A Conversation with Bill Oney, Therma-Tron-X
Bill Oney recently joined TTX as a sales engineer, but has a long career in finishing. He is a retired Marine Corp Chief Warrant Officer Third Grade with almost 21 years of combined active and reserve time. He began his career as a welder, supervisor of paint stripping and fabrication, then worked in product design and sales. He also serves on the CCAI Board of Directors. We caught up with Bill as he was finishing the move from Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, to Sturgeon Bay, where TTX is headquartered.
PF: How do you go from being an assistant on a paint line to a sales engineer?
BO: I think being at the right place at the right time. Not being afraid to take chances and raise your hand to say “I’ll try or do that.” Also, jump in when no one else will, treat others the way you want to be treated, listening to others—really listen—and find someone to emulate that is successful. I have been very fortunate to work for some great folks who have believed in me and my abilities, too, which is kind of the frosting on the cake. When I left active duty, I had a full-time job, a part-time business with a friend, was in the Marine Reserves and went to school in the evenings to better myself.
PF: You have more than 20 years in the Marines and reserve duty. How has that affected your career?
BO: I think being in any of the military branches probably heightens your senses to dedication, discipline and brotherhood. Personally, I feel the basic Marine principles are how I like to think I lead my life; it taught me to remain faithful to the mission at hand, to each other, to the Corps and to country no matter what, and to always lead by example. Meaning I wouldn’t ask someone to do something I haven’t already done or would do myself. I have a bond with several Marines still today that will never fail or be broken.
PF: How hard has the travel been in your career?
BO: Always faithful to the mission. It’s not ideal for everyone, and there have been times throughout the years that travel wears on a guy. It’s important to appreciate everything you have, have a good foundation at home and a spouse that supports your love for what you do. I am fortunate; my wife and I got married just before I deployed to Desert Storm in 1991 and I was gone for about six months. My honeymoon was me and 19 guys in a tent. She is still with me today. Just appreciate what you have every chance you can.
PF: What’s the best piece of advice you were given?
BO: I was about 14 years old and I remember sitting on a bench up north, next to a cabin with my great grandfather. We talked about many things, and he asked me how I was feeling after cutting wood with his son—my grandfather—all day. I said I was good, and I asked him how he was doing, his reply: ‘I’m good, thanks for helping today. You were a big help, and keep working hard and help whenever you can and you will always be happy.’ He was about 90 then. I still think about him.
PF: What was your first job, and what did you learn from it?
BO: I had a couple of friends growing up and we all had odd jobs during the summer. It became almost a contest to see who could get the most lawn mowing jobs, snow shoveling jobs and get paid for doing something. I can remember riding my bike across town to push a lawn mower for a couple hours and making $5 or $10. I negotiated in sixth grade to shovel snow at a restaurant down the block and getting a sandwich and fries and $5. I thought it was the greatest feat to get more for the sale, I just had to make sure I didn’t fail him by not showing up and agreeing to do what we said. I think this still applies; I get excited when I can fulfill an obligation to a customer and negotiate a fair deal that we can agree on.
PF: If you had $100,000 to give to a charity, which one would it be?
BO: Disabled veterans and muscular dystrophy. My mom was in a wheelchair and had muscular dystrophy.
PF: What was your first car, and what is your dream car?
BO: Chevy Impala was my first; my dream car is a Studebaker Golden Hawk.
PF: What leadership traits have helped you along the way?
BO: There are 14 that the Marines instill into you as you are transformed from a civilian to a Marine: justice, judgment, dependability, initiative, decisiveness, tact, integrity, endurance, bearing, unselfishness, courage, knowledge, loyalty and enthusiasm. I would add one more: The Golden Rule, treat others as you want them to treat you, even if they don’t. Eventually they will get it or go away.
PF: When you were 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?
BO: An architect and, at one point, a policeman.
PF: Night owl or early bird?
BO: Definitely an early bird.
PF: Favorite place you’ve ever lived?
PF: What organization or company aside from your own do you most admire?
BO: There are a lot of great companies out there today. To pinpoint one single one would be unfair; I love working with folks who can think out of the box and are not afraid to follow the ‘What If’ thinking.
PF: If you could trade jobs with anyone for a day, who would it be?
BO: That guy who drives the 1967 Camaro and goes all over the place trying different foods, Guy Fieri from Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Anyone who knows me will attest that I will try just about anything, and will look for the most off the wall and out of the way restaurant I can find. My way of thinking is that if I haven’t tried and I can’t make it at home, I will order it. Besides who wouldn’t like to drive an old car?
PF: Where would we find you on a typical Saturday?
BO: In the woods, at the cabin or fishing with grandkids, brother or friends.
PF: Best way to keep competitive edge?
BO: Keeping up with current contacts who I have worked with via social media, and occasionally reaching out to them. Continually educating myself; I recently completed a class this month. Continually asking questions to better serve the needs of anyone I am involved with to really have the best possible outcome.
PF: Personal heroes?
BO: All of my past managers, officers and present manager who believed in me and allowed me the chance to improve myself and my family’s lifestyle. And our two sons for becoming fathers and raising their kids with family values.
PF: How do you motivate people?
BO: When on a project—whether at home with the grandkids—or at work with others, I make sure I listen to their opinions. I try and motivate by leading by example, and when needed, take on a leadership role in the situation. And always show respect and appreciation no matter the outcome.
PF: How do you motivate yourself?
BO: Try and be positive every day and in every situation.
PF: Three greatest passions?
BO: Spending time with family and friends, being outdoors and being successful in providing solutions to customers.
PF: Most unique office décor?
BO: A military shadow box given to me at retirement from my troops; it displays the ranks, ribbons, metals and a thoughtful metal engraved plaque.
PF: Best business decision?
BO: Moving into my current position at TTX.
PF: Worst business decision?
BO: I am sure that I may have made a few bad decisions, but nothing stands out here as the worst.
PF: Biggest management myth?
BO: That old saying of ‘There are no bad employees, just bad managers.’ I think today there is a little of both, but agree strongly that good leadership will always find the best in any employee. If there is a bad leader, there usually is a bad outcome; someone gets fired, quits coming to work, or the employee doesn’t feel empowered. I think it starts at the top. My guess is that if an area is failing, 8 out of 10 times it’s due to leadership.
PF: What advice would you give to yourself 10 years ago?
BO: I have no regrets for anything in my life from 10 years ago, but spend more time with my family and friends. I still have very good friends that I often plan things with from as far back as grade school. I am very blessed to have all the people I know in my life.
PF: Word that best describes you?
BO: This question kind of drives me a little crazy; the one word is passionate. In about everything I do I seem to jump all-in; if you ask my wife about any project I have done around the house—building something like our kitchen table or painting a room—I will think about 10 different ways to do this project, and really reason out and look for the best outcome and rationalize to her why I have found the best solution. This is usually a long, drawn out thing, but when done I feel very passionate about it; I hope she does, too. I think she usually does, or likes me to think so.
Get to Know Bill
Family: My wife Vicki and I have been together since 1984. I am very close to our kids, grandkids and my siblings. I lost my mom in 1983, but we still have our dad.
Favorite hobby: Fishing, hunting or building, and doing things with our grandkids.
Favorite movie: It’s a Wonderful Life
Favorite book: W.E.B. Griffin puts out a number of books relating to the Marine Corps; the one I like best is called "Marine", but I have read a few and enjoyed every one of them.
What’s playing in your car CD/radio: Frank Sinatra or anything 70s, 80s.
Originally published in the March 2017 issue.
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