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5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team, With Robert Tillis, CEO of Imperial Dade

Act with this question in mind: If you disappeared tomorrow, would you be missed? Whether in your personal or professional life, strive to…


Act with this question in mind: If you disappeared tomorrow, would you be missed? Whether in your personal or professional life, strive to add value to the world around you and do so with integrity and kindness.


I had the pleasure to interview Robert Tillis, CEO of Imperial Dade. Imperial Dade is the largest independently-owned distributor of foodservice and janitorial supplies in the United States with annual sales in excess of $1.7 billion. Headquartered in Jersey City, NJ, Imperial Dade has 29 locations nation-wide and 2300 employees.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I was a bit rebellious as a young man and, after graduating from college, it took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do for a living. I knew that being in the “needs” business would be more stable than the “wants” business so I went to work in paper bag manufacturing. Managing operations came easily to me and I had a knack for process improvement. After a while I proposed that I be given the opportunity to run the company. The owner said no, so I left and bought my own company.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

One of the more interesting situations I’ve experienced while leading Imperial Dade occurred after we acquired Burke Supply. Back then we were known as Imperial Bag and Paper and we were a foodservice supplies distributor. Burke Supply was a janitorial supplies distributor. I knew little about that market segment but all of a sudden, that was the business we were in. I had to trust others to manage that side of the business. And, they did.

How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?

We certainly have a large team these days, with over 2300 associates in 29 locations. In order to work together, it is important to be open about business goals, share all of the information needed so people are equipped to do their jobs and make the best decisions. It is also important to position people to make the most of their strength and create autonomous teams. Tell them what results are expected and then get out of the way and let them decide how to get there.


What is the top challenge when managing global teams in different geographical locations? Can you give an example or story?

Ensuring that communication is always flowing both ways and consistent. Example, we earned a large piece of business supplying a national chain of convenience stores which required many of our locations to be involved. This was a complex situation and required a flawless execution. In this case, emails and memos were not going to suffice. We created an implementation team that traveled to each of the servicing locations to make sure the process was understood and that everyone had the tools in place to satisfy the customer’s needs.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

Surround yourself with people that have passion for your company’s mission. Don’t hire just to fill an open position. Get the right people onboard and then find the role in which they will thrive and bring the most value. Always lead by example, stay humble, and be willing to take chances.

Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on retaining talent today?

To retain talented individuals you must stay connected with them. Be observant, talk to people, ask questions and listen. I call this management by walking around. It is something I do every day. Recruiting from within is important. Give people a chance to grow and expand their horizons. Always give your people credit for successes and have their back when things go wrong.

Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team.”

1. Make sure you have the right people on the team. Select people that bring different ideas and points of view, and share a mutual respect for one another.

2. Be honest with your team, even if you need to share bad news.

3. Treat others as you like to be treated.

4. Admit mistakes and treat them as learning opportunities.

5. Disagree privately so you don’t undermine someone’s reputation.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Act with this question in mind: If you disappeared tomorrow, would you be missed? Whether in your personal or professional life, strive to add value to the world around you and do so with integrity and kindness.


Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Listen to your parents, they are usually right.” My father was a butcher and worked very hard. He pushed me to get an education and go into business for myself. At the time, I was not certain I wanted to take that path. But he was right and I am fortunate to be where I am today leading a wonderful team of people that share my vision.

Originally published at medium.com

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