Tuesdays with Corey interview with Terri Jondahl
Terri Jondahl joined CAB in 1995 and serves as the CEO of CAB Incorporated and CAB Worldwide Holdings Inc operations in the U.S., South Africa, China, India, Korea and Vietnam. She is the majority shareholder of CAB, which holds certification as a Women’s Business Enterprise. Jondahl has extensive hands-on experience in sales management, financial management, overseas supplier management and production and quality management;
Terri Jondahl is very active in the community, serving on the Executive Board of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce (where she served as the 2011 Chair), Board of Directors, Gwinnett Health System, Board of Trustees of the Georgia Gwinnett College Foundation, Gwinnett Medical Foundation and Gwinnett County Public Schools Foundation and several other organizations. She was recently appointed by Governor Nathan Deal to serve on the Lake Lanier Islands Development Authority.
Jondahl has served as the State President of The Texas Federation of Business and Professional Women and President of the Federation of Business and Professional Women in the Ukiah, California and Nacogdoches, Texas regions. Jondahl was honored in the 2008 Atlanta Woman Magazine as one of the “Top 25 Professional Women to Watch.” Jondahl received an A.A. in Business Administration at Mendocino College.
She loves to paint and spend time boating or jet skiing on Lake Lanier.
How to Connect with Terri
- Website: https://www.cabinc.com/
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/terrijondahl/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cabincorporated
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/CABIncorporated
Intro: Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX studios in Atlanta, Georgia, it's time for Atlanta Business Radio, spotlighting the city's best businesses and the people who lead them.
Stone Payton: Welcome to this very special edition of Atlanta Business Radio. It's time for Tuesdays with Corey. Today's episode is brought to you in part by ARC, American Reprographics Corporation. If you print with it, print on it, or simply want it printed, head on over to arcinatlanta.com or better yet, reach out to Mindy Godwin. Let her know that Corey and Stone sent you. You can reach her at 770-394-2465. All right. Here's your host, Corey Rieck.
Corey Rieck: Well, thank you, Stone. Today on the Tuesdays with Corey Show, we have yet another fantastic guest. Terri Jondahl comes to us with an impressive wealth of business experience, perhaps most notably with over 20 years of experience as a CEO of CAB Incorporated. Terri's vast business experience includes experience with strategy, execution, finance, banking, deal structures, sales and marketing, quality assurance systems, management of US and overseas manufacturing, international business culture, negotiations, engineering management, and project management. She's advised on multiple corporate boards as an unquestionable leader in her field without circumstance. When she is not contributing to all the above, Terri enjoys jet skiing, beautiful sunsets on her boat, and oil painting. Terri, welcome.
Terri Jondahl : Hi. How are you?
Corey Rieck: We're great.
Terri Jondahl : And thanks for having us.
Corey Rieck: Hey, no problem. You're gonna be a great guest. Terri, take some time and introduce yourself further to the listenership here.
Terri Jondahl : Well, I'm the CAB incorporated in, and we're an industrial products company headquartered in Buford. And we have manufacturing operations in Texas and Washington. We have a warehouse in Canada. We also have engineering and quality operations in China and India. So, we've grown since I became a shareholder in 1995 from $3.5 million to, currently, we're a little over 50 million. We had a peak of about a little over $100 million just before the crash, but we've dropped back to a highly diversified, strong foundation.
Corey Rieck: Congratulations on all of your successes. You've been CEO for over 20 years.
Terri Jondahl : Something like that. I've been in this particular industry, though, since 1984. And I had been Executive Vice President before I was CEO. And then, in a predecessor company that we subsequently acquired, I was Director of Marketing and I actually started out as controller and all-around, everything person. And that business was about to go under. So, it was a situation where you had to figure out what it took to keep it alive. And it was a great learning experience.
Corey Rieck: Yeah. Well, it sounds like with all of your experience, is all of that advantageous in your role now as CEO?
Terri Jondahl : Absolutely. And the thing about it for me is those years and seasoning allow you to make decisions more calmly and more intuitively because it's in your DNA. I can look at information, and I'm really data-driven. So, I like to look at the data. I like to ask the questions. I like the gut feel of my team. I like to make sure they understand, do they think it's 60% likely that something's going to happen or whatever? So, I'm looking for all these metrics. I gather all that information. And then, I like to be decisive and quick about making decisions. But I like to make sure that I got that gut right.
Corey Rieck: How did you get to Atlanta?
Terri Jondahl : Good question. I was born in Northern California, lived there for the first 25 years of my life up in Mendocino County, which is in the heart of the Redwoods wine country and marijuana country. And in the '70s, my father was the county sheriff, and he was leading the cause to eradicate marijuana. It was a great time to be a teenager. And I could do a whole hour on those stories. But I went to school at the local college and worked full-time. And I did a office automation project for the county where I raised a million dollars from Burrows Corporation for a public/private partnership model project with their many computers, microcomputers just before IBM PC came out.
Terri Jondahl : Then, I went to Maryland and started selling PCs for Computerland. And I was making pretty darn good money. I was the top salesperson for the less than year that I was there. But in the meantime, a company that a friend of mine was a manager of was sold to a group of Greek investors, and they were trying to bring their money to the US from Greece, which was Nationalizing Industries. That company acquired a US company, PipeFlange company that had entities in California, Texas and Florida. And they had opened the headquarters in Annapolis, Maryland.
Terri Jondahl : And when they bought it, it was a $6 million company, and it was making money and doing good. All 100% percent domestic manufacturing of pipe flanges for big hydropower projects, and water, and wastewater piping. Well, within a couple of years, they really weren't small business people by any means, and they had built a huge overhead structure, and they had dropped their revenues down to $2.5 million a year and were losing a million dollars a year. And they were going to shut it down.
