The Transition

Before he retires, Winchester Equipment CEO Doug Rinker wants to ensure the equipment supply company’s new leadership is ready and able.

Winchester Equipment leaders grew their self-awareness with The BB&T Leadership Institute (from left to right) Bill Orndoff, Scott Hovermale, Doug Rinker and Kevin Barrett.

Before he retires, Winchester Equipment CEO Doug Rinker wants to ensure the equipment supply company’s new leadership is ready and able.

The city of Winchester sits in the picturesque Shenandoah Valley of Northern Virginia. It’s known as the “Apple Capital” because abundant orchards make it the largest apple-producing area in Virginia.

Winchester Equipment Company(opens in a new tab) found its niche in the Apple Capital 62 years ago. It opened in the spring of 1957, supplying equipment to orchard owners and other farmers. Today, it has five locations (all in Virginia) and employs 180 people.

While the apples and agriculture side of the business is slightly larger than it was 30 years ago, it’s only about 10% of the company’s business now. Industrial construction equipment makes up the majority of Winchester Equipment’s inventory and sales.

The company, which CEO Doug Rinker has led for the past 30 years, is in transition. Rinker recently announced plans to retire at the end of 2020. He calls it “repurposing” his life. With this in mind, Rinker wants to know that he’s leaving Winchester Equipment with strong leaders who also care about developing the employees they manage. To ensure this, he turned to The BB&T Leadership Institute. 

The teacher

Doug Rinker is a teacher at heart.

Before he became the CEO, chairman of the board and president of Winchester Equipment, Rinker was a high school agriculture teacher. He graduated from Virginia Tech with an agricultural education degree and taught high school vocational agriculture, agribusiness and leadership development for seven years. 

Some years ago, Rinker became aware of The BB&T Leadership Institute (BBTLI) through his local BB&T loan officer. Company leaders at Winchester Equipment had been discussing the need for a leadership pipeline and BBTLI helped them connect the dots, he said. Facilitators customized programs specific to their needs, including training at Winchester Equipment and in Greensboro, at The Kelly S. King Center, home of The BB&T Leadership Institute.

In addition to solving the problem of a leadership pipeline, something else was troubling Rinker. He had no doubt that Winchester Equipment’s leaders and employees were dedicated, hard-working and engaged. And that they were good people. But it wasn’t enough.

“We also recognized that we’re frustrated, and we’re upset,” Rinker said. “And it was getting in the way of us being highly effective.”

Some of the internal stress and frustrations stemmed from interactions with customers dealing with equipment issues, while facing tight deadlines.

And although Winchester Equipment employees valued teamwork, things weren’t coming together as well as they could.

“We just couldn’t get a level of satisfaction that we were moving in the right direction as a group, and, in most cases, even individually,” Rinker said.

Winchester Equipment leaders Leadership Institute (from left to right) Kevin Barrett, Scott Hovermale, Doug Rinker and Bill Orndoff are ready to roll.

The team

Rinker had seen the symptoms. The BB&T Leadership Institute came in with a more detailed diagnosis, using The BB&T Leadership Development Model. The first level of the model is self-awareness to lead yourself, and that’s where Winchester Equipment leaders spent a lot of time working with consultants like Senior Vice President and Corporate Leadership Consulting Manager Steve Swavely, Ph.D., and others on his team.

“As we became self-aware of ourselves individually, we became self-aware as a team operating together. And that has been extremely functional and beneficial to everybody,” Rinker said.

The BBTLI consultants began by leading frank conversations that were framed to be less about what someone was doing wrong and more about how everyone could improve. The consultants also taught Winchester Equipment leaders to be better listeners, whether listening internally to each other or listening to customers.

Since connecting with BBTLI more than six years ago, 26 Winchester team members—executives, department leaders and aspiring leaders—have participated in leadership training. Rinker won’t say that there aren’t still frustrations at Winchester Equipment, but lives have been changed professionally and personally as the leaders have become more self-aware.

“None of our days are perfect … However, we certainly have reduced a fair amount of frustration, a fair amount of difficulty in the way some of our folks are working back and forth together, and we have created a pathway for conversations that are positive to take place,” Rinker said.

