Cultivating A Culture of Continuous Learning with Richard Halderman
Richard Halderman, partner with Teays River Investments, shares his story and insights into how he leads his company.
Full Podcast of Transcript Below
Adam: It is Bottom Line Faith, and we are online at bottomlinefaith.org. We’d love you to join us in the digital world. My name is Adam Ritz. Great to see you. Ray Hilbert, Hi Ray!
Ray: Adam, great to see you again! It is a wonderful day here at Bottom Line Faith!
Adam: It is, and I feel lucky and blessed to be here with our guest today. We’ll get to him in a second, because I don’t really know a whole lot about the conversations we have with our guests, which makes me a listener – not just a co-host of the show but a listener. So I like to learn, as the show progresses, what’s going on. I’ve heard a little bit about our guests, some of the things they do at his company, and it blows my mind some of the angles we’re going to talk about today. So with that, I’ll let you introduce our guest.
Ray: Yeah, well, hello everybody. As Adam indicated, this is Ray Hilbert, your co-host here at Bottom Line Faith, and today’s going to be a very wonderful episode because we have as our guest today Richard Halderman, who is a partner at Teays River Investments. Richard, it’s great to have you on the show. Thanks for joining us.
Richard: Glad to be here, Ray.
Ray: Well, Richard, take just a moment. You live in Central Indiana – Zionsville – I know that’s where your offices are, they’re in Zionsville, which for our listeners across the country is a little suburb on the northwest corner of Indianapolis. Just take a couple moments, tell us about your family, a little bit about your background.
Richard: Sure. Grew up as a farm kid in North Central Indiana. Most people would call me depression-era kid. For those that don’t know, the 80s was a terrible time to be in agriculture. There were things like Farm-Aid and Willie Nelson, and if you go back in history you can–
Adam: I was gonna say, you don’t look 100 years old.
Richard: This is the mid 80s and agriculture in Indiana, and it was not a fun time. The saying was that in some parts of Michigan, the last one in Michigan shut the lights off. Because the auto industry was terrible, agriculture was terrible, the Rust Belt was on big-time. And so I grew up in the middle of that, tried to find another business to get into but didn’t find that to be successful, mostly because family businesses were really interesting. The stuff that my grandfather started two generations before me were really interesting. And Dad and the opportunities to come alongside my brother really gave me an opportunity to create some businesses within the family businesses over time, then that led to what I do today in running Teays.
Ray: Let’s talk about that just a little bit. What would you like the audience to know about who you are and what you do at Teays?
Richard: So my role at Teays, you’re the end of line making decisions. As I described that, if I make 1% of the decisions for the business, that ought to be the absolute maximum. All decisions ought to get made long before they get to me, and the only reason they get to me is because there’s a question or there’s a challenge in and around something that somebody wouldn’t have been able to figure out based on all of the work we’ve done together, looking at businesses and things like that. So when I think of my spot, it’s mainly to guide culture, to guide strategy, to be the person that says, “Hey, let’s remember the ultimate focus and the things that were after.”
Adam: What would one of those questions be, the 1%?
Richard: One of those questions would be, ultimately, is this an area, strategically, that fits within the context of our business? And so we look at different industries and we partner with different industries, and as we do that, how does that fit within how we think of businesses that we’d like to partner?
Ray: I understand, you know, there’s diversity of businesses and industry that you’re working with. So maybe just take 30 seconds and give us a snapshot. When somebody says, “What is Teays River Investments? What do you do?” Just give us that framework.
Richard: Sure. Teays River is a holding company. We are partners with food and agricultural companies across North America and in different parts of the world. Our team of 18 folks serves to support and make those businesses successful. So we come alongside them in terms of strategy, capital planning, other incentive pieces, and as they run their business and how they serve customers, to provide them fantastic products.