Terri Jondahl : I was selling computers, meanwhile, and I understood the accounting side of it and general business side of it, but the manufacturing piece was very intriguing to me, and I didn't understand it. And I was always so, so curious. So, when they were going to shut this business down, a friend of mine who is a middle manager, I said, "Hey, why don't we write a business plan for the Greeks and and suggest that we take it over and see what we can do with it?" Well, I mean, I was 25 years old. This is the stupidest idea in the world. But fortunately, I was so young, I didn't know any better. And I'll tell you, that works well when you're young and stupid. There's some cases where that's a benefit.
Corey Rieck: Was it advantageous not to be afraid?
Terri Jondahl : Absolutely. And my mother, who died in 2002, as much as she lived in the shadow of my father as sheriff, she was fierce. And she always encouraged me to do whatever. There's nothing you can't do. And so, I just always thought, "Hey, why not try?" And can't is a word that I have a hard time with. But anyway, I went to it. So-
Corey Rieck: I knew we were going to get along well.
Terri Jondahl : So, in Maryland, we took over this company, shut down the headquarters in Maryland, shut down the Florida operation, ultimately sold off the California operation, and moved to Texas, where we had a factory, walked in the front door of that on the first day, and it was half inch of dirt on the floor in the office. It had been mothballed. And I stood in that doorway and went, "Whoa, what have I gotten into?" But you just hunker down, you do what it takes, and you push through. And we grew the company from $2.5 million to about $6.5 to $7 million in three years. We stuck with them for about 10 years.
And then, we were approached by the founder of of CAB Incorporated here in Georgia to consider becoming shareholders. And he was a a competitor. We're both well-respected competitors, but not involved in manufacturing, but involved in distribution and in importing from overseas. So, we made a big decision. It was a big risk to move to Maryland. It was a big risk to get involved with CAB. But we spent 10 or 12 years in Texas. And then, I came to Georgia in '95. And in '99, we ended up acquiring the assets of that Greek company.
And so, we took it back over and acquired that manufacturing operation under CAB's wing. And away things went. We were focused primarily on pipe flanges. We were the experts in the country on very large diameter flanges that were 14 to 16-foot diameter. So, we had large machining capability. That was a natural for the early days of the wind energy market where they started building, instead of the latest towers you would see out of Palm Springs, they began to build tubular towers. And tubular towers each section has these big like 16-foot diameter flanges that hold them together.
So, we were, in the very early days, building the first ones in the US for that industry in about '97. And then, we ultimately took off. We went offshore and developed manufacturing capacity and supply partners in Korea. So, we do a lot of business in Korea also. But that was an industry that also evolved and the quality requirements became dramatically tighter. So, we had to learn, and grow, and develop our skills and technical expertise. Those skills, then, allowed us to enter the castings and forging market, which pretty much covers about anything metal that you can see that's heavier than sheet metal. There's pretty much anything you can think of. And we've provided food processing equipment. We've actually provided a park that's going on, rockets that shall remain unnamed. It's not a mission critical part, but it's still going to be up there in space. So, we're doing some cool stuff across a lot of industries.
Corey Rieck: With dozens of years of experience, I'll bet you've seen a wealth of evolution. Is that a fair statement?
Terri Jondahl : It's a major understatement. I can tell you that one of the things, for example, in the early days with the Greeks, one of our investors was from Greek, and he was assassinated by a terrorist group in Greece. I think it was called November the 17th. And you can Wikipedia them and see that they had created a list of industrialists, the top 10 or something industrialists they were going to assassinate. And he was one of them. And he refused to have bulletproof glass on his car. And they pulled up at a stoplight and shot him through his window. So, you name it, we've probably seen it, and it's been a wild ride.
Corey Rieck: Do you have a daily routine that you follow? To me, I'm looking at this, you have all of this experience. Well, with all of your experience on these boards, one question I had is when you sleep, with all of your experience and how hard you work?
Terri Jondahl : Oh, my gosh. That is a great question. And I have to tell you-
Corey Rieck: You don't?
Terri Jondahl : No. Sleep is my number one priority because I should be the person that gets up at 6:00 and goes to the gym, but no, that's not my thing. But I have always, as I say, honored my circadian rhythm. And I push. And my Fitbit, I monitor my sleep every day to see how much quality sleep that I get. And I try to sleep eight hours a day and, sometimes, nine if I can. But I have found that if I allow myself to get the sleep that I need, I am far more effective.
Corey Rieck: Yeah.
Terri Jondahl : And so, even if it means that I need to take off in the middle of the day at lunch and go have a little snooze. And by the way, when we built our office here in Buford, I put a nap room in downstairs. But I also built my house five minutes away, so I can just run home to my pillow. But there were times during the downturn where my CFO and I were working all hours around the clock, and she would run down and take a 20-minute snooze, and it allowed us to be much better. And I noticed my ability to make decisions is much, much clearer when I'm rested, so.
Corey Rieck: I'm always into, I'm always interested to look at people's patterns and their routines. And some like to exercise in the morning, others do it during lunch, others at night. And I'm always interested to know with successful people like yourself, kind of what makes them tick. And it's interesting to just learn about all those things from each person.