Some team members have even thanked Rinker and shared their personal stories of how the leadership training has helped them.

“As somebody who loves to teach, that just really rings my bell,” Rinker said. “When you’ve seen the light in the eye come on, then you know you’ve had a good day.”

The experts

Steve Swavely, a neuropsychologist, leads the BBTLI team that develops and delivers leadership development consulting to clients, including Winchester Equipment. He says Rinker set Winchester Equipment up for success in the collaboration with BBTLI because the top-level management has participated in the training.

“We can’t effectively go into the middle of an organization and create some sort of solution there. It’s got to start at the top of the house,” Swavely said. “Doug recognized that and followed that piece of advice.”

Rinker participated in BBTLI’s cornerstone program, Mastering Leadership Dynamics™, then sent other senior leaders through the program.

“What that does is give everyone a common leadership language that we can use to increase efficiency when we’re trying to give each other feedback, solve a problem or make decisions,” Swavely said. “It gives us a common set of tools and language to use to make those decisions and solve those problems.”

Leaders must also be willing to hear honest feedback about their own leadership, Swavely said.

Scott Hovermale, Winchester Equipment’s senior manager of operations, is a seasoned executive who had completed numerous leadership courses throughout his career.

Mastering Leadership Dynamics stands out, he said, because it made him examine his past and how it shapes who he is and how he leads.

Hovermale, who grew up on a cattle farm, was raised with a strong work ethic. His father ingrained in him lifelong lessons that have helped him succeed professionally.

“The Leadership Institute helped me peel back and explore why I have been successful and, perhaps, be more aware of areas where maybe I would have the propensity to respond or react to certain things negatively,” said Hovermale. For example, he hasn’t always been patient or understanding of others if they didn’t meet his expectations.

“I’m aware of that now,” he said. “I’m able to more constructively respond or coach or lead others that perhaps aren’t performing to the level that they’re capable of or where I’d like for them to be.”

Swavely explained the most important thing he tells leaders is to critique themselves first. They need to understand their strengths and blind spots.

“Before you can lead anybody, you’ve got to lead yourself first,” he said. “The higher you go on the leadership ladder, the more flaws in your personality become visible to others ... flaws that didn’t really impact you before now become more impactful and important to pay attention to. You’ve got to look in the mirror and make sure you’ve got yourself in order.”

The customers

Winchester Equipment’s core value is centered around the phrase “Customers for Life.” Its employees feel that this encapsulates what they stand for in their work at the company.

Bill Orndoff, Winchester Equipment’s senior manager, business development, has known Rinker for years. They share an agricultural background and have attended the same church, where both lead and develop leaders. He, too, found the connection between his personal background and the way he leads and responds to people incredibly eye-opening.

Another thing Orndoff realized, after participating in Mastering Leadership Dynamics, was that the phrase “Customers for Life” didn’t just apply to customers who come into the facility.

“It’s everybody you work with. When you go up to somebody that you work with, and you embark on a conversation, and you need something, right? That’s just like a customer walking in the door,” he said.

So now his interactions with everyone are more intentional.

“I don’t think I was ever really bad at it before, but I knew that I wasn’t really intentionally focused on what people see out of me internally,” he said. “I want to be that same smiling face and helpful to every single person that works at our company—that they see me as this resource that is helpful to them.”

After Mastering Leadership Dynamics, Orndoff said he became more aware of how people might perceive or interpret interpersonal interactions.

“And if I mess it up, I go make amends as quick as I can,” he said.

For Doug Rinker, this isn’t the kind of ROI that can be tracked on a spreadsheet. But he knows it’s worth it.

“When we look at how we impact the world while in the equipment business, we do pretty well with that, right? But that’s not all that life’s about,” he said. “My professional mission statement is, tell our story, service our customers, be a great team, be a role model and practice the Golden Rule.”

Debbie Garcia-Gratacos

"Before you can lead anybody, you’ve got to lead yourself first. The higher you go on the leadership ladder, the more flaws in your personality become visible to others ... flaws that didn’t really impact you before now become more impactful and important to pay attention to." Steve Swavely, Ph.D., The BB&T Leadership Institute

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