Spend time being humble and thankful every day. I start every day with a time a prayer appreciating a new blessing in my life. This gets me back to zero and keeps me grounded.
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff Thiessen
As the Co-Founder and President of Dansons Inc., Jeff Thiessen is an accomplished pellet grilling executive with over 20 years of experience in the hearth and bbq industry. He has played a pivotal role in leading Dansons customer and business development, and his chief responsibilities include providing strategic direction and vision for all of Dansons global sales and marketing activities. Jeff Thiessen formerly served as the President of the Pellet Fuels Institute and the President of the Wood Pellet Association of Canada. Since starting Dansons with his Dad in 1999, he feels blessed and humbled to work with an incredibly accomplished team of people that have helped Dansons emerge as one of the fastest-growing businesses in the pellet grilling industry today. His mission as the President of Dansons is to continue to cultivate integrity-driven consumer and retail partner relationships that continually work towards Dansons mission of providing world-class, authentic products.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
Weare a family-owned Christian company. We started in 1999 with my Dad Dan and his two sons. Thus, came the name Dansons. We manufacture high-quality wood pellet, charcoal and gas grills, griddles, and smokers. We sell our product through leading retails such as Walmart, Lowes, Menards, Academy Sports, and many more.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
We have been taught to rely on God’s provision time and time again. In 2009, it looked like the company wouldn’t survive through the recession. At that time, we also manufactured wood pellet heating appliances alongside our pellet grills. We prayed day by day for the company, and we slowly recovered. I have learned that so much of business is around timing and opportunity. God had provided both for us. In 2012, we sold off our manufacturing arm and focused entirely on our grill business. At the time, we were devastated that we were forced to sell off the heating part of the company that had previously been very profitable. It was indeed a blessing in disguise. With a dedicated and talented team that God continues to build, we have evolved into one of the leading pellet grill brands in the BBQ business.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Although we are about 250 team members company-wide, we still try to sit in on as many interviews as possible. Protecting our culture is one of our top priorities. I also think the fact that we share our faith openly makes us very different. Our Christian faith calls us to love and care for all people, no matter what their beliefs. Although we have people from various backgrounds and beliefs in the company, we are very deliberate to share that they are part of our family and that we genuinely care about them. We truly have a very diverse company that we are very thankful for. We love that our diversity has come through the open inclusiveness of others, not because of a government mandate or a fear of public perception. This has allowed us to create a safe and inviting atmosphere to enable our team members to use their talents to the fullest. In turn, it has driven the growth of the company and attracted more top talent.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I would certainly credit God for making me the person I am today. The faith tradition that my parents passed down to my siblings and me has made all the difference. My dad is the heart of the company. He continues to inspire me and my brother Jordan to use our gifts to the best of our abilities while relying on God for direction. This is a mindset that he has demonstrated to us throughout his entire life. Without the vision my dad had for the business, we would not be here. And he credits that to God’s direction. My dad allowed us the opportunity as young men to be mentored by him in business. This allowed us to learn each part of the business from the ground up under his watchful eye. He always said not to ask anyone to do anything we weren’t willing to do ourselves. From taking out the trash and cleaning bathrooms to the C Suite, no lesson was too small. Even now, as my dad approaches his 70th birthday this year, he is still very active in the company and continues to keep us very grounded.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Resilience is simply not giving up. Our financial success has only come in large part in the last five years, and we have been in business for over 20 years. When you are confident, as we are that God is in control, and His plan is better than our plan, it takes a lot of the anxiety out of business. There are good moments and challenging ones. They all create more responsibility to never give up. My father has always exemplified that unwavering ability to work hard and never giving up. He has been an entrepreneur for most of his life. When he had a setback or got knocked down, he always got up and stuck in the fight to work toward his dreams. He just didn’t have it in him to quit. Those are ethics he instilled in his children. Today, we work together through the most challenging times because we have a vision that is worth fighting for. God has built us this way, and it has served us well.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
That is easy. No doubt it is my dad. He is the toughest guy I know. He never gives up. I have seen him go through the toughest times and never lose heart. He has had business failures and had to start all over a few times. He was in his late 40’s when we began Dansons, and he pushed all his chips in, including all the credit he could pull together. When other guys are starting to think about making plans for retiring, he went all-in with a couple of his sons — who were pretty green. He fought through 15 years of very difficult times and almost lost the business through the recession. It was his unwavering faith that God was in control that gave him the strength to carry on. Now it is our responsibility to continue this tradition and honor his innovation and legacy.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
During the 2008 recession, we went to see a business advisor for advice on moving forward with our pellet grill business. He reviewed our plans and immediately referred us to a bankruptcy lawyer. Basically, advising us to throw in the towel and give up on the chance of such a small piece of pellet business being successful. If we had listened to him, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
During our toughest times, my dad, my brother, and me had more than a few well-respected business advisors advise us to declare for bankruptcy. And that was a real blow. We did a lot of soul searching through this time but agreed unanimously to keep fighting. We believed in our product, and it drove us to prove them wrong. Furthermore, to lean into what God had in store for us, and not what man was telling us.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
Growing up with a father who had a grade 8 education and came off the farm yet runs one of the largest and fastest-growing companies in the BBQ industry, I would say I have always been inspired. He never let his lack of formal education hold him back. He is an avid reader and has a real thirst for knowledge. Through many lessons and being very self-taught, he can read a financial statement better than any accountant I have ever worked with. He has business intuition that is rarely found in MBA grads and is someone who continually models resiliency.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Commit to something bigger than yourself. By accepting God is in control, it makes my work and my contribution to the business more meaningful than simple financial success.
- Don’t let others deter you from your goals. Surround yourself with people that will support your goals.
- Be relentless in driving forward. If you hit a goal, set another and keep going.
- Look for ways to help others. Helping others creates purpose, which gives you even more drive and ambition.
- Spend time being humble and thankful every day. I start every day with a time a prayer appreciating a new blessing in my life. This gets me back to zero and keeps me grounded.
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. 🙂
I would say look to God for your true North. We all need something to bring us back to center, and God has always provided that for me. There need to be absolutes in this world, and God gives them from His word. If you apply the principles in God’s word to business, your chances for success go way up financially, and more importantly, they will guarantee success personally.
I think it is important to note that I never thought I wasn’t a success before we had success in business. I had a great relationship with my dad and family. I often ask my wife if money has changed me. I was a happy person before I had financial success, and I am still happy today. She does say that I am more relaxed than I was during our early years, I don’t always feel it, but I take that to be a good thing.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
I would welcome the opportunity to have breakfast or lunch with the owner of Hobby Lobby, David Green, or the owner of Chick Fil A, Dan Cathy. Both of these men have led exceptional businesses. More importantly, they have put God first. It would be exciting to understand more how they have kept their focus so clearly on God while operating such dynamic, successful companies.