inspiring and educational interviews with today’s most relevant and motivational leaders. Rierson talks to leaders and influence experts who dedicate their lives to truth, common sense and courageous leadership.
A leader’s experience is valuable, but what’s invaluable is a leader who can be the ambassador of his or her company’s culture.
Richard Rierson recently sat down with Jared Peterson, a young leader who simply “gets it” as Rierson described. Peterson, president and CEO of Vermillion, a company that makes high-quality harnesses and assemblies for the military and aerospace industries, quickly rose up through the ranks. In doing so, he learned what it meant to be a good leader through trial and error.
“As you move up in the corporate ladder, you realize doing it all yourself isn’t possible anymore,” said Peterson. “You have to build people up and give them encouragement. You set your expectations with them but you also let them set expectations for you as their leader.”
Coming from banking, Peterson started off at Vermillion as a sales associate who was hungry to learn about a new industry. His excitement and curiosity lead to opportunities. He served as the director of manufacturing operations for several years before becoming president of the company in 2017.
He credits flexibility for his successful career path.
“Everyone has a plan, but if you’re rigid, very rarely are you ever going to get somewhere,” said Peterson. “If you work hard and don’t set a ceiling, you’re going to find a way to success.”
Ignoring ceilings is something he encourages his employees to do, too. Peterson said he believes that the ceiling is never set and the bar is always raising. His goal is continuous improvement and he achieves this by making culture his top priority. Peterson sets the vision and strategic direction for the company and ensures that it takes hold within the organization.
“As long as the culture is taking root and people are embracing it and working within it, the direction we’re going is up,” Peterson said.
Vermillion has a culture of high expectations, but not a culture of fear. Peterson wants employees to embrace failure and learn from their mistakes. He says that failure can be a success simply by learning from it.
“When people are excited to improve upon their failures, you know that culture is at work,” Peterson said. “You have to let people feel comfortable with making the decision and failing at it.”
This experimentation and quest for a better way doesn’t just rest with Peterson. In fact, it doesn’t stop with his management team either. It’s an opportunity for every employee. But, Peterson says it wasn’t always that way.
Initially, Peterson looked to his management team to make contributions toward continuous improvement. They even tracked them. It was a process that felt formalized, yet something seemed to be missing. Peterson and his team realized that oftentimes, the people closest to the work had the best ideas for improvement.
Opening up the contributions lead to a huge jump in their performance metrics. They went from four continuous improvement activities the first year to 27 the second.
“It’s so important that no matter where are at in the company, you have the ability to improve your process and your role,” said Peterson. “When you start giving people that ability, they tend to make it better. We see tremendous capacity within our building through improvement alone. We try to reward employees when those things happen.”
Keeping employees motivated is key to Vermillion’s culture. Peterson says that as the CEO, you have to communicate what you’re trying to do and why.
This may seem simple enough, but it’s more than surface level. Sure, Vermillion manufactures equipment that serves the traveling warfighter and average citizen, but really, they’re creating dependable products that keep people safe. Peterson says that he and his employees take great pride in that.
“If you walk into our shop, you’ll see a lot of wires and think, ‘that’s a big mess,’” said Peterson. “But when you tie it to the programs and platforms we serve, as well as the individuals using those products, it turns into something important to the country and the world.”
Case in point: in 2009, US Airways pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger successfully landed 155 passengers on the Hudson River thanks, in part, to a ram air turbine with Vermillion parts.
Peterson said that’s what gets employees excited. “It’s amazing what people can do when they feel like they’re serving something greater than the job in front of them.”
At Vermillion, everything ties back to culture and moving the needle. And as Rierson discovers in his interview, Peterson is the right person for the job.
He will continue to keep his eye on improvement and helping 100% of employees truly understand the company’s values. Peterson says, “Today was a good day, but tomorrow has to be a better day.”
Click here to listen to Richard Rierson’s full podcast with Jared Peterson.