eTundra Categories

Tundra Culture: An Interview with Ryan Lewis, President

Ryan Lewis, President of Tundra Restaurant SupplyHere at Tundra we have team members that have been here since the company started in 1993, and team members that have worked in almost every department.  It’s a place that breathes fun and expression; in fact, it’s written in the values.  But these are only a few attributes that can be considered part of our culture.

I recently sat down with Ryan Lewis, President of Tundra, to interview him on the culture here at Tundra (including hard to answer questions that may have made him squirm).

1.    If you could describe Tundra’s culture in three words, what would you say?

Team Members. Experience. Connectedness.

2.    If you were going to give public tours of Tundra, what stops would you make?

Generally I’ll show them the photo board, I’ll show them the values on the walls, and the kitchen – it’s kind of social in there.  I think just standing in the showroom and experiencing the open nature of our office space is nice to show too, like how the big glass windows connect to outside and to the warehouse.  I think it’s important to show the way we all communicate and how we care for balance like with the Turtle room where people can rest and relax if they want to.

In general, I don’t think it comes down to a specific location though – it’s an energy.  Locations are attributes, but that doesn’t create culture. At the end of the day, culture is the look on people’s faces, the smiles, the comfort.  My goal is for people to come to work and have them be extensions of themselves, be able to express themselves.

3.    If the local paper were going to run a four-page article on Tundra’s culture, what would be impossible not to include?

Our values are absolutely imperative because that’s the framework.  I want people to express themselves fully, but it has to be within that set of values – that’s what ties everything together.  And our mission statement – it’s about our customers, and our success depends on theirs.  That’s critical too.  Our Culture Crew – we have a formalized group of people that focus on our team members experience.  All of these would be important.

4.    What’s the best part about working in this environment that someone wouldn’t be able to see from just a walk around the office?

It’s what creates that environment and the focused effort into it – the team members and customers experiences.  It can’t just be about the bottom line.  We care about making sure people are engaged, and if they aren’t then why?

We allow people to (within reasonable guidelines of course) work the way they want to work, dress the way they like, bring their dogs to the office.  It’s important to have a certain level of flexibility.

I really like the Megaphone, and we read every single one of those team member suggestions in our Culture Crew meetings.  We’ve gotten a lot of great ideas from that to help move the culture forward.

I try to make it to all of the Culture Crew meetings.  I tried to suggest that maybe I shouldn’t be in them so that it was more organic, but even as the members of the crew change, they always tell me that they feel that it’s important for me to be there, so I am.  For the Megaphone it’s anonymous, I want people to feel like they can be authentic and talk about opportunities here at Tundra.  I know it’s uncomfortable to talk about some things and make suggestions, and this gives people an outlet to still be able to communicate, and most peoples responses are very sincere and honest.

We can always do a better job though, there isn’t a finish line.

5.    What are the most common complaints team members make about Tundra’s culture?

I hear that the company is too focused on the bottom line or making money.  And I also hear that team members want more money and more bonuses.  It’s usually focused around compensation and finances.  You know, we are a for profit business, so sometimes its sort of low-hanging fruit when the team members are upset about something: not everyone is into the flexibility we have here, like dogs at work.  It’s one of those things that you’ll never make everyone happy in any one category.

But that being said, I can’t reiterate enough that we focus on every single team member; making sure we read each and every one of those suggestions at those culture meetings and listening to every team member.  When you have 130 people you’re going to have unreasonable suggestions from time to time, but I always try to go into matters with eyes and ears wide open.

6.    How would you describe your ideal workplace environment?

For people to come in here with an understanding of the values of how we operate and the mission that we’re trying to accomplish.

I would hope that our team members feel that they are fully an extension of themselves here – that they are living up to their fullest possibility everyday.  That they are fully engaged, feel safe and are able to communicate effectively between peers, customers, management and vendors.  Good communication is key.

Really the values are the vision of the culture – express yourself, have fun.

7.    What does it take for someone to be successful here?

I think people need to be authentic.  You know, people that come in here and start looking for a role, looking to be told what to do, given specific agendas and expect a routine wouldn’t really fit in that well here.  We need thinkers, people that challenge the status quo and aren’t afraid to express their thoughts.

8.    How are team members recognized for going above and beyond?

We line them up every Friday afternoon and throw water balloons at them.  No, I’m kidding.

I think this is another area that there’s definitely no finish line – we can always do a better job here.

But we do have the Star Card, where peers and managers can acknowledge a team member.  And at the end of the month there’s gifts given out for people that get these cards turned in.  I like to think it’s an iterative process.  It’s the culture saying, “Hey, nice job.”  This is more informal in that sense, but we do have a bonus program too that’s based on company and individual performance.

9.    Given that you adjust for each team member (because each person is different), what would you say your preferred management style is?

Controlled chaos.  No (laughing).

You know, I’ve asked people that about me, because I don’t necessarily, consciously try to follow a certain way, but I do like to look at the end goal.  Let me know if anything gets in your way.  Let me know if I can support you, or if I can accelerate your pace.  Let me know if you need anything, but otherwise, use your peers, use the company, use the resources you have.  I’m not going to manage how you get there.  Stay within the values, understand your end point, and let me know how I can support you or move hurdles.

10.    What do you love best about the culture here?

The community; I think the people that get the most out of our culture come here to work among friends, to be part of a community.  It’s more than a job.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply