Tom Deierlein has accomplished what many would consider extraordinary feats. He is a graduate of the elite United States Military Academy known as West Point, where he completed “the toughest leadership courses in the U.S. Army” to become an Airborne Ranger. In 2006, after a sniper’s bullet in Baghdad shattered his pelvis and sacrum, Tom surprised his doctors, who thought he might never walk again, with a fierce recovery that culminated in him successfully completing a 10-mile race that he had planned to run before getting shot. Now a retired U.S. Army Major, in 2007 Tom reentered the business world to co-found the information technology services vendor ThunderCat Technology. As CEO, Tom has led the small company of just around 50 employees to grow from revenues of $29 million in 2008 to $358 million in 2015, equaling the revenues of competing firms three times their employee size. When asked how he accomplishes such feats, Tom says: “I am not special nor ever saw myself as different or special in any way. Quite the opposite: I saw myself as very average. Except in one way: grit.”Grit: a key competitive advantage
Tom argues that grit is a key competitive advantage due to the intensely competitive nature of the IT services industry and the particular need in sales for resilience in the face of failure. “ThunderCat Technology is a VAR – Value Added Reseller. We sell other people’s information system technology products. There are tens of thousands of VARs in the United States and around the world. One of the main ways that we differentiate ourselves from our competitors is through our people – the ones who talk to the customers and prospects each day,” he explains. “Only gritty people can be successful in sales, because there are so many more ‘no’s’ and losses than ‘yes’s’ and wins. It’s a profession that thrives on winning 10-20% of the time. To be effective, you must be able to face multiple failures each and every day but stay focused on winning more deals.” As concrete evidence of the grittiness of ThunderCat Technology’s people, in addition to their impressive performance numbers (“we went from $0 to $300 million in 5 years”), Tom cites the proof of being listed on the Tech Elite 250 three times over the past 4 years: “This ranking goes to the companies that have the most engineers and most sales people certified across a variety of technologies and vendors,” he says. “To earn the certifications that get us on that list, our people must choose to study in their off-hours and take (and sometimes retake) exams over one-to-two years. It represents a lot of time and effort on their part – or, in other words, grit.”
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Based on Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth (Scribner, May 2016) and an interview with Tom Deierlein, co-founder and CEO, ThunderCat Technology, (June 2016).