DEFINING SUCCESS: HARD WORK AND HELPING OTHERS (An Interview with Don Landoll)
The motto of The Konza Catholic Podcast is “seek Heaven and Succeed on Earth.” The priests and staff at St. Isidore’s want students to pursue excellence in every area of their lives—for the glory of God and the good of the world.
This means that while we do want them to abound in faith, hope, and love, we also want them to be the best possible teachers, coaches, politicians, or entrepreneurs. As Saint Paul writes in Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”
With this in mind, Vaughn Kohler, the director of development at St. Isidore’s, sat down with Don Landoll, a very successful businessman from nearby Marysville, Kansas, who is also a faithful Catholic, who is active in supporting the work of the Church in various ways.
The website of the Landoll Corporation provides a brief background on Don and his company:
Over 55 years ago, Don Landoll and his partner of three years purchased Quick Service Welding which eventually became Landoll Company, LLC. Since then, Landoll has grown to be a leader in innovative design, world-class manufacturing, and marketing of quality products and services for the agriculture, transportation, material handling, OEM and government industries. Since 1963, the Landoll entrepreneurial spirit and business principles including diversification, vertical integration and customer satisfaction have led to substantial growth.
Landoll Company, LLC has shared its success with the community by being good stewards to the area community, renovating and putting into operation several vacated properties. Landoll led the revamp of the now completed Catholic school and playground, airport, Library Park, and a reading garden at the elementary school. Landoll Company, LLC was the largest donor while leading fundraising efforts for the area’s new hospital, as well as the newly renovated Saint Gregory the Great Catholic Church.
Vaughn and Don talked about Don’s pursuit of excellence and experience of success, and how growing up Catholic has influenced and guided him over the years.
How do you define success?
Well, obviously success has numerous meanings. In a business, in order to keep it all together, making a profit isn't wrong. You've got to make a profit to stay in business. And so, some of that profit, some of that savings, but then also having the ability to give some of that profit away, back to the people that helped you make it, as well as people of the community that also indirectly helped you.
So making sure that when you gain, other people gain as well. When you accomplish something, you're facilitating good things in their lives too?
Right. And for continued success, you definitely would have to have that.
How would you say your Catholic faith has contributed to your success?
Well, I guess in the era I was raised in, faith was kind of a given. Everybody seemed to have that to a point. But one of the things, having never been on to school and past high school and never played any sports growing up, I stayed home milking cows, which wasn't uncommon in that era. But I got involved with the Knights of Columbus. I had an extraordinary opportunity, when I joined the Knights, Virgil Dechant was State Deputy who went on to become the state's Supreme Secretary and then Supreme Knight. And he was an unbelievably good speaker, and Dr. Bongers from Hanover, he was the state deputy following a couple of years behind him.
I chauffeured for him, so I was around those great leaders and saw how they operated, how they prepared themselves for down the road. And I'm a firm believer in generating, recognizing, and taking advantage of your opportunities. They taught me a lot about that when I was still in my 20s. I think that was, along with the good old farm background, and then as an Altar boy, and we had a minister that was there for about 25 years while I was an Altar boy. He was rough and tough and grew up on a farm. But he taught us a lot about discipline, and taught us to think, and use what we already know to figure out what we don't know. As a grade school kid, he'd come over and hand out report cards, and he'd say, "Are you going to do better next month?" So I said, "You'll never do any better just thinking." You’ve got to have a positive attitude.
So you had some very good men who were influential in your life, and that taught you the positive thinking, the hard work, that sort of thing. What are specific key lessons that you took from that, like a five-point formula for success?
Well, number one, whatever your chosen profession, make sure you're happy with what you're doing. Secondly, making sure it's something that’s enjoyable to you, and something that's not work. It's just part of life. And then patience: there's a lot of short successes that are not long-term successes, and some people have a little bit of success, what they perceive as a nice little hit. Then they right away want to go out and party, and buy sports cars, and stuff like that, rather than put that success that they've had back into the business. It's the old saying: it takes money to make money, they’ve got to understand that.
And then one of the things that many people mess up on right away, is when they pull in a friend to be a partner with them in their success, and they'll give them a share of the business. Generally speaking, many of those arrangements don't work. The reason being: If you're both doing something you like, then who's going to do what you don't like? If you get a partner, they ought to be doing something that you don't want to do, or that you're not good at.
You mentioned patience. Part of patience is when you hit a rocky phase or hit some challenges. What are some of the biggest challenges you've faced professionally in your business and personally, and how did you overcome those challenges?
I definitely had challenges, some were my outside sources as far as financial and accounting people. They thought I wasn't getting anywhere, but they didn't understand the foundation I had built. And I had a CPA tell me, "You’ll want to quit because it appears you're not going to make it." And I told him, "Well, you've been to school too long.” Then after I accomplished some success, he didn't want to talk to me.
When you talk about your foundation I know you're talking about infrastructure, and connections. But did you also have a real strong belief in the team that you'd put together and your employee culture?
The foundation could be a lot of things. Number one, facilities. That's the material part of a foundation. But then you have to have your bankers, your accounting people, your businesses, your major suppliers, who all have to have faith and believe in you. But that's something that doesn't really have a dollar and cents value on paper. It’s building that relationship which I call a foundation with all of those people. And when you have that foundation, you're going to have ups and downs. Everybody does. But when you get in those ups and downs they'll stay with you in the downs, and give you constructive advice in the ups, so that you don't think you’ve got all the questions answered.
What have you learned about what it takes to be a good leader?
Treat employees the way you would like to be treated, or the way you would expect to be treated. That's a pretty challenging one for some people, especially educated people. They often want to downplay the people out there working on an hour-to-hour basis, and the ones that really put the product together. While most the educated side is usually just in leadership. They're not the ones really putting the product together and getting it out the door. So treat all levels, whether it’s your vice president of finance, or your welder, or the people cleaning the floor, they’re all important to a successful business, so treat them as such.
You mentioned that you never went to school, didn't have these advanced degrees, but you said that you've always had a mind for putting things together and proving things. How did you cultivate that?
You just continually look for a better way. I think this is something that people don't truly understand, but entrepreneurship is not easy to teach, and it's really not truly taught in schools. Four or five years in a row I taught an entrepreneurial class, I got close with the business dean, and then I did it til he left. But that's something which he understood, how do you enhance an entrepreneur? If you’ve got a product, how do you get it marketed? How do you get it produced? You have to know the most efficient ways of doing all that. And so, we put on a three-hour class.
What's your approach to business and sales?
I go one step at a time. The first steps you need to be successful. I mean, in marketing or sales, first: how do you get a product spread Kansas-wide, and then how do you do international distribution. Then joining the right associations that fit your industry. We’ve got too many of them, just in the trailer world I think we've got about nine associations, and they're all going different directions, but we’ve got products for them all. So, you have to be careful, because you can get spread pretty thin in that way. At the same time, though, it's often easier to be successful in the middle of the road than it is with the high volume or super low volume.
What do you hope is your legacy?
I just want to enjoy my hard work over the years, and a high percentage of the people around you appreciate it. There's always some that like to say that you were lucky. My answer to that is, “the harder you work the luckier you get.” That comes from growing up on a farm and learning to make due with what we had and building on it.
Vaughn Kohler is the Director of Development at St. Isidore's Catholic Student Center and the co-host of The Konza Catholic Podcast. Connect with him on Instagram @vaughnkohler or find him online at vaughnkohler.com.