You CAN teach an old dog new tricks: My story of going from a global tech firm to a SME

by Pat Tallon

I spent almost 21 years with a Fortune 500 technology company. Through most of this time, growth was the focus, but as trends in the office and in communications in general changed, the outlook for this company was in controlled decline. For the bulk of this time, I loved it. I had opportunities to learn, to travel the world and most importantly to grow as an executive.

Toronto scene

By the fall of 2018, I was no longer part of this firm. The last 6 months of my time there was nothing like the previous 20 years. Like I said, I loved most of my time there. In May of 2018 however an activist investor became more involved in the day to day operations of the firm and almost overnight the culture changed. A few months later, my boss had said that exits could be arranged if people were looking to leave. I put my hand up on the last day of July and by the fall my career there was over.

Front view of Tulmar’s HQ

I wanted a change in the work I did. I wanted to continue to be a leader within an organization, but I didn’t want to stay in technology and I really questioned if I wanted to stay involved in a publicly traded company. It was an exciting time and a scary time. Being in an unfamiliar career place caused concern and anxiety…. am I too old to make this change? Have I made a mistake? Will I be viewed only as an office technology person? To make the change I needed a plan and I needed to be focused on what I wanted.

Making a career change requires many things and this plan would be my road map. Like most people, when I have a plan and am working towards a defined goal, I feel better about things. I kept a daily routine that included networking, searching job boards online and researching industries. I had a couple of key mentors who helped me with my plan, kept me positive and helped me prep for interviews. Through this work, I came to find Tulmar. The company was looking for a President and had Boyden, an executive search firm, leading their efforts. Initial interviews were in January, a panel interview in February and a series of meetings through March resulted in an April offer to start May 6th, 2019.

We had sold our place in Toronto in the Fall of 2018 and now needed to move to the Hawkesbury area. We found the house we wanted, my wife would say it has everything she would want in a house, worked out the details and were now moving to a small village called L’Orignal. This was close to work for me and a place for us to make roots and start the next chapter in our life.

Tulmar Group
New beginning at Tulmar!
Pat & Wife
Roxann and I on the Ottawa river

My first day at Tulmar was impressive!

I’ve often read about the importance of the first day in a new employee’s career… it can be a make or break experience, often with long term ramifications.

Well, my first day at Tulmar was exceptional. My office was set up for me and all the technology running; PC, desk phone, mobile phone and desk screen. I had business cards ready, a Tulmar note pad (and matching pen) waiting. I even had three Tulmar shirts waiting…. in the correct size! If you know me, you will know that fitting a shirt for me would not be the easiest task…. well I had three shirts that fit just right!

These things were the little things. The more important tasks were also well laid out. My entire first two weeks were mapped out like a course curriculum. Meetings were set with people I should talk with, time was scheduled to work on the shop floor, I had a customer visit in Michigan booked within the first three days of arriving and even had a day doing deliveries with the company truck. The Tulmar team had not only made me feel welcome by rolling out the proverbial red carpet, but they were conscious about introducing me to the company from a variety of viewpoints.

Our CEO, Barney Bangs has gone out of his way to ensure that I have had a smooth transition, both professionally and personally. My predecessor, Peter Andrews was also terrific through my integration. I had the opportunity to work with Peter for two full months prior to me officially taking the reins at Tulmar. Peter remains involved in the business as a member of the company’s Board, so I always have a chance to bounce ideas off Peter and Barney and remained connected to previous decisions.

In my years in a large company, I changed jobs 8 different times. In most cases the person who I was replacing was still in the company, but of course they were off to a new role. This meant the level of transition was maybe a couple of hours discussing the role and the occasional phone call in the weeks following the hand over. At Tulmar, they made certain I had what I needed for not only a smooth introduction, but an effective transition. Tulmar was concerned about the details, whereas I was often told at my previous employer to think of “big picture.” When I contrast the two approaches, one is about quality, the other is simply about speed. I realize how much I appreciate the quality approach.

After nine months at Tulmar, there is not much I miss about being in a large corporation. I certainly don’t miss the bureaucracy or the petty politics that were part of everyday life in a large multinational. I used to deal with between 100 to 150 emails a day in my prior role. These emails were either “to” me or more often than not, I was “cc” on the email. While you became better at triaging these emails, you spent a considerable amount of time staring at either your mobile device or laptop. At Tulmar, I speak to people! I can walk the manufacturing floor to get updates, I sit in on the sales meeting to get an idea of our sales efforts, and if I have a question, I will phone or simple walk over and talk to someone! Being a mid-sized firm, this luxury is afforded to us. It does make you wonder though about how much inefficiency takes place in a large corporation because of poor channels of communication and people’s propensity to create large distribution lists for emails.

Our team at Tulmar is committed to our customers and one another. Everyone enjoys the benefits associated to growing and the perks that come with it. The markets we serve have natural expansion and support our growth ambitions. After so many years of looking at market declines and disruptive technology negatively affecting my previous employer, it sure is nice to think of how to capitalize on growth rather than be challenged to cut costs.

Wild turkeys visit us right at our home

As I mentioned we moved from Toronto to eastern Ontario and thoroughly enjoyed the move. My wife and I are from the Ottawa area, so moving back to this part of the province has been nice for us. My commute is 10 minutes at most by car and about 30 minutes on my bike. The bike to work season is a bit shorter in this area when compared to Toronto, but I never have to deal with the congestion of city streets or being cut off by a cab… I’ll take that trade off. We both love the sense of community, the peace and quiet and the access to the outdoors. This has been a great move for my wife and I.

The move to Tulmar has been a very positive professional experience. The team is great, the markets we serve are in growth mode and the owner is engaged and balanced in his approach to customers and employees. Moving to a mid-sized firm from a large corporation certainly was beneficial for me. I have lots to learn being in a new industry and I am grateful that my colleagues are patiently answering my many questions.

There is an expression that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Well, I don’t consider myself to be an “old dog” but will attest to be an “aging dog.” I am learning a few new tricks and with the continued support of our owner and my colleagues, hope to learn a lot more tricks over the coming years!

Pat's Dog
Even our pup loves it here!