‘Culture of empowerment’: Kent Lammers takes over as CEO of Polo Custom Products – News – The Topeka Capital-Journal
Kent Lammers has one of those rag-to-wealth career stories that encourage every teenage entrepreneur to work hard.
He started working at the Wood Valley Racquet Club in Topeka as a teenager. While there, he was asked to do an inventory of the pro shop, and being a detail-oriented 16-year-old, he used grid paper, in the pre-digital age, to create a neat and useful space. listing. The manager was so impressed that he mentioned the talents of Lammers to Kent Garlinghouse, who had bought Wood Valley and was running what was then MC Industries, now Polo Custom Products.
Lammers ended up taking two jobs – one at each of Garlinghouse’s businesses.
In February, Lammers became President and CEO of Polo Custom Products. For the past 34 years, he has also served as President and CEO of Wood Valley, while still holding a position with Polo. In both jobs, Lammers said, he learned the value of servant leadership. Over the years he has honed his skills, worked on letting go a bit and building on the team.
“What I appreciate most today is the culture of the company,” he said. “It’s a culture of empowerment, of treating others the way you want to be treated and empowering people to have their own autonomy and responsibility.”
His leadership style transformed, as Lammers moved from that initial position of records clerk to being in charge of accounting after graduating from Washburn University, to being CFO and now in the leadership role.
“I’m more comfortable with sharing the decision making,” Lammers said. “I think at the start of my career I piled on some of the responsibilities too much and then struggled to do everything. When I saw that others are probably more capable than me in certain areas, it became a lot of fun to see the final results as a team. “
The end results for Polo Custom Products have been slow and steady growth, evidenced by innovation and efforts to stay competitive. Polo specializes in custom products, most of which are sewn or heat-sealed, Lammers said. This category includes many items, from waterproof bags to Harley-Davidson motorcycle gear.
The company’s four main markets are medical, industrial, fire and security, and the US Department of Defense, he said.
Challenges exist with competitors and, at times, with tax, labor and tariff changes.
“Polo Custom Products was a first step in leveraging some of the overseas contracts to stay competitive,” Lammers said. “The barriers to having a Chinese supplier have been lowered. Back when we started this in the ’80s, very few were doing it. to focus on our speed, service and quality. “
Tariffs can present a challenge, but if Lammers has learned one thing in his years of work, it’s not to overreact.
“Our import department is here in Topeka, and they are watching it very, very closely,” he said. “Right now we pay about $ 600,000 a year in tariffs. And the analysis that came back is that it would increase by about 50% if this were passed as it is now.
“As we watch it, we haven’t changed our positioning yet because we just don’t know what’s going to be left.”
Lammers and others in the company have shown their determination to adapt to other market changes. As the job market collapsed, the company grappled with employee incentives. He offered bonuses of $ 1,000 to current employees for referral of new employees. He increased 401 (k) dues and created a tuition assistance program. It was giving employees their birthday, an incredibly popular benefit, Lammers said.
He tackled bad plant safety records with contests that put some of Lammers’ dignity on the line. At a Mississippi factory, he tried to walk on the moon, with a sequined jacket, a glove and a fedora, towards Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” after the factory went accident-free for a year.
He says camaraderie and teamwork are important in a workplace.
“You have to enjoy not only the task you are doing, you have to enjoy the environment as well,” Lammers said.