Ray: Well, it’s a fascinating industry in that agriculture. You know, we’re hosting this show in Central Indiana, so agriculture is a big part of this part of the country. Overall, Richard, what are you seeing happening in the agricultural business? What developments do you see happening? You know, we may have somebody on one of the coasts listening to the show right now, and they may or may not be as familiar with what trends are. What do you see happening in the agriculture business?
Richard: So part of the piece all of us can relate to is the fact today, if you think of your food, the way you consume food, and the way you think of your food, you spend vastly more time today than you did 10 years ago. None of us worried about some of the things or thought about some of the things we think about in the food system: how it’s grown, how it’s made, how it gets to me, the origination, the sources, the tracking and traceability of all those things. And so taste serves in a spot where we want to create integrated systems, where people can track and know exactly where things are coming from in terms of the food products and food quality that they get. So somebody who’s not attached to it, you want to know more about our food system today than you ever did before. And how is it we make sure those things are done really well, and let the consumer be really close to and connected to the production of what they’re eating?
Ray: Wow, what’s driving all this new desire for all this information and decision-making, and what’s making that process drive?
Richard: Now, my crystal ball in those areas, Ray, is the best. But I know enough. At least as we see it, the drive of health and wellness. You all eat that way you think of how many calories they have, things that we didn’t think of 10 years ago. Now, with education materials and other things, you think of fresh, you think how you get it close to more natural, more authentic products. And so those are things that are driving the need and understanding. In addition to it, you have a tremendous amount of food regulatory issues. I describe to people, we sometimes worry and you see highlighted things in the news and the media about food problems. The only reason we’re at some of those levels is because our food system is so intensive and so managed and so well run that the regulatory issues are hugely tremendous in a way. So if you’re a Costco or a Kroger or Walmart, you want to know some things about the food industry and your supply chain that you didn’t want to know before, because of those regulatory things. And so we’ve stepped into spots where those customers, the retailer themselves, want to know about the product and the system that provides them the product, they want to be able to track it, they want to be able to trace it, and they want to come see it. We have partners like that that are on our operations all the time. Why? Because they’re interested and they value the product that we make for them.
Adam: We used to be more trusting with the food we ate. It was for sale, we buy it, we eat it. And now everybody’s so well informed. I mean, even fast food restaurants are putting calorie counts up on their digital menu boards. People want to know what they’re putting in their bodies.
Richard: Yeah, they do. And in our case, we want to make the market to make sure the market’s satisfied with what they’re getting.
Ray: Well, obviously, the distinctive here on Bottom Line Faith is not just discussions around business, like what we’ve been having for the last few moments. But it really is around the application of our Christian faith and the way we lead, the way we run our organizations. And we’re going to get to plenty of questions around that issue in just a moment, Richard, but take just a moment and share with our audience a little bit of your Christian testimony: how you came to Christ and just a framework of that.
Richard: So, born into a Christian family, fully understand, and in fact, had grandparents that were probably alongside my parents, full testimony to Christ and the gospel in my life, my daily living. Now, personal ownership of that, at which point that transferred to me, I started a bit down that path in high school. And it really wasn’t until college, until I had a couple of brothers alongside me, whose faith was much more vital and strong than mine, that I said, “Okay, now, I understand a bit more about what God had designed in the Gospel, the free gift of grace.” That allowed me to change and submit in ways that at that point, I was just beginning to understand. And so while my conversion of faith, would have been six, seven years old (I don’t remember exactly the day or the age it happened), that founded faith really started to grow at age 20, 21, 22. Once I got married, and Kelly and I joined in that together, all of that became more vital, more important, because both of us were doing that together and in our walk.
Ray: That’s terrific. And where did you go to college?
Richard: Went to Purdue. Tried to go somewhere else, but in the end, I’m an economist at heart and it’s an in-state school, and boy, was a whole lot less expensive than other places.
Ray: Sounds like you’re a smart kid. That’s awesome.
Adam: Where was the other place?