Terri Jondahl : Well, the other thing that I have discovered in the last 10 years is painting. And I went to one of those drink and paint events. A bunch of girls dragged me out. I got hung on. They said drink and out. And I thought, "Oh, okay." And the paint part was kind of an added bonus. But when I found out that you could learn how to do this, you didn't have to be born with a natural talent, I was so shocked. But the other thing that was incredible to me was the escape. I found my mind could wander and think about things that I wouldn't ordinarily have. Those brain cells hadn't been touched in a long time. So, I've taught myself to oil paint, and I do some other painting as well in the last 10 years. And I did a little mini course at the Hudgens Arts Center in Gwinnett. And I've gone to some little weeklong conferences, but mostly it's about just practicing, but that has been a huge relaxation opportunity for me. And then, I have to add, I married after. I had some trial runs earlier, but I married my current-.
Corey Rieck: I don't think you're alone with that.
Terri Jondahl : And I married my current husband in 2005. And subsequently, he retired from Hewlett Packard. And he has been such a strong positive support. And now, and I'd tell anybody who'll listen, finding the right life partner is a huge key to success. So, you-
Corey Rieck: I think you're right about that.
Terri Jondahl : It doesn't matter who you are, if you are around ... and I'm all about getting toxic people out of your life. I wished I learned it a lot earlier. But-
Corey Rieck: I don't think you're alone with that either.
Terri Jondahl : But I think that having can-do people in your universe is huge.
Corey Rieck: You mentioned something a while back, and it's shutting off, hitting the reset button, and painting does that for you. What else allows you to hit the reset button?
Terri Jondahl : Walking out on Lake Lanier Islands. We go out there, and they have miles of eight-foot wide trails. And it's just so beautiful and peaceful. Getting out on the jet skis and the boat on Lake Lanier is incredibly relaxing. And the sunsets out there, just mind boggling. And that, when I moved to Atlanta in '95, my intention was to work through the plan to acquire majority interest in CAB and then move it back to Texas. And I got here. And within a few years, I realized that Lake Lanier was a huge emerald in Northeast Georgia. And I really enjoyed that, and I viewed it as a huge quality of life opportunity for me and for all the families in our company.
Terri Jondahl : But I also realized that the Metro Atlanta area, in general, I had access to legal expertise, accounting expertise. And in the world of law, there's all kinds of attorneys, they might be experts in trade, they might be experts in freight, they might be experts in contracts, they might be experts in mergers and acquisitions, but I could find that all, and I could get expertise that was transferable overseas. So, that, plus the international airport, it's like the perfect world here. And then, the natural beauty of the mountains, the sea, it's an amazing place. Of all the places I've lived, this feels so perfect to me.
Corey Rieck: Yeah, there's a lot to like about it. I mean, my wife and I live in the city, and we were visiting earlier before we came on the show that we don't have kids. So, we eat out a fair amount. And so, we're within a stone's throw of a lot of really good restaurants. If we want to go to a game, Atlanta United, or the Falcons, or Georgia Tech, it's all right there. And if you want to get away and go to the mountains for a weekend and get away, that's straightforward as well. And when I moved here from Minnesota in April '97, I moved to escape the snow and the winter. And I think that the tradeoff is it's a little warmer for a little while longer, but we've assimilated well. And it's funny, my family makes fun of me when I go back, and it's so cold, and I say, "How do you guys live here?" And they're like, "Really? You've lived here 33 years before you moved out." But I think there's a lot of redeemable qualities about Atlanta, no question.
Terri Jondahl : Now, let me ask you, does your family in the north, do they say you have a southern accent?
Corey Rieck: No, because it's crazy. When I go to California, people say, "You're shelling southern." Of course, when I go to Texas, they're like, "You don't sound like you used to." And it's sort of like nobody owns me that they can't claim that I sound like anybody. But when I was originally doing sales in the '80s, it was all by telephone because that's just how it worked. And I learned in talking to people around the country, you sort of try to pick up the cadence of who you're speaking with. And I think that is natural. I think if I spent ... of course, if I spend more in three days in California, imagine I probably sound more like them. It's like if I spend more than three days inside the Beltway in Washington, DC, I'd start agreeing with them, and I need to come home quickly because it freaks me out.
Yeah, I think it is mirroring rather the people that you're interacting with and maybe following their cadence helps communicate. But I don't know that anybody would say that I have an accent, although I don't know. Nobody said that I do.
Terri Jondahl : I don't think you do, but I accept that every once in a while, I can hear the northern tier thing, not the Fargo kind of thing, but every once in a while, I hear just something.
Corey Rieck: So, since you touched on that, I can't say how many times I've been asked the question since I moved here. Have you ever seen the movie, Fargo? What do you think? But I tease my sister, my sister's a couple of years older than me, and she'll appreciate the fact that I pointed that out on live radio, but I tease her that she talks like the people in Fargo. And she disagrees with me, but, Laurie, you do speak like the people in Fargo in case you're listening.
Terri Jondahl : Well, and I don't think I sound southern. So, I always liked to think that I'm just the average Joe when it comes to voice, but apparently it's not true.
Corey Rieck: So, you have all of this experience. And how did you decide to play the roles you played on the various boards you've served on? How did that happen?
Terri Jondahl : Well, I have this-
Corey Rieck: Were you voluntold?
Terri Jondahl : Yeah. No, no. I-
Corey Rieck: I don't get that people have success voluntelling you anything.
Terri Jondahl : Boy, there's a lot of folks who would tell you that's true. I have always had the genetic tendency to be a crusader. And so, if there's something that seems broken, I'm out there wanting to fix it. And I can remember, I think I was 19 in California working full-time, going to school at night, and helping volunteer to do a community event. I think we called it the Council for Social and Economic Recovery. That's something. At 19, you think you can fix everything. So, it was-
Corey Rieck: It doesn't seem like that's worn off though.
