The Evolution of Mindful Leadership
LISTEN TO OPEN FOR BUSINESS’ CONVERSATION WITH INTELLICOM PRESIDENT AND CEO DAN SHUNDOFF ON MINDFUL LEADERSHIP
If you lived in Kearney, Neb. in 1995, had trouble connecting your printer to your computer network and asked a friend for advice, it was likely they mentioned the name Dan Shundoff. They would have described this entrepreneurial Mr. Fix-It as a tech-nomad who traveled from problem to problem, often coming up with solutions right in the back of his station wagon.
With hesitation, you might have given him a call. You would then have been pleasantly surprised when he arrived. He learned more about you, your computer and the issue you needed addressed. And then he fixed the problem efficiently and at a reasonable price. And it is likely you would recommended Mr. Shundoff to several others after your experience. Today, people are still making that recommendation.
THE EARLY DAYS
Dan Shundoff, the owner of Intellicom, has grown what was once a basement operation into one of the leading networking and technology companies in central Nebraska. Shundoff was born and raised in the Midwest. He graduated high school in North Platte, Neb. and then attended UNL, receiving a liberal arts degree.
Immediately after college, he wanted to move away from the Midwest, like many young minds do. He relocated to the east coast, living in several larger cities. He then married and moved to Connecticut.
Shundoff worked for Sikorsky Aircraft. He was responsible for creating proposals for the Blackhawk Aircraft. In this position, he received a great deal of technical training which led him to a solid understanding of information technology. He was able to build experience in this field.
After starting a family, he and his wife felt they needed to create a safer and more relaxed environment for their children and to take advantage of the opportunities provided by a lower cost of living.
Dan had the opportunity to take an early retirement from Sikorsky and with these goals in mind, they decided to make a move to back to Nebraska. There was a low crime rate and this is where Dan’s parents still resided. They landed in Kearney.
In his previous career, Dan realized his aptitude and skill set when it came to computer electronics and networking. He looked for a position with a larger employer in manufacturing, technology or purchasing. In the mean time, he took smaller jobs waiting tables and bartending.
He supplemented his income by freelancing for individuals and smaller companies where he performed computer set-up and local networking. The demand for his services grew. He was contracted to write point of sale software for a company. This laid the foundation for Dan to make a legitimate effort in pursuing a business startup in the IT field. In 1994, Intellicom was launched.
Intellicom began as a home-based business with Dan’s skills and the efforts from a couple of interns. In the mid-90s, there were not a lot of services available for connectivity and computer networking in Kearney. Intellicom was able to fill that niche.
Within a few years, they were able to open a commercial location and hire more employees. Shundoff realized the time and commitment required to make this happen by working 15-hour days, 7 days a week. But he also realized the satisfaction from being his own boss and bringing a value to the customers with whom he worked.
Knowing he had found a great opportunity, Dan decided to strengthen the structure of his business by trusting the guidance of experienced mentors. He reached out to the local SCORE chapter for business counseling and became involved with the Kearney Chamber of Commerce.
He was self-taught and became fairly efficient at keeping the financial outlook up to date, but sought advice from other business people who served as his advisors as he grew his business. He reached out to his team of business resource experts such as his banker and insurance agent. This is when he learned the importance of developing his business plan and his model for success.
“The magic for me in all of that, in order to get to the next level, was that I was very open to trusting those relationships,” said Shundoff. “I was really open to receiving advice from these individuals and did not pretend to know more than I actually did. That ended up serving me and continues to serve me pretty well.”
Intellicom grew in services, as well as staff. From 2000 to 2005, they went from 10 to 30 employees, mostly technicians. During this time, Intellicom received huge support from the local community in terms of publicity, referrals and business. They also were able to partner with the University of Nebraska at Kearney for attracting talent and recruiting skilled technicians.
Dan got very involved in the business community by serving on local boards. He helped with collaborative projects and made many connections locally and across the state. Intellicom received a great deal of attention and media coverage. It was a time of rapid growth for the business, “But we weren’t making any money,” admitted Shundoff. “Revenue was going [up]. We knew how to grow with service and lead the market and competition, but we really didn’t know how to make money.”