Richard: Actually, there were three other places: Northwestern, Vanderbilt, and a little university in Florida called Stetson. I thought about playing golf in college and had a couple of offers to go do that, and ultimately decided I wasn’t going to do that full time. I might as well just go get a great education, and that ended up being at Purdue.
Adam: Yeah, yeah, I can see how compared to Vanderbilt and Northwestern, that probably was a lot more cost-effective.
Richard: One year for threes kind of ratio is what I remember.
Ray: That’s a great segue to where we want to head now, and all the analogies that we see in Scripture and agriculture, and so forth. So let’s talk a little bit about some of the biblical principles, Richard, that have really shaped and guided your personal leadership style. Help us understand some biblical foundation of your own personal leadership style.
Richard: So one of the fundamental pieces for those – especially younger – listeners that might be listening: one of the things that I missed as I was growing up was the connection of leadership – the biblical truth principles in the Gospel – in terms of Christ as a leader. And it wasn’t until I started into my 10th or 11th year in business, and I met two gentlemen that were focused on biblical principles and how you applied that to everyday leadership in the office, that finally the full lightbulb came on in terms of my walk, and sanctification has grown phenomenally in that period of time once I understood that. Because now I could connect all these leadership skills and seminars and things that I went to and did in leadership positions at Purdue, now got translated. That’s why that makes sense. Why does it make sense? Because it’s God’s design. And ultimately, the best leadership are the things that are epitomized in Christ.
And so as I learned those – and I’m not good at it today, I hope I’m in a spot where I get better at it every day – but serving, the washing the feet, the things that Christ epitomized in the way he led the disciples, are those things that as a leader, I’ve grown into over time. That means I don’t have all the answers. In fact, it means I’m not Christ, so I’m not perfect. And that means there are times when the best thing I can do is be quiet. And I can listen and I can seek. We use, in our team’s context, the concept of bookends. This came out of a biblical understanding for me, because if you’re God or you’re Christ, you can understand perfectly what it is. Well, sometimes, as fallen, broken human beings, we can’t discern that. And so the best thing, you can do this, you can go all the way to the left and all the way to the right. And you can say, “Okay, that doesn’t make sense and that doesn’t make sense on either one of those ends of the spectrum.” So now, I moved back to the middle in a way that does make sense, because usually you’re making a decision in terms of people or strategy position. So those bookends are going to frustrate or they’re going to irritate somebody that’s going to be a detriment to value, be a detriment to execution. And so as a leader, sometimes I need to drive it to those two, to know as much about what I don’t want, or what we shouldn’t be doing as what we should be.
Ray: So I wrote down those two principles around serving and washing feet. So, on a practical basis, can you think of examples where that drove a decision, or that maybe took you down a path that you wouldn’t have naturally gone if this wasn’t at the forefront of your thought?
Richard: Sure. My transition as a leader coming out of college, moving into the family businesses, and when dad handed over to my brother and I, was a time where, “Oh, I’m in charge now, I’m the boss, I can drive and I can do things”. And it was a quick education for me to learn: no, I’m not. I’m the servant of this system, and the best thing I can do is understand what the system needs. And the only way I understood what the system needs is to ask, is to engage, is to seek and understand challenges others were having – what they needed to have to be successful, which is where the washing the feet context comes into this. Washing of feet to me, in the way I translate it into leadership is understanding the needs of another and serving those needs, whatever the difficulty is, whatever the challenges in their spot, how is it you wash their feet, to serve them. And in doing that, I learn more and connect in relationship better by both the step of first submitting and understanding – surrendering, which is the ultimate peace to Christ – then you can do the same to people and serve them.
Ray: That’s true. Adam, it feels to me like that may be rooted in humility.
Adam: Yeah, yeah, based on the last few minutes of the conversation, you wouldn’t really guess this guy’s the boss, you know, the CEO of this company. Do your employees know, you know, what you just shared with us, this sort of tactics and strategies behind your leadership style, I mean, you’d have to, right?
