On the Clock: Discussing Agility, Nimbleness with Horizon’s Don Harrington8 min read

Atrion CEO Tim Hebert chats with Horizon Solutions Don Harrington

My good friend Don Harrington, Horizon Solutions’ Executive Vice President of Logistics and IT and Vice President of Energy Services, knows a thing or two about agility. In addition to pivoting swiftly amongst critical technology implementations as part of his job, he encourages his team to embrace an open-mindedness and willingness to evolve.

Don stopped by our Atrion headquarters the other day to talk about this all important concept—as well as why a good, ole team white-boarding session can be a dose of healthy medicine. Here’s a look at our conversation…

Me: Don, thank you so much for stopping by the office today! You’ve been a dear friend of Atrion’s for almost 15 years and I always enjoy our time together!

Don Harrington, Horizon Solutions

Don: It’s great to be here Tim!

Me: Now you’ve been with Horizon Solutions, a wholesale distributor of electrical and industrial products in upstate New York and northern New England, for as long as I can remember. Can you tell us a little bit about your role?

Don: Sure. I’ve been with Horizon 30 years. As used to be common in our business, I started in the warehouse and ended up being involved in everything from warehouse management to accounting to purchasing to sales. At one point, our company went through an ERP conversion and someone with very good advice on the technology side came to me and said, “We need someone who knows all aspects of the business for this project.” I raised my hand and that’s how I ended up on the IT side—not because I had an IT background but because I had been around long enough to know how things actually worked. Today I am the Executive Vice President of Logistics and IT and Vice President of Energy Services.

Me: So welcome to the dark side! What an exciting trajectory! What’s the day-to-day like now?

Don: Today, I am one of a team of five executives who are responsible for all aspects of our business.  One of my responsibilities is managing the energy services side of our company, both sales and operationally. It’s the segment of our business that I’ll refer to as non-traditional. It’s our newest business and a bit of a departure from our traditional distribution business. I also oversee the business the distribution center and information technology for the distribution side of our business.

Me: It’s amazing that you made the jump to IT so seamlessly, especially without having a technology background.

Don: It’s all because I have the distinct honor of having created the first PowerPoint in our company’s history way back when!

Me: Ha, there you go! In the years I’ve known you, you seem to have always embodied that balance of having one foot in technology and one foot in business. Would you agree with that?

Don: I think that is true. A primary role I play is bridging those two worlds. When I got involved in the technology sector, it was all green screens, command-and-control, pre-email; it really was about the transactional side of the business. But as the technology landscape has evolved into other aspects, there’s become a greater need for people who can connect dots, build bridges, and speak the language of the customers and the employees. I was able to build those bridges and make those connections.

Me: You’ve had a great journey, being able to successfully navigate both worlds and drive favorable business outcomes. There are so many skill sets and tactics that enable one to bridge those worlds—from great communication to a change-oriented mindset. But one word we’ve been tossing out here is “agility.” How would you define agility?  

Don: Most tend to associate the phrase with speed but to me it’s more about having options, about knowing enough and having your ear to the ground well enough to be able to respond with an appropriate choice when you are confronted with the range of options. It’s not about speed of reaction but rather the quality of the reaction. Agility has a lot to do with being in the right place at the right time in the right frame of mind to capitalize on options.

Me: Being agile is a lot like playing sports. Athletes are conditioned to see all the openings and determine the best way to score. They see all the options. In your case, you are at an organization that is constantly evolving and trying to diversify. Agility is something you are focused on daily. Do you have an example of how you embrace agility?

Don: When we were embarking on the ERP migration, at the time the technology wasn’t geared toward handling our business well. One of the things we learned very quickly was that in order to propel the business forward, we needed to think differently and look at a range of options from the technology side, and do so in a way so that the technology would be integrated with the overall company. It’s about remembering to not get locked into a previous plan.

Me: That’s a great idea; how else do you stay open to thinking differently?

Don: I try to budget time for white-boarding. I meet with my team and peers on as regular a basis as I can with the sole agenda of not having an agenda. I encourage them to throw spaghetti on the wall and I want everyone slinging as fast as they can. The white-boarding session is for no other purpose than exploring options in the event that they become useful.