Terri Jondahl : Okay. So, that could be pretty true. I am a fixer now, and I'm good at troubleshooting. I'm good at getting to the meat of the problem. And now that I'm older and I've been around enough, I know where the resources are in a lot of cases.
Corey Rieck: Isn't it advantageous, though, to have that fixer quality given your role with your organization?
Terri Jondahl : Critical. I mean, I had to be the fixer. I'm all about, what are the problems? And not just the problems today, not what's on my desk at the moment, but what are the problems intermediate, and what are the problems longer term? And we've developed tools, and models, and metrics to be able to see around corners. And that's a forced discipline that we've had to develop as a result of the downturn. And it's an exceptional skill that I would recommend everybody learn how to do because if you're able to see what you think your business is going to do in six months or in 12 months. And I'm just not talking about revenues. I'm talking about how much financing you're going to need, how much inventory you're going to need, what staffing you're going to need, what problems you're going to potentially encounter, and then, you work on risk mitigation. All of that is critical that you be able to look today, tomorrow and down the road.
Corey Rieck: One of the things that I think is impressive about you is you seem to have such a grasp on all of the various aspects because of your experience, international culture, international business, tax law, legal stuff. I mean-
Terri Jondahl : You want to know why?
Corey Rieck: Because you had to.
Terri Jondahl : Because you’ve got to be able to call BS. And unless-
Corey Rieck: You would actually call BS on somebody?
Terri Jondahl : Oh, no, not me, but most folks. I apparently put out enough of a vibe that people tend to not go there with me in many cases. But it does happen. And I've had to jump on a plane and fly across the planet to be able to have a showdown when challenges came up that others in the organization couldn't handle, and it meant somebody needed to go pound a desk. So, it can happen. But the fact that I have enough understanding, I'm not an engineer, but I employ a lot of engineers, and as we got involved in more and more technical stuff, I have the ability to sit down, and review projects and drawings, and ask questions that allow us to uncover the risks, and then figure out how to mitigate those. And that is critically valuable in our kind of business.
Corey Rieck: One of the things that I think is also impressive about you is all of this expertise and experience. But how do you determine how you budget your time on a day-to-day basis?
Terri Jondahl : I-
Corey Rieck: Is it a challenge?
Terri Jondahl : It's better for me. Right now in our business, we have the right amount of staff members. I have the right amount of first and second tier leadership bench strength. And there's a lot happening. We have a lot in the pipeline, and there's a lot of folks in place making stuff happen. So, my role right now is to enable and encourage those folks to get their stuff done. And then, I'm always keeping an eye on the financial side, and making sure that things are happening, and we're able to finance what we have in the pipeline. And so, I'm always watching that. So, for right now, it's not a situation where it's requiring me to be absolutely in there holding on for dear life. Now, I'm always there, but I do get involved in some public community activity work.
And what I've done on that front - you asked how do I choose - well, I first started out just whoever asked me to do something, I'd say, yes. And it that only works for so long. Now, I'm getting a bit more selective, but I'm still involved on about ten boards and a couple of them might fade out a bit. But I'm taking on another organizational role in a cat rescue group. But I tend to be more selective about finding things where there is a big need for my kind of problem solving. And I'm not a fund raiser type of person, but I can help figure out how to get your organization from A to B and, ultimately, to wherever you want to go.
And so, I have carefully called through the things that I'm involved with. First of all, my primary interest when I first got to Gwinnett was the Gwinnett Chamber Commerce. And I got active there as soon as I arrived in Georgia. And then, I was chairman of the Gwinnett Chamber in 2011. And it's a very active, very vibrant chamber. And I continue to be on the executive board, and I am the secretary. So, I'm pretty involved on a regular basis with what's going on there. And to me, that drives quality of life. And so, that adds to my ability to keep good employees.
Then, the second thing that I've been really active in in the last five years was I served on the Gwinnett Medical Hospital Board, and we were involved in a merger process and review of a bunch of options ahead of that merger. And that was an extremely complex and frustrating evolution. And it was a process that it was brutal because there was a lot of legal issues where you couldn't talk about things, you couldn't make folks understand and feel comfortable. But we always knew that we were doing exactly what needed to be done, and we had to do it all in confidence. But we ultimately accomplished a merger this year with Northside Hospital and really exciting things. This is going to be a huge change for Gwinnett's future of health care. And we're really, really excited about that. Now, I am now one of six members from Gwinnett who have moved to the Northside board. So, that's exciting. But it's not-
Corey Rieck: Well, good for you.
Terri Jondahl : It's a quarterly meeting as opposed to one a month plus four committee meetings a month. So, I'm scaling down that a bit. But I also serve as the chair of the Lake Lanier Island's Development Authority. And I was appointed by Gov. Deal four or five years ago, and I became the chair last year. And we do the oversight for the folks who operate Lanier islands and the hotel property out there in the Margaritaville entity. And there's work being done right now. We're doing planning work for a second resort out there, and it's going to be beautiful and exciting. And so, that's something that we're looking forward to in the next few years. I love doing that. I'm passionate about the lake. I was passionate about it from the moment I arrived in Georgia. So, that's my other major thing.
Terri Jondahl : I'm involved in several others, but the latest one that has adopted me is the Cat Rangers Organization in Buford. I love cats. And they're a rescue operation, and I am helping them to get themselves more organized. And I'm helping them rescue cats. And actually, we helped them rescue a feral colony about four or five months ago and and got fifteen of the thirty adopted out.
Corey Rieck: Oh, that's great.
