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Tom Schneider

Hall of Fame Honoree 2023

How did you get started in this business?
I grew up in our family business and was the youngest of eight children working in the store — and at the age of nine years old — helping my older brother service appliances. At that time, we also sold hardware so I also became very familiar with helping customers find products throughout the store and I also worked behind the checkout counter. That experience certainly taught me social skills and how to interact and serve customers. I remember selling my first washing machine when I was 11. Eventually I performed every job within the company including service, delivery, sales, purchasing and management. Those experiences were very important to me since I was able to truly understand every challenge that our employees go through.

Please share some milestones, and what makes you most proud about your career.
The milestone that I am most proud of is helping to lead Silica to 100 years in business. As a third-generation family member, I realize that it’s often very difficult when you grow your business to maintain a great culture that was initiated by the founding fathers. My father was very outspoken to us on how difficult it was to start the business from scratch and grow his customer base. I listened very intently to him to make sure that I could try to feel what he felt, and how hard he had to work to get the business to the level it was when I took over. I tried to never forget his words. 

How would you describe your management style?
I feel like my management style is very much as a servant leader. I really enjoy being on the front line with our team finding ways to serve our customers. I tried to follow my father’s footsteps and watched his joy working with customers and employees. He served in World War II in the infantry and was on the front line. He always said to me that World War II was not won by the Generals, it was won by the soldiers on the front line. In many ways, that’s how he treated the business. It was the sales, service and installers of Silica who were going to grow the business, and that was done by the way they treated the customers that they were serving. I also feel very strongly about empowering our managers and team. If they truly understand the core values and culture of the business, in most cases they will make the right decisions and that will also reinforce the trust that you put into them. 

Which executives in the CE industry do you admire most and why?
Obviously I always look back to my father as my greatest mentor. But there are so many business owners like Elmer Karl with his passion to his business, and Paul Sherman and his creativity with his business that I have admired the most. I can always relate to their daily challenges and the hard work that they give to their companies, so I enjoy getting input from them.

What’s the best business advice you ever received, and how did it help you?
Probably the best business advice that was given to me came from a gentleman and friend that I hired as a general manager when I took over in 1995. His name was DuWayne (Cotton) Christiaansen who was getting close to the end of his career and had been in the retail industry for most of his life. He was a very even-tempered man, and a great negotiator. He shared with me, “When making business decisions, make sure that those decisions are only done logically, and keep emotions out of the way!” He knew that in a family business tough times/situations can confuse your emotions and can cause you to make some poor business decisions. It was extremely helpful advice for me that I have always followed. 

Tell us a little bit about your personal life, past and present.  
I am happily married to my amazing wife Cindy, with two daughters, two stepdaughters, a stepson, and five beautiful grandchildren. The time and commitment of a family business is not always easy on a family, and I’ve learned later in my career the importance of work/family balance. Cindy and I like to be active and enjoy biking, hiking and short getaways.

What will be the future of our business, and of retailing, in the coming years?
As I see retail in the future, a good online presence is extremely important for all of us.  I really see the independent dealer continuing to strive, as they have earned the trust of their customers in the communities that they serve. That’s where those customers want to do business, whether it’s in the store or online. They are extremely crafty business people who are in touch with the constant challenges of retail and have the ability to make the necessary changes needed.