Welcome to another special section of the Chairman's Newsletter, where we highlight the backgrounds and expertise of each of our esteemed WWT board members.
We are pleased to highlight the extraordinary contributions and leadership provided by Sandy Thompson, a partner at Chicago-based BDT & Company.
Sandy leads BDT & Company’s coverage in the mid-western United States and its healthcare sector. His professional board experience includes seats with Athletico Physical Therapy and EXOS. Outside of the office, Sandy’s community involvement includes board posts with Lurie Children’s Hospital and Lake Forest Open Lands. Sandy serves as a non-voting member of the WWT board.
Q: You started your career in the finance industry but made the switch to investment about a decade ago. Tell us a bit more about your background?
A: I have 27-plus years of experience in the finance industry, broadly speaking. I worked for Morgan Stanley for the first half of my career and then went on to the investing side for the second half. Starting in 2009, I went to work for a private equity firm that bought and grew healthcare companies. Beginning in 2017, I joined BDT, a business entirely focused on partnering with family-owned and founder-led businesses. I am responsible for a number of our significant business-owning family clients and advise them and their companies on strategic planning, capital allocation, M&A, governance, and multi-generational family business transitions. As for community involvement, my wife and I have always been focused on giving back. For years, we’ve both been involved with the Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago – my wife is actually the fourth generation of her family to be involved with Lurie Children’s. In addition, I am involved with the Lake Forest Open Lands organization, which is committed to preserving open space in our community.
Q: WWT’s mission is to be a profitable growth company that is also a great place to work. Given your experience with growing companies, what are the keys to success to achieving that?
A: My philosophy is if you do the right things, positive financial returns will come. Now, what are the right things? It’s investing in customers, investing in your employees and brand. And it’s investing in innovation and technology. If you do all those things well — and investing in employees and culture is at the center of that — you can achieve remarkable things. If you have a strong employee base and are a great place to work, that will lead to positive financial returns. Strong management teams and culture are huge differentiators for companies.
Q: And how does WWT fare in that regard?
A: It’s an A+ team. We’ve gotten to know the senior leadership team and we have confidence in this outstanding team. The depth of talent at WWT is incredibly impressive. The way the team approaches the business and how they always operate on their front foot are constantly evolving to add value to customers and drive up the value chain — it’s all very impressive. The commitment to maintaining the culture and team atmosphere is also impressive — and heartfelt. The leadership team here knows that is a key to success.
Q: How much focus is given to culture and employees during board meetings?
A: We spend an enormous amount of time talking about employees, how we are creating career paths for employees, and how much we are evolving as an organization. We want to make sure all the right hallmarks that great companies have, such as diversity, are continuously embedded within WWT. So it’s a very big part of what we talk about. At the end of the day, WWT has enormous racks of inventory, but the heart and soul of what makes WWT tick are the people in the field, interacting with customers every day and solving tough problems in the ATC or difficult logistics challenges in the integration centers. There is a lot of hardware involved, but the assets are truly the people. The hardware goes nowhere without the people.
Q: What other types of issues or challenges is the board talking about as we head into the 2020s?
A: We’re constantly trying to get better as a company and want to be the best in the business for years to come. That’s the long-term true north, if you will. But the whole idea around how we’re taking the set of relationships we’ve developed and extending them by continuously moving up the value chain is something we talk about. The effort Mike Taylor is leading in regards to services and growing those services right alongside the great relationships we’ve already established is something we’re excited about. Not just because it sounds good, but because we have the opportunity — and we’ve earned the opportunity — to add that value to our customers because of the way we’ve approached our business every day. It’s among the most exciting things happening at WWT.
Q: You talk about moving up the value chain. How are we doing that when it comes to some of our biggest customers, such as global financial companies, healthcare organizations or service providers?
A: One of the challenges for any organization as it evolves and looks to add more value to customers is making sure it’s as much of a coordinated team effort as you can possibly make it. To bring everything under one roof and to deliver it seamlessly to clients is really important because these are complex organizations. I’ll give you an example: my firm’s investment fund has invested in a healthcare portfolio company that has more than 500 sites. WWT is helping this company with everything from basic infrastructure to how these sites communicate to improving patient experience and outcomes. The world is evolving so quickly on the technology front that these organizations can’t possibly hire enough people — let alone the right people —to keep up with that pace of change. And that’s the role that WWT can play and I think will continue to play.
Q: WWT has grown into a $12 billion company with thousands of employees. Do you still see an entrepreneurial spirit within it?
A: Absolutely, and I don’t think you even have to look far to see it. Just look at the Advanced Technology Center (ATC), which is a relatively recent phenomenon. Entrepreneurs take risks on big ideas that can be highly differentiating in the future. The ATC is one of the best examples of being entrepreneurial that I’ve ever seen. Strategically, I think WWT’s approach to new markets, like education, is very entrepreneurial. That entrepreneurial spirit and fire in the belly is very apparent day in and day out here.
Q: What else has you excited about WWT?
A: We talk a lot about company and culture, but civic orientation and a true belief in wanting to give back to communities is equally important. It’s a philosophy that aligns with the way BDT & Company operates, too. For example, BDT is committed to building impactful social projects that bring donors together around big ideas that are under-resourced and overlooked by the philanthropic sector. One collaborative effort borne out of that commitment is rootEd Alliance which helps high school students in rural communities pursue and complete postsecondary education — whether it’s exploring the possibility of attending college or community college, assisting with filling out college applications, or understanding financial aid. In fact, Dave Steward’s high school (Clinton High School in Clinton, Missouri) has been involved in this effort and Missouri is one of the first states where we are testing this initiative. We like partnering with WWT, but beyond that partnership, we’re making joint investments outside the company that are more community based. That is the true definition of a partnership.