Article, Under New Management
June 27, 2004
By Sharon Caskey Hayes, Kingsport Times-News
Kingsport – The executive office with large windows overlooking Broad Street is a little too much for Tom Deaderick.
The new president of Intellithought instead chooses to work in a small office on the first floor of the building – close to the employees he calls his friends.
“It’s too ostentatious,” he said of the former president’s office. “I want to be as close to one of the guys as possible. I can’t do that up there.”
Deaderick, 39, was promoted to president following the retirement of Kent Ervin at the end of last year. Previously, Deaderick served as vice president of sales and marketing for the Kingsport-based technology company.
Now six months on the job, Deaderick is proving he’s not the typical corporate executive.
Deaderick is a science fiction fan who loves the classic Frank Herbert series, Dune.
In his first meeting with employees after being named president, Deaderick talked about Dune and compared Intellithought employees to the book’s Fremen – men who have adapted to their harsh environment by becoming stronger and smarter than anyone else.
Intellithought had just come through a major restructuring in which half its work force – about 50 people – lost their jobs. The move came after Eastman Chemical Company downsized its contractor pool in information technology and moved the work in-house. The remaining Intellithought employees knew they had to work hard and fast to build up other business in the company.
And Deaderick led the effort. A month after becoming president of Intellithought, Deaderick has a Dune symbol tattooed to his shoulder, symbolizing the Fremen of Dune.
“The aspect of Dune that I find most appealing is that this harsh and challenging environment created a people who became tougher and more determined than the people who lived in more comfortable surroundings. When I came to Intellithought, I saw a group that immediately reminded me of these Fremen, because every day they were expected to perform at levels which others would find very challenging. They worked long hours, frequently worked on weekends, and were bound together in a way that was more brotherhood than corporate organization. This environment was imposed by the expectations of our customers at that time and by the internal drives within each of these special people. They take their responsibilities very seriously.
“I wanted the tattoo because the challenges you face do make you stronger. I wanted them (employees) to see challenges and hardships for what they really are, and not look longingly at the false security of an easy job. I told them that if someone came to me and offered a job that I would never lose, but that would never challenge me – I would be desperate to find one that did,” Deaderick said.
Employees have responded to the new president. Excluding Intellithought’s Eastman contracts, business is up 40 percent year over year.
Intellithought offers network administration, custom application development and web/eCommerce development and is a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner – the highest certification available for Microsoft partner firms.
Intellithought customers include Eastman Credit Union, Wellmont Health System and Bristol Compressors.
“It’s my dream that at some point in time, when you’re talking about Kingsport, the first company people will think about is Intellithought. I want to be the biggest and best in the region,” Deaderick said.
Deaderick likes open doors and openness in his organization. He doesn’t hold regular staff meetings, but likes a good game of cards with employees over lunch.
He prays with employees and listens as they talk about their personal lives.
“I want to be part of the team. I don’t want to be on a different level,” Deaderick said. “I’m totally open with them. They know that I’ll tell them everything I can tell them. As a result, people are comfortable opening up to me. I don’t want any extra levels between us,” Deaderick said.
Intellithought doesn’t have a mission statement and Deaderick doesn’t want one.
“I guess I have some bad attitudes toward mission statements. I went through too many organizations where you would spend all this time coming up with a statement that was so generic by the time you finished, everybody felt OK about it but nobody really believed in it,” he said.
When it comes to hiring new employees, Deaderick doesn’t look at resumes, and could “care less” if a prospective candidate has a college degree.
I don’t put much value on the educational side of things. I listen to the person and look at what they’ve done. That’s what’s important,” he said.
He said he believes in fairness, empowerment, openness and friendship.
“I’ve had a lot of people say you really can’t get too close to the people you manage – that it weakens your ability to manage and makes it harder for you to discipline when you need to.”
“The truth is – I don’t want to do it any other way but to be everybody’s friend. If I have to do it in a way that I’m not a friend. I’m not interested in managing anyone,” Deaderick said.
“I want to care about people.”
The company also has an open mind about moonlighting – it’s actually encouraged unless the work conflicts with Intellithought’s business strategies or those of its customers.
“We have people running game hosting servers out of their home for instance. It gives our people more income so they can stay in the area and not look for other jobs,” he said.
Deaderick is not the highest-paid person at Intellithought. And he didn’t take a pay increase when he became president of the company. He said he doesn’t plan on upping his salary unless all employees can share in a pay raise.
Deaderick said he believes in sharing the company’s gains with employees. He’s implemented a profit-sharing plan and all employees – no matter what their position – share in 35 percent of the income every quarter. Other companies with profit-sharing plans typically pay higher percentages to executives.
“We could have set up a profit-sharing system where executives were treated differently than employees, but we didn’t. Everyone has an equal share,” Deaderick said.
Tyler Clinch, Intellithought’s vice president of finance/controller, said the profit-sharing plan allows employees to see the progress of the company and understand that their actions and hard work can result in greater profitability for themselves and Intellithought. All employees get updates on the company’s income, revenue and other bottom-line measures. The company is now designing a “dashboard” with gauges showing its latest financials, and everybody in the company will be able to track the performance measures daily. The dashboard resembles an aircraft cockpit – “no boring charts,” Deaderick said.
Clinch said the company hopes to eventually establish an employee ownership plan.
“And the profit-sharing plan is the first step I think towards understanding the risk/reward trade-off of being an owner vs. an employee and how individual behavior affects that,” Clinch said.
Matthew Cleek, vice president of technical solutions, said employees “are excited about what they’re doing.”
“They feel a sense of responsibility and achievement – that they’re not just working for someone else – they’re being given an opportunity to build a company for themselves,” Cleek said.
Deaderick is helping boost that culture. Cleek said Deaderick doesn’t have the best equipment in the building – his computer is small and his cell phone doesn’t have all the bells and whistles. He prefers that employees have all the gadgets.
It’s the mentality of “no job is less important than another,” Cleek said.
Deaderick graduated in 1987 from East Tennessee State University with a bachelor’s degree in engineering design technology. He and his wife, Martha, have two sons, Zachary, 16 and Ian, 14.
Deaderick said he can separate work and home life pretty easily. He gets up at 4:30 a.m. every day and drives to work and he leaves at 6:00 p.m.
“That lets me put in enough work to where I feel good about the day without taking time away from my family, “ he said.
Clinch said employees appreciate Deaderick’s style of management.
“Leadership by example is something people like to give lip service to, but you don’t really lead by example until you’re down with the troops working every day as a member of the team with everybody else. That’s my understanding of the message Tom is trying to do”.