Me: It’s so important to create environments at work in which it is safe to throw things out there—no matter how crazy it sounds. And, if something starts to stick, you can explore deeper.

Don: Exactly. We throw a lot of spaghetti, we see what sticks and we take a picture of it and that becomes the basis of a conversation. I tried very hard to remind my team that no one is captive to our company history or our assumptions. If you don’t create a risk-free environment, no one will take risks.

Me: Both of our companies are around the same size and have followed one another’s growth stories. As companies and people grow and evolve, it’s important to be innovative, quick to react and capable of discarding some of the things you have done in the past. What’s something you and your organization walked away from?

Don: That’s an interesting question. I’d say one of our shining moments was when we fired our biggest customer. While they were a big customer and very profitable, the value we were providing them was becoming less and less due to their strictures and their culture, and what they needed from us. It was draining our ability to pay attention to what we felt was the future way we wanted to interact with customers, and the future value for which we wanted to be known.

After that, we decided to re-double our efforts towards pursuing our passions. From a large business standpoint, the fact that we could make that move—and benefit from it—became a core part of our DNA moving forward. It was not easy to do, but it’s all in the spirit of “good to great.”

Me: We did something similar a few years back in moving on from a bunch of our accounts. We realized, we weren’t where we wanted to be and that sacrifice allowed us to double in growth the year after. That’s a great example of being open-minded and adaptable. Do you have any other pieces of advice for organizations looking to be more agile?

Don: For us, we are constantly recruiting and connecting with people—whether it’s customers, suppliers, vendors or industry insiders and outsiders. We are always looking for those who can be useful as partners and advisors. Frankly, the relationship between Horizon and Atrion is an example of that.

Me: How important do you believe interactions are with your clients and stakeholders in contributing to agility?  

Don: lt’s so important. Being able to get a completely fresh perspective is one way to hone your agility skills and not get captive to your history or your assumptions. Those interactions allow you to actively listen and to be truly intentional about it. It’s about asking the right questions and letting the customer take over.

Me: I couldn’t agree more. Agility is about learning, constantly trying new things, taking risks and putting yourself out there in a way that’s different. OK, before I let you go, Don… I want some fun facts about you!

Don: Well I was born and raised in Massachusetts and went to Bates College in Maine. After college, I came back to Massachusetts and since I couldn’t drive on Route 128—too many cars! —I moved back to Maine. I think the business card I designed for myself describes me best. My three titles are: cog in the wheel; relatively cool dad; and frustrated poet.

Those are my passions: trying to figure out how to be productive in society, family and life. I am also proud to have three children who are all well-adjusted, progressive and productive citizens.

Me: Nothing better!

Interested in other “On The Clock” interviews with Atrion employees and community members? Here are a few more blogs that may be of interest:

Tim Hebert, Chief Executive Officer

Tim Hebert, Chief Executive Officer

CEO at Atrion
Chief Executive Officer. Thought Leader. Music Aficionado.

You have never met anyone like him. Highly-energized, compassionate, ingenious, and just plain "awesome;" Oscar T. Hebert is a visionary and a national speaker on thought leadership. With a personal mission to light a fire in the hearts and minds of those around him, Tim truly impacts lives. As Atrion’s CEO, President, Captain, and Superhero, Tim has driven himself and Atrion over the last twenty years to remain on the cutting edge of the IT services industry, propelling Atrion to become a top 1% organization. But Tim’s passion for people, leadership, and relationships extends beyond leading just Atrion’s family into success and growth.

Tim believes that there is more to business than simply "turning a profit" and that every business should be driven by purpose and core values. He has infused Atrion with its core purpose of "having a positive impact on the lives of others," which has created a dynamic culture and one of the best places to work. Also an influential role model, he has taken leadership roles within the community as a Year-Up mentor, a Trustee for the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, a Director of the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation, and is the President and Chairman of the non-profit organization Tech Collective.

Facts about Tim:

- He has run the Inca Trail in the Andes to Machu Picchu, and witnessed the Aurora Borealis
- He believes that everyone is a leader, and they have the responsibility to rise to the call of duty
- His favorite bands include: Depeche Mode, Joy Division, and One-Eyed Doll
Tim Hebert, Chief Executive Officer

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