Richard: So Adam, one of the goals that I have with groups that come in, is that I’d like to just walk into a meeting, us sit down in a room, and no one have an idea what my position is. those are ideal
Adam: Pretty humble.
Richard: Our team ought to engage in a way that there aren’t titles. We end up with them, because the secular world expects them. I’d rather not have them, I’d rather have us function as a team, and we do. We have people – it’s interesting – we have a summer intern in the office this summer, and it’s really fun having young man that age again, in the spot that he’s in, and you wonder if he fits in the culture or not, and if he’s getting it. And he’s about six weeks in, and we’re sitting in a meeting, and we’re talking about something, and he turns around, and he asked me, “So, Richard, why do you think that’s the case?” I’m like, wow. I said, “Andrew, you’ve come a long way.” The fact that he turns, and he’s already picked up a culture, and I need to be challenged, I need to be questioned, because there are times when I haven’t thought stuff through as well as I should have. In this case, he was just doing it to learn. But he was already picking up on the culture of the fact that we all bring diverse pieces. And if I quiet someone, because I have a particular opinion, folks, we’re gonna lose, because the best way to get to it – again, bookends: left to the right. All those ideas come together. And the melding of those ideas are by far the best we got there. Well, if I’m a CEO, and I’m a driver, and I get in front of that, I stopped that engagement, I stopped the formulation of wonderful ideas of different perspectives, sitting around a table to make a decision.
Adam: You didn’t say to the intern, “You can’t speak to me that way.”
Richard: No. It was fun, because there were two of the guys around the table, who I’m sure had pushed him, that he needed to be comfortable doing that. And then I answered his question.
Ray: Yeah, that’s great. What a great experience for him that he’ll recall for years and years. Well, let’s transition just a little bit on this whole topic. You know, you talked about young man working as an intern in your company and mistakes. Let’s talk about lessons learned. If you could think back over the course of your career, what do you think is one of the biggest mistakes you made, what’d you learn from it?
Richard: So, easily, in the slow, step-by-step methodical business development pieces that we did in the family, there were times when I would do things over the phone. there were times when I would do things in a less connected basis, and one of the biggest mistakes I made was, when I made a mistake for a client, I should have gotten in the truck, driven the hour and a half to sit down in front of them and say, “Folks, here’s what happened.” I look back today, and there are times when I think of it that therein lies one of the things I learned early on – I was probably four or five years in the business – and I should have driven up to the family’s house, sat down with them at the table – in the world of agriculture, we do everything at the kitchen table – to sit down with them at the table. And I would have gotten yelled at, raked over the coals, a whole lot of things, we fixed it for them, they were ultimately fine. But I made that error, and I called them and told them over the phone. And there was one of my lessons about when you make larger scale mistakes like that, own up to it and get in front of people and be relational and connected, because God doesn’t shy from things. The truth’s the truth, and love comes both ways. Love comes in hard spots, and in the times we have to deal with them. And love comes in grace.
Ray: On a much smaller scale, of course, but it’s it reminds me, Adam, we go to a restaurant –and it happens to all of us – your food comes out either cold or the wrong order or your steak’s not done or what have you. That happens. But it’s how they handle that mistake, that makes all the difference as to whether or not we’re going to go back. How old were you when you learned that lesson?
Richard: 25, 26, 27. Somewhere in there.
Ray: And you’ve not forgotten it.
Richard: No, that just brought me one of the things that I came with out of that over time. And we use it again in Teays today. So do you guys understand why I’m dumber tomorrow than I am today? Do you know why that is?
Ray: I don’t know.