Terri Jondahl : Yes. Well, the other fifteen, we built a 16-by-30 kitty home behind our office, and they live at our office, and we care ... it's a beautiful kitty home. My husband built it with all kinds of ramps and play runs and and it's fabulous. So, we have 15 of which we are now ... probably three quarters of them went from being totally feral and wild to pettables. So, we are socializing these cats, and they're doing amazingly well, and it's been an interesting ... I don't know how I got into it. Some of these things, you just you've got to fix a problem and you are the fix, so. But labor of love.
Corey Rieck: It seems like some of these things have found you. You mentioned the word selective. And from speaking with you, it seems like you have all of the things in place to have the balance, or to have some balance, or to have times where you maybe have some balance. You have the lake, you have the painting, you have the walks, and you have this other thing now with the cats. How did you get selective? Was that an evolution?
Terri Jondahl : Yes
Corey Rieck: Was there an event that happened? Tell us about that.
Terri Jondahl : The painting made me realize that I needed to find time to paint. That was the first thing. So, when I realized just how much joy that brought to my life, I thought, "Okay. Now, it's the season of me." And I realized that as hard as the journey is, it's always going to be hard. And if you don't stop and create a life worth living, then you're going to find it's gone. I'm 60 years old and my mother passed it at 61. And all of that makes you begin to realize, "Wait a minute, what's this all about?' And so-
Corey Rieck: Well, it lends itself to instant perspective.
Terri Jondahl : Yeah, yeah. And my sister and brother and I have gotten closer over the years as a result of that.
Corey Rieck: Do they live here now?
Terri Jondahl : No. My brother is in Colorado. My sister's in California. But we all went different directions our whole life. And then, after both of our parents passed, we began to realize that, "Hey, we've got us, and we need to honor that."
Corey Rieck: Yeah, that's a great point. You're only dancing on this earth for a short while, and you got to make the most of it. And you mentioned that your dad was a sheriff. Did you ever have any inclination to follow him in that?
Terri Jondahl : In law enforcement? Are you kidding?
Corey Rieck: I think you have been good at it.
Terri Jondahl : Do you realize? Okay, I am. When you grow up in law enforcement, you think like a cop, and you think like a detective. My motto on everything is trust but verify. And my business, all of the people in business, trust but verify. I don't care what a customer or supplier or anybody tells you. I said you better have other data about validate because that's just the way. If you're going to be successful in anything, that's what you have to do. And I think that probably comes from the law enforcement thing.
But I will tell you, I admired the law enforcement thing. I watched Forensic Files all the time, so I can probably either commit a crime or solve a crime pretty well. But the sheriff's role, my father started out as a police officer, and then a detective, and then he was chief of police of a couple of small communities before he ran for sheriff. But-
Corey Rieck: So, how long was he involved in law enforcement?
Terri Jondahl : Since the early '60s to his retirement, and I think was '82-ish. And-
Corey Rieck: So, 20 plus years.
Terri Jondahl : Yeah, but you had to run for office as sheriff. So, there were two elections involved and those were brutal. And those-
Corey Rieck: How so?
Terri Jondahl : Well, back in those days, even as a kid, we would walk precincts, we would hand address 50,000 mailers, and he had to go to kajillions of events. And, of course, as kids, you got dragged along to a lot of these. And toward the end of a couple of the election cycles, you’ve got mudslinging going on. He was always ... really take the high road. He was the big Buford posh kind of guy. He didn't talk a lot, but it was in his silence that he spoke volumes. And even as a kid growing up, he didn't talk, or yell, or you didn't hear that voice, but in your head, you knew his expectations were high. What I did learn is that it was better not to ask permission. It was better to do what I wanted, and then have to explain it later if I needed to because asking permission, his only answer was no.
But the whole world of politics to me, it takes a really special person. And I like to support folks who are chasing political campaigns for that reason because I would never do it. And I am so grateful that there are people who will take on what are such thankless roles. And so, that's kind of what I learned from that family.
Corey Rieck: I want to come back to something you just were touching on, and that is the whole asking permission thing. Can you give us an example or two of when you didn't ask permission and had to kind of explain to your father back when you were living in his house?
Terri Jondahl : Oh, I can't remember. I just know that was my that was my standard MO. And I remembered at one point realizing what I was doing thinking that, "Oh, yeah, this is my strategy. And so, this is just-" But I don't remember the specific story.
Corey Rieck: Were there ever things that you did that he didn't find out about or was he pretty clever and kind of-
Terri Jondahl : This is where I would say that, oh, double HE, double hockey stick word, yes. Yes, there's a huge list. And he's past, but I'm not letting any of those secrets out.
Corey Rieck: And nor should you. With everything you have going on and all that you're contributing, what's the thing that you take the most satisfaction in?
Terri Jondahl : Making a difference. It sounds so simple. And-
Corey Rieck: No, no, no, it's not. It's not simple.
Terri Jondahl : But it is making a difference. And all that I want to be able to do is make a difference in as many ways as I can. And I love it when younger people will listen to me. And every once in a while, I get invited to speak at a college class or speak at a school or, oh my gosh, every once in a while, some young kid will ask your advice, and you'll think, "Wow! Okay, I'll tell you." And you want to be able to share how they can avoid some of the things that you've screwed up, because I'm really good at screwing things up not once, twice, but probably an average of three times for I get it really right, so.
Corey Rieck: Yeah, I think, it is interesting to help others and to be able to say, "Hey, I did it this way. It didn't turn out the way I wanted. And here's why. If I'm you, here is a tack that you should take. Here are the steps and rank order." And I think 30 years ago, I thought maybe I knew more than I actually did. And it's interesting how much smarter your parents get as you grow older.
Terri Jondahl : Isn't that the truth?
