We hear the term “Servant Leadership” in business on a regular basis. In its truest (and most simplified form), business owners and executives will work diligently to support their managers and front-line staff. At Tractor Supply Company (TSC), they go a step further and have a laser focus on the most important stakeholder in any business process: the customer. As Greg Sandfort, TSC’s CEO stated recently at the Nashville Business Breakfast: “There’s an attitude inside the walls of Tractor Supply, a winning culture that puts the customer first.”
Based on other takeaways from Mr. Sandfort’s remarks that day on Servant Leadership, I would like to explore this topic a bit further.
Mr. Sandfort’s leadership and business philosophy of focusing heavily on the customer and those closest to the customer across his 1,500+ stores makes TSC one of the most consistent (and profitable) performers in the retail industry. As I listened to his remarks, the themes remained consistent with TSC’s previous 2 CEO’s: Joe Scarlett and Jim Wright. The company’s mission statement: “To work hard, have fun and make money by providing legendary service and great products at everyday low prices” makes the company (very) popular with its customers and investors, quarter after quarter.
As a student of leadership since my arrival at West Point for Cadet Basic training over 25 years ago, it fascinates me to see large companies that have “figured it out.” Companies like General Electric and Johnson & Johnson (both former employers of mine) are filled with talented people and leadership. Most would agree that across organizations of various forms, there is generally a wide mixture of leaders and mangers (a few great, some good and most average). What I personally appreciate the most about the TSC culture is their values-centric approach to mission accomplishment, all enabled by a culture built and powered on servant-leadership.
TSC has done very well to understand its’ retail niche and remain true to its’ core customer: farm, ranch and rural customers. A interesting note: the company’s headquarters is called the Store Support Center (SSC). Senior management travel to their national footprint of stores regularly; travel is no frills: commercial jets, reasonable meals and moderate hotels. They talk to their Store Managers, Staff and most importantly – their Customers. In summary, the executives truly lead by example.
It is refreshing to see a company exhibit traditional values and win consistently. As Bob Barnes once wrote: “When we have established a record of servanthood, all other areas of leadership will fall into place.” I am not surprised to see the combination of a clear mission statement, well-understood company values and leaders that keep the customer top of mind win so much. TSC’s success is earned by hard work at every level in the company. By all accounts, it is well deserved.
In closing, let us hope that other companies in the Nashville region take notice of the TSC model of Servant Leadership. It likely will help Middle Tennessee remain one of the fastest growing areas in the country for many years to come.