Richard: Because there’s more to know. And I learned today and this afternoon, our engagement, our discussion, I know there’s more to know and the world’s a bigger place. So it’s not the fact that I know less; it’s the fact that I know there’s more to know. And the pile that I need to know is bigger every day than the pile that I’m learning. So if I could learn at the same rate that I discovered the world, it would work alright. And that was one of many examples over time, but the one thing I’m reminded of, on a regular basis: God’s God and we’re not. And that means there’s a whole lot of the world and people with ideas and things that I meet and engage all over the world, that have things I like, what can I learn? What can I see from them in that? And that was one of those times, if I would have listened, if I’d have done that, we wouldn’t have made the mistake that I made. But I shut myself off to a spot I should have learned to begin with.
Ray: Very good. Very good. So, the flip side of the biggest mistake that you just shared with us that you have made, what’s the best advice you were ever given? Who gave it to you, and how’s it continue to impact you today?
Richard: Most of that, Ray, that I would think about is not advice directly. I I’ll give you one example, but in an overall context, it’s the men and women that have spoken into my life on a continuous guiding basis over a period of time. And I think of the couple of guys that I have mentor relationships with today, that I seek out their guidance and their thought process. They don’t tell me what to do, but they help me think through those things. And so when I think of the advice that I get, it’s the related connectivity that I gained from those relationships and the value that I’ve gained over time, much more value from that than any one example. But to give you a direct one, one that I think of regularly, and it comes in the deferred gratification, or the right way we should think of building long-term value. Our business is all about long-term. We say long-term, I will show people pictures of my kids. That’s how I think of long-term. This is not a two-year, five-year, seven-year, ten-year decision; it’s a lifetime decision. And if we can’t make things on a lifetime basis in agriculture and our production systems, we’re going to have problems. I had a boss that told me early on, he said, “Richard, If you show up and work hard, you’re open, and you want to learn, and you dedicate yourself to serving and honoring others in a Christlike fashion, what you’re paid, and your success will take care of itself. And if you focus on what you’re paid, and how successful you are, you will have all kinds of problems.”
Ray: So, say that again. That’s really good.
Richard: So if you show up and work hard, you listen and you’re interested, you want to learn and grow, and you want to serve in a Christlike fashion – great Christian leader, early in my career that I had the example to work with – he said, “pay and success will take care of themselves. But yet, if you focus on pay and success, you likely won’t get any of the above.” It’s fun in church. We’ve been through a ministry message series that the senior pastor went through, and he used – and I forget who the quote comes from, but it’s very similar – “If you aim at heaven, you’ll get earth thrown in. If you aim at earth, you’ll get neither”. And it’s the same context. There’s no difference in those things. That if you aim at eternal things in how you lead and how you influence people, you get the earthly stuff thrown in.
Ray: “Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven, his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” That is terrific. So you mentioned a moment ago about mentoring and building and leadership and developing the next generation. How do you intentionally mentor the next generation of leadership?
Richard: So we do as a team. And I have to admit, in this case, I’m not the best at it. I’ve got two other guys on our executive team that have their master’s degree in it. I’m somewhere in high school, still learning how you mentor and bring up young kids, because most of my career has been, if you can’t get this, and you can’t sit alongside me and just pick this stuff up, then that’s your own problem. We’re working every day I didn’t have time, a lot of times, we’re creating things and doing things. You either picked it up as we went along, or I wasn’t going to take time to diligently take you through a process of mentoring. Yet, in the last seven or eight years, we’ve been a spot where we’ve really looked at and we said, “Okay, how do we consciously give decision-making decentralization? We like to push decisions down to the lowest common level we can make them.
Ray: I’ve got about two or three questions left. Believe it or not, this time is flying as it seems to always fly.
Adam: That was so fast.
Ray: When we have great guests that just are brilliant in what they’re doing and bringing great value, it does make the time go. But let me ask you this, Richard. Your Christian faith is absolutely central to who you are. I know it’s what drives you every day in terms your decision-making, your values, your worldview, but what challenges do you have in living that out on a daily basis in this business that is increasingly competitive and more transparent and all those things? Where’s the challenge for you to just be consistent in your faith?