Corey Rieck: But it's a place of gratitude that we get to come from by helping others maybe not take the same steps and make the same missteps as we did. And I think that one thing that shows up for me in this discussion is you had the courage to take these steps, to get involved in that company, and maybe it was advantageous to not have all the fear and not know all the stuff that you were walking into. But you did it, and you've kind of jumped off the cliff with your hair on fire, and try-.
Terri Jondahl : And sometimes, hung on by my fingernails.
Corey Rieck: Yeah. And tried not to get burned and breaking limbs on the way down. And it sounds like you did that.
Terri Jondahl : Yeah, I've got a few scars, but I think I've accomplished a lot of what I wanted. There's not a whole lot of things I would have done differently. But I wish that I would win the lottery tomorrow because I'd built a whole bunch of manufacturing facilities and in high tech manufacturing. And I'd probably do a lot more philanthropic things. So, in a perfect world, that might be the things that I would do more of, but you notice that I didn't say I'd just go home and paint. I'd still have to be doing work stuff.
Corey Rieck: Yeah. We find with a lot of the people on the show that they're high flyers, that they're very, very active, and they always need to be putting their energy, and experience, and acumen into something. And I've read countless books that it's talked about retiring, and a lot of executives don't retire because they struggle about what they would do. I've heard others say, hey, it's really important to get up and go to something or to a place to do something. You can't just sit home and do nothing.
Terri Jondahl : I totally agree with that. I will, however, say that as I have pushed myself to find time to paint, I have realized that I do enjoy quiet time. I enjoy television time. And I know there's a lot of junk out there, and it's really hard to find the good stuff, but there is some good stuff out there. And so, okay. And I admit I will watch a reality show or two now and then. And to me, it's escapism. I was the person ... I remember a local newspaper in Texas did an article on me in the mid '80s, and they said, "What do you do?" And I said, "With your time, and this, and that," and I said, "Well, I read The Wall Street Journal every day. Then, I go home at night and watch my VHS tapes of soap operas." And I watch-
Corey Rieck: Which one?
Terri Jondahl : ... All My Children and One Life to Live. And I watched all my children for 35 years. Then, they took that baby off, and I was in mourning. But I got over-
Corey Rieck: When they killed Jenny, that killed it for me.
Terri Jondahl : Oh, I remember Jenny.
Corey Rieck: And I was like ... and then, she came back as it goes. And then, was messing with Greg's mind. I'm like, "Okay, I'm-"
Terri Jondahl : Oh my God, you really did watch All my Children.
Corey Rieck: I said, "I'm out," you know.
Terri Jondahl : But it's all about escape. It's letting your mind go somewhere else. And so, that was a tool.
Corey Rieck: Well, I think it's great that you recognize, "Hey, here's what I need to do to shut it off. Here's what I need to do to hit the reset button." Timing is everything. You're certainly, it seems to me from talking to you that you have complete control of your time, and you can pick your spots.
Terri Jondahl : I'd like to think that I'm getting better at it.
Corey Rieck: Well, I think it's an evolution, right?
Terri Jondahl : Yeah, oh, yeah.
Corey Rieck: Because aren't you wired as the person that's driving the direction of the company to think, "Okay, I got to think about this. And then, I gotta think about that. And then, I got to think about 30 days down the road, six months down the road, six years down the road." There's always something to do, right?
Terri Jondahl : In every organization, anything that I get involved in, that's the first thing I look at is, "Okay, what are the risks and how do we mitigate them?" And the anybody who's in the quality industry, which pretty much every service and manufacturing industry has some knowledge of the ISO 9000 quality management system, and the latest revision on that focuses on risk management. And that's really what the world is all about in your personal life, in every aspect of business, and community organizations, it's about, how many risks can I see for today, and tomorrow, and down the road? And how do I mitigate those? And what is my backup plan, and my backup plan B, and C, and D, and how do I protect myself? And if you can best prepare for those things upfront, you're gonna be more successful quicker.
Corey Rieck: Well, as the captain of the ship, you have to see the rocks in the river long before your boat ever gets close to them. So, is it fair to say, you strike me as a servant leader, and the reason that, now, you outdid yourself. You've taken the time to get engaged in the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce because you feel responsible for making the community better for your folks to live in. For what it's worth, I think that's outstanding. I think that there's a lot of ways that you can contribute as the person that's driving the direction of the company. One of the ways is to, obviously, pay your employees and have jobs, but also make their community if they live in better. I think that that's outstanding.
Terri Jondahl : Yeah, I think it's important. One of my key philosophies is, as a business leader, that it's not all about profit. You have to be a sustainable entity. You have to be profitable enough to finance yourself and control your destiny. So, that's critical. That's the price of entry. However, beyond that, in my view, there are many stakeholders. And those include ... when I make decisions, and especially as I had to make critical decisions during the downturn that it's lonely at the top, you have to do it on your own, and you had to think them through on your own and suffer, but I would think about my employees and their families. And I still do. Every decision that I make, I think how is this going to impact them? How is this going to risk them? So, employees, customers, suppliers, and communities, I believe we're all stakeholders. So, I try to factor in all of those things as I consider what to do in business.
Corey Rieck: How do you drive engagement with the employees and the people within your organization?
Terri Jondahl : You mean in terms of getting them to work, or getting them to volunteer, or what?
Corey Rieck: All of the above.
Terri Jondahl : Okay. I do not push employees to volunteer because they have to work so dang hard. So, there are certain ones who have an interest in things that my CFO, for example, serves on the board of the Partnership Against Domestic Violence here in Atlanta, and we support her fully in doing that. And others, if they have things where they're involved and their family, we try to financially support that. So, we help where we can. I don't say, "Please, I want you to go out and volunteer one day a month." Every once in a while, I come across something where maybe they're looking for volunteer engineers, and I'll put it out there, but you certainly have to let those folks who are interested, let them bubble to the top and then support them. And we do that.
