I had the pleasure of interviewing Tom D’Eri, the co-founder and COO of Rising Tide Car Wash, a social enterprise that employs over 80 individuals with autism in a successful car wash business.
He is also the co-founder of Rising Tide U, an organization dedicated to teaching others how to harness the autism advantage. Tom is a summa cum laude graduate of Bentley University in Finance and Economics, an Unreasonable Institute Global Fellow, a Startingbloc Fellow and a Miami Herald 20Under40 award recipient.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?My father, John, and I founded Rising Tide Car Wash as a means of employing my brother Andrew who’s on the autism spectrum. While Andrew is an incredibly capable young man, we saw that it was going to be difficult, if not impossible, for him to find meaningful employment because of the way society views autism — as a disability that requires sympathy instead of a valuable diversity. Our mission with Rising Tide Car Wash is to create gainful employment opportunities for individuals with autism in premium car washes. We feel that by delivering exceptional service, provided by expertly trained employees with autism, we can help change the way communities view autism and show the world that people with autism can help businesses thrive.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I’ve learned to never judge an employee by first impressions and that very often team members will surprise you when they are given direct and clear feedback. One of our managers was failing after his first three months of working with us. I had pretty much given up him, assuming that his issues were too difficult to correct. In a last stich effort, I decided to be blunt with him. I said, “Bob you’re failing right now because you’re not assertive enough with your team members and they don’t know what you want from them. You need to really focus on speaking up and being clear or this isn’t going to work out.” To my amazement, Bob began to speak up and direct his team, they began to follow him and once he mastered this skill, he was able to balance his naturally laid-back personality with clear and frequent communication, making him one of the best managers we have.
How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?
At Rising Tide Car Wash, we use a combination of reporting, team communication tools and team events to synchronize our teams. We have a variety of reports on every aspect of the business from operational checklists to financial analyses, each of which are shared with all store level managers. This allows everyone to understand where we are as a company and how each store is doing in comparison with each other. We also use lots of group chats and the messaging features in our operational program, Jolt. Finally, we get the whole management team together for dinner on a monthly basis, this really serves as a critical bonding tool that keeps us as one big team instead of independent stores.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
It’s the leader’s job to chart the path of personal and professional development for their team members. This includes providing access to great training resources, developing clear and fair standards of what someone needs to do to grow and provide constant, discrete growth opportunities. It’s also critical that a CEO/Founder intentionally develops the type of culture they want. To do this we must be specific and clear about the cultural values we hold dear and the behaviors that are associated with them. For us it’s buy-in to our mission of employing people with autism, clear communication, consistent feedback and disciplined operations. We call our leadership framework Disciplined Compassion.
Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on retaining talent today?
There’s a lot of talk about how younger generations are lazy and not as loyal as generations past. I think that’s a misinterpretation of how millennials act. From my view, retaining talent today is about consistently providing growth and helping team members develop their purpose. These are natural human tendencies (to want our work to matter and feel like we are growing) but in the past it was culturally taboo to expect this from an employer. Today, current and potential employees demand these things from their work experience and are liable to leave their jobs if they aren’t getting it. This responsibility ultimately falls on their direct managers as they hold the key to help their team members grow and cultivate purpose in their work. It’s imperative that we equip our managers to be effective coaches and trainers and allow them to develop their team members beyond the functional skills they need to do their job and focus on development them as whole people.
Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”. (Please share a story or example for each, Ideally an example from your experience)
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. 🙂
That all people are talented, it’s up to leaders to unleash that talent. I believe that current views on talent are broken. I hear so many leaders say that they have trouble finding “top talent” to work for them. Yet upon closer inspection its apparent that their prospective on “top talent” means top university degree or coming from a top competitor, but is that really what they need? In my experience of working with hundreds of people with autism and opportunity youth I’ve come to believe that “top talent” should really mean minimum required skill (the least amount knowledge or certification that must be had to do the job) + maximum enthusiasm for the opportunity at hand and willingness to learn. This approach can drastically increase the size of the talent pool a company is recruiting from and allows them to find the right culture fit. When an approach like this is taken and coupled with a management team that is dedicated to empowering their team through training and coaching, the impact on the company and the people who work there is truly inspiring. All people have a basic human desire to realize their potential and believe that their life meant something. We as leaders have the opportunity to help people achieve these most important life goals all while strengthening our company’s performance.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live it’s whole like believing that it is stupid” — Albert Einstein
This quote is relevant to me because it eloquently describes my entire philosophy in building great teams. 80% of our staff is on the autism spectrum, 15% of our staff is opportunity youth and 5% are high school students. We developed these hiring sources and staff ratios by constantly looking for the people who would be most enthusiastic about the roles we needed to fill. Once we found the people who wanted these roles we went to work designing work systems and training systems that would allow them to be effective. From a business prospective, this practice has created a great organizational culture, a consistent talent pool to draw from and a brand that stands for something customers love. From a personal prospective, this practice makes all the struggles and challenges of building a business worth it. If it weren’t for the impact I have the privilege of contributing to in our business I would’ve quit a hundred times over.
Originally published at medium.com