Richard: So the biggest challenges are two. First is continue to surrender. I am not, God is. And I continuously remind myself of that, and it’s interesting. There are dreams and times that I have, and the context I put it is “let me and let me” – God saying that to me – I don’t own this. He does. And so how is it that I surrender? That has been my challenge in the creating of the things that we did. Because anytime I think it’s mine, I’m wholly messed up. And so that surrender component of is one that drives me on a regular basis. And the other one is, why am I in the Word every day? Why do I have devotion? Why do I have the men’s group and sit under great teaching of the Word? It’s because the worst thing I could do is devalue the Gospel because of my action. And so the discipline I have to bring every day and remember as a leader is the way people see you and what you speak into by action that shares the Gospel every day because we minister that way far more than we do anything in works.
Adam: I love it. Your average employees loves to come to work, don’t they?
Richard: They’ve stuck around for a while.
Adam: Yeah, well, what kind of longevity do they have? Your longest employee’s been with you how long?
Richard: So, one of our guys has the comment that we’re the worst first job you could have, because most of our staff either has had one job or come with us right out of school. So I think we’re at seven years now – six and a half – and the company’s only ten years old. So we get figured out whether you fit in the culture relatively quickly or not. In our goal, one of the challenges we have with the younger people as to how do we continue to throw so much at them that they continue to grow in ways? They’re hungry, they want to grow, and it’s not dollars at this point, for a lot of them. It’s how is it they continue to grow and expand and learn what they’re doing? You give them that environment. Hire smarter people than you too, Adam, that way it makes your job easier.
Adam: Well, let me congratulate your intern, your new intern, on his ten-year anniversary, ten years from now.
Richard: He’s got one more year of graduate school. He’s gotta get done. He’s got to get his Master’s degree finished before he can come to work. That is great.
Ray: Well, Adam, believe it or not, we’re already down to our last question. And Richard, you probably wouldn’t know this, but we have one question that we love to close the show with. And I always like to take just a moment to set a little context. The book of Proverbs, written by Solomon, King Solomon, the wisest man, right? We know him to be the wisest man. And in Proverbs 4:23, it says this, it says, “Above all else, guard your heart for it determines the course of your life.” And there are some folks that believe that these were some of the last words that he penned – that he may have actually said this on his death bed. I’ve read some commentary that there are some biblical scholars who believe that this is some of his last words. And so here we are, Richard, you’re at the end of your life, and your family, your friends, your closest associates are gathered around you, and you’re going to share your “above all else” advice; you’re gonna speak, “Now remember, my loved ones, above all else, fill in the blank.” What would you say?
Richard: Love first, love second, love always.
Ray: That simple.
Adam: Brevity, concise. Keep it simple, stupid. It’s the KISS rule. Love first and love always.
Richard: There shouldn’t be an employee, there shouldn’t be anybody in my family that doesn’t have that context out of me first. And if they don’t, I’m screwing up as a dad, I’m screwing up as a boss, I’m screwing up as a child of God.
Ray: Well, thank you, Richard. Wow. That is a perfect ending. And I always love getting the answers to that last question. Adam, why don’t you close this up today?
Adam: Yeah, you never know what’s coming. Sometimes it’s the longest answer, and I gotta tell you, that’s the shortest answer we’ve had, and maybe one of the most powerful, so yeah, it doesn’t have to be long. Richard, thank you so much for coming in and telling us about Teays River Investments and your faith and your journey and you’ve just mentioned your father so that’s powerful to me. I know all the dads listening, we like to incorporate not only our faith and our business, but how it bleeds over into our ability to be a great parent and father and patriarch of the family. We are online at bottomlinefaith.org. You can join the fun there and listen to past shows, past episodes, contact on there as well, if you want to shoot us questions, comments, concerns. Bottomlinefaith.org. For Ray Hilbert, always a pleasure. I’m Adam Ritz. This is Bottom Line Faith.