In terms of the work that we do, look, it's all about keeping ... it's hard. What we do is what our customers don't want to do. We make it look easy when you're talking about international supply chain and domestic manufacturing supply chain. And so, we're trying to make their jobs easier. And it's hard work, and everybody is constantly having to battle through something. And what I do to help them is try to keep our environment from being toxic. We try to keep our our team balance, so that if I get employees who aren't carrying their weight, the pressure bubbles to the top, and it's like, "Hey, somebody, fix this." And I'm very sensitive to that because your weakest team member is going to drag your whole team into mediocrity. So, I try to facilitate that as best I can, make it a good place to work.
Corey Rieck: What do you see as the biggest challenge of your organization and in your industry right now?
Terri Jondahl : There's so many. Right now, I don't have. Fear of what the economy's going to do. A year ago, I had a high level of concern that there was a recession coming around the corner. I have less. I'm more comfortable. I think we've crossed a few hurdles on the macro level that will help keep things somewhat stable. I believe the election is going to be a huge issue. I don't know what it's going to mean. I don't know what I think. All I know as a business person is, for me, keeping things stable is what we need. And I don't care what stable is. If I know what I'm managing to, I'll figure it out. But give me something stable because I can't go every four years and jump through hoops a different direction. And so, that probably is the overarching business risk for everybody is the unknown of who's going to lead us for whatever period of time.
Corey Rieck: You mentioned that your business, you manage your business through a less than advantageous set of circumstances, the downturn.
Terri Jondahl : Oh, yeah, that's right.
Corey Rieck: Tell us about that whole process, and what you learned, and what steps you're taking to prevent that.
Terri Jondahl : Well, let me tell you what I learned. When we were flying high in 2004 and '05, and the world was just going great, and the wind energy market had huge margins, and we were just rolling in it, and Obama was elected in, and the outlook was that there was going to be 20 years of really strong wind energy growth and production tax credit support, and it appeared the margins would continue to be there for long into perpetuity, and then the downturn occurred. When Lehman Brothers fell, they were the biggest financier of wind energy projects. And I didn't know it at the time, but boy, did I know it a year later when the project started going hard stops, and we had millions of dollars in the pipeline of inventory on purchase orders that giant companies were stopping and saying, "Hey, we can't take this stuff. And I know it's in your yard, and you got suppliers to pay, but we darn near did not make it." I had to negotiate with suppliers around the world, with banks, and we barely got through that. But I just forced a will.
I mean, if I had given up, we had 65 to 70 families who would have been out of work, and you don't. With an international company, especially, your reputation is everything. That is our currency. And our ability to be successful around the world is about what folks think about, whether we're going to stand behind what we say. And so, we had to struggle through that. And I could give you blood and guts detail on it, and it would keep you up at night, but we made it through. And the lesson that I learned, I thought the Great Depression could never happen again, because I thought that after that happened, controls were put into place that would keep us from going too far down.
When the downturn occurred in '08, '09, '10. '11, I mean, it was a slow motion catastrophe. I never expected that. And had I known that winter always returns, I would have been more careful about taking on debt and just having more backup plans because that was, for me, unexpected. I just thought that, "Okay, we've been able to keep growing like. It seems like forever since the depression but no." So, winter always returns is a huge thing that I learned. And so, now, I'm more sensitive to looking at models on every aspect of our income statements, and balance sheets, and what things are gonna change.
Corey Rieck: Did it alter how you guide the company, that experience?
Terri Jondahl : So much. I am more risk averse, and I have to force myself at times to say, "Okay, wait a minute. Part of your job as a business leader is to take risks." And so, I have to be measured in, okay, I want to take risk, and I want to make sure that I've educated myself on the risk I'm taking. And then, I want to mitigate where I can. But I still have to take some risks. And so, I recognize there's a responsibility to take risk. But I, also, am more careful about it.
Corey Rieck: What's next for you?
Terri Jondahl : Gosh. Well, after this, I'm going to head back to the office. We have been really effective at diversifying our customer product lines and accomplishing the building a foundation of business that's really strong and diversified. It was really heavily weighted toward wind for a long time. And now, if we don't do any wind business, it doesn't matter because it doesn't make us much money, but it's the other parts of the business that are making things happen.
So, we are building up. I have in mind some numbers that I'd like to be hitting. And there will come a time in the next five, six, seven, eight years where it'll be time to bring in some outside equity and sell part, some, or all of mine. And I have bench strength second tier owners. Well, there are three owners now. I own majority, and I have one executive VP who's like the heir apparent that he is capable of running the company. I have a partner in Texas who, of course, also could run the company, but he will ultimately want to sell out.
So, there will be an exit plan at some point in the next decade for sure. It's just a matter of I want to find that sweet spot. I want to get to a certain point. And then, ideally, we would find a synergistic partner who also had capital that would allow us to go to the next level. I have some things in mind that I'd love to see us also be doing. But right now, we want to do what we're in full control of. We like being in control of our destiny. And so, for now, we want to ride this train. We've got a lot in our pipeline. And so, we need to work our plan.
Corey Rieck: Is there an ideal customer that you guys are searching for?
Terri Jondahl : Yep. The guys that we like, I am all about doing business with people that I like. And for that matter, I'm all about hanging out with people who pass the cool test. I mean, if I don't like being around you, I don't want to buy from you, I don't want to sell to you, I don't want to drink with you, and I don't really want to talk to you. So-
Corey Rieck: I mean, it's like no trust.
