Position: Chief financial officer of Technomics, an Arlington employee-owned consulting firm that specializes in weapon system cost analysis.
Thomas E. Oettinger Jr. started his career in accounting, working first for an international seafood manufacturer. He eventually moved to a company where he helped implement an employee stock ownership plan that won several awards. After a stint at another company, he is now heading the financial operations of another ESOP company.
Why is employee ownership so important to you?
It generally creates transparency. Equity owners are sharing the equity, but also the metrics in terms of what makes a business successful. In this environment, with so much consolidation and acquisition, it’s important that employees are the company’s number one asset. It’s important that the organization grows and prospers through the hard work of employees. It’s a great benefit for them to be able to share in that. It’s important that companies that double, triple and quadruple in size don’t just sell off and make only a small percentage of senior leaders at the top rich. Employees who are driving the business, the assets of the organization, can share in the success of the company.
During your first ESOP experience, the company won awards after implementing the employee ownership plan. What was your greatest contribution as a leader?
I built relationships and was very open. I encouraged two-way communications. I might be the chief financial officer and you might be the receptionist, but we’re looking at the organization and if you have an idea, come to me and communicate. I’ll never say an idea is dumb. If we don’t incorporate the idea, I’ll communicate why. But I tried to look at everyone as a peer and not pull rank.
What did you do to build that kind of culture?
I was approachable. I worked at building relationships. I would strike up a conversation with the receptionist and ask her how her first 90 days had been here. Is the position any different than you imagined? If you could improve something, what would it be? It’s not just talking, but talking and listening. Culturally, we had a lot of all-hands meetings. Once a month, we would pull everyone within the office together to talk about the financials and community involvement functions and such. For those who were interested and wanted to make a difference, there were opportunities. Everyone had a piece and could play a part.
The big thing that I’ve learned through trial and error is that I’ve always treated people the way I want to be treated. When I was younger, I would get an outstanding review from my manager, but my review wouldn’t align with my salary increase. I would get a 2 percent increase, but I got all 5s. It was never an honest conversation in terms of why. They might say, ‘This was all I could do because it’s what management said I could do.’ I’ve always tried to be honest and upfront with people and treat them the way I would want. Give them the information they need. Be honest with them in good times and in bad. The more information you give people, the easier it is for people to process and digest and figure out how they fit in the organization. It builds overall trust.
What books are you reading?
I haven’t started it but I am looking forward to “The Great Game of Business” [by Jack Stack]. My two favorite business books are “Five Dysfunctions of a Team” [by Patrick M. Lencioni] and “Good to Great” by Jim Collins.
— Interview with Vanessa Small