Terri Jondahl : Yeah. So, for me, the customers who are fair and reasonable, who recognize that it's always gonna be a give and take relationship. I don't want to make a deal difficult for them. I want it to be good for everybody. And that doesn't always ... sometimes, you gotta go to the mat. I don't let my speaking make it sound like I'm not tough because when-
Corey Rieck: I don't think anybody's picked up on that.
Terri Jondahl : Okay. Because if things get tough, man, I will be there on the wrestling mat with you having it out. But my objective is to try to make things good for everybody. And even on a bad day, when we run into a problem, we want to be able to turn it into an opportunity that shows this is how we can solve a problem. So, that's really my only criterion a customer is if they're fair and reasonable, and those are the guys that want.
Corey Rieck: Yeah. Well, you've been invited to be on the show because one of past Tuesdays with Corey guests highly recommended you. And one of the things that I ask every guest on the show is, what separates you? What separates you from the people that compete against you?
Terri Jondahl : In business, it's about our commitment to the customer. Relentless is what we say. There is nothing ... it is in our DNA, I don't care what the cost is, we will do the right thing for the customer. And that has always been our case, and it's always fared us well. We have a great reputation around the world. And then, in my personal life and in my community, in general, it's passion. And sometimes, people will say, "Oh, my gosh, she's so passionate about these things she does." It's like what they're really trying to say is I'm a pain in the butt. But if I'm involved, it's generally something that I am totally passionate about. And so, I'm going to give everything I can to to help make a difference.
Corey Rieck: Yeah, I get that loud and clear. It seems like if you're going to be in some-
Terri Jondahl : So, am I repeating myself or something?
Corey Rieck: No. What I-
Terri Jondahl : I'm kidding.
Corey Rieck: What I was going with this I'm actually going to make a point here, it seems to me that if ... and knowing you and having this time with you, that if you're going to get involved in something, you're going to put your chips in the middle, and they're going to get all of Terri, not some Terri, which I think is really, really cool. So, if you could give the younger version of Terri, you, some advice, what would it be with all that you've learned and all of your experiences?
Terri Jondahl : Okay. How long is this show? I think we're probably beginning to wind it up, so I'll try to give you the short version. I think that experience is critical. I think that if people who want to go, say, start a business, the most successful business people are the one who worked in that industry, and then either bought the company or started their own company. That is the best success. So, if you have something that you're interested in, go learn that business. So, if you can do that, you're going to mitigate business risk right there. Learn everything you can about business, and there's so many people, starting with me, who will talk to you about the hows and whys. There's lots of resources about business stuff. So, if that's what you want to do, that's great.
If it's education, and you want to go to school and be a teacher or go philosophy, whatever it is that you want to get a degree in, I would say that beware of student debt. I think we have to be very, very careful about that. I think it's overdone. I think we've created a huge problem. And I think that getting more kids, even if it takes them longer to get through school, working through school is a better plan.
Technical skills, I believe that we have undervalued tradesmen for generations now, and I believe that we should be honoring those folks. I think there should be award programs that are showing who's doing what. I think there are great fields of honorable people, and we need to make that another valued profession again.
Terri Jondahl : I think that debt management is important. If kids could understand that their ability to do what they want is driven by their ability to stay out of debt and save money. And I'm not great at it, and I've never been great at it. I've done well, but I wish that I had done so much better, but if you're able to do that. I've watched people who have been able to retire at 50, 55, and they've just had a regular ... my sister, she's worked in government for all of her life and retired at 55 at something like 75% of her salary, which you're not gonna see those anymore, but still-
Corey Rieck: Good for her.
Terri Jondahl : But yeah. So, there's something to be said. And she also paints. So, she's got the ability to control her destiny. Now, that wouldn't be enough, that wouldn't be highflying enough for me. So, I had to have a more risk reward path. But those are key things that allow people to be in control of their destiny. Whatever you choose to do, if you can protect yourself financially, then you're more likely to be at peace because it's the times that will cause you the most stress in your life.
Corey Rieck: If there were a young lady that wanted to follow in your footsteps, what insight and what advice would you maybe have for her?
Terri Jondahl : I think in any role, working from the bottom up, there is a lot to be said for working from the bottom up. When I look at people-
Corey Rieck: 100%.
Terri Jondahl : ... in my organization, I want them to learn as many things as possible. And the guys who are the most valuable are the utility players who I can move around as the business changes and do different things. But if you learn a business from the ground up, man, that's where that that BS meter, your BS meter is a lot more sensitive.
Corey Rieck: Yeah, the Swiss Army knife. That's what we call them.
Terri Jondahl : Yeah, exactly. Oh, I like that Swiss Army knife. So, that's probably-
Corey Rieck: You're going to steal that, and not give me credit for it, aren't you?
Terri Jondahl : I think I might. But no, I think that's probably the most valuable. And never stop learning. You gotta always be making sure you're on top of what's going on in the world.
Corey Rieck: Well, Terri, you've had tremendous success in your tenure, in your role, many business roles. We want to let the listenership get in touch with you, and if they wanted to do that, how would they do that?
Terri Jondahl : Well, our website is cabinc.com. C-A-B-I-N-C dot com. And so, you can start there. And if you Google me, I'm pretty much everywhere. So, I'm pretty sure people can find me if they have a computer.
Corey Rieck: Well, Terri, you've been a great guest. We appreciate the opportunity to spend some time with you. Continued success. And thank you for being such a great guest on Tuesdays with Corey.
Terri Jondahl : My pleasure.