The company had to figure out how to be financially healthy. Shundoff felt this was very important as he was now responsible for the livelihood of many employees and their families. He also felt a significant allegiance to his customers who relied on Intellicom to be sustainable and able to continue to serving.
Shundoff made it a priority to create a financially sustainable model for his business. Thus, in the mid-2000s, there was a shift for Intellicom. Dan realized the necessity of bringing on non-technical staff to assist with the daily operation of the business in the areas of marketing, sales, human resources and bookkeeping. Things began to change and the revenue created began to work in a positive direction for the company.
Shundoff began to experience natrural attrition in his team and was able to take a critical look at opportunities for Intellicom to become more efficient and to utilize existing tools and resources where there were gaps. Because of this, the company was able to outperform the market in the darkest days of the Great Recession. This set up Intellicom to be even more successful when the market turned around.
Another factor in the success for Dan Shundoff as a leader was the creation of an informal association in which he is intricately involved. He had the foresight to bring together about a dozen similar, non-competing companies from across the nation to create a peer organization, bringing value to his industry and to his business. This group was organized in 2006 to 2007. They come together annually to advise each other and help each other realize opportunities in their field.
SUSTAINABILITY AND BEYOND
Working on his business, making it financially healthy, and assuring it’s the best it can be in terms of services and products has allowed Shundoff to focus his efforts on facets of his organization that take it a more elevated level. He has been able to really pay attention to “growing people” and unleashing the potential in his team that includes his employees, his customers and other partners in his business community. Dan is able to predict the needs of his clients based on the development of technology and requirements of various platforms. Making sure his team is trained and certified as required, and in the best way possible, is of utmost importance.
Today, Intellicom offers a variety of services. They are able to design, engineer and deploy networking. They provide server space and host data systems for customers. The company installs and supports telephony and security systems for businesses. Cabling and infrastructure for communications is another offering, as well as website development. Intellicom offers a help desk as additional support for customers.
Shundoff believes in working with his team to realize their strengths and to help them pursue the skills they need to be successful in their positions. He empowers his team to identify opportunities for the business and to create a solid case for expanding services.
These opportunities depend on what the industry demands, technology advances and where their professionals are willing to become experts.
Shundoff focuses a lot of energy on his employees, discussing their careers and how they envision their places in the organization.
Shundoff explains, “If we spend enough time talking about their careers, and they are excited about that, it is impossible to think about that or envision that without education as a core component. We are constantly talking about ‘Where do you want to go in your career and how are you going to get there?’ You have to invest time and energy into making that happen.”
Shundoff crafted an employee agreement, creating a level of trust between the company and the employee. In the agreement, each promises to encourage the goals of one another and to work together on achieving those goals.
Shundoff says communication is a huge component to the relationship he has with his team and that learning what they want is key. He is a certified Gallup advisor and brings a great number of the leadership strategies he learned from his training. He is able to help others realize the talents and strengths they bring to the company.
He is always opening up the conversations individually as well as team-wide. It is paramount for Shundoff to be sure the discussions and relationships are very purposeful. He believes in making changes and improvements that are based on forward movement and will deliver upon what is promised.
He likes to talk about the meaningful parts of the business, like the relationships with customers and their needs. He wants his team, and those he is involved with, to realize that what they do is important. The work they do does matter.
Shundoff says he has become a leader who is very purposeful and strategic. His style isn’t one full of charisma, nor does he have a big personality.
He is quiet and very deliberate in his actions and execution. He provides a positive influence for his people and his customers. “I can’t be someone else. I just have to be the best version of me,” said Shundoff. “I am at my best when relationships are deep, open and honest. I know that people need, from a leader: trust, stability, and hope as well as compassion.”
Plans for the future include growing Intellicom in a very organic fashion and continuing to grow the company culture. Shundoff wants to continue to attract talent and give them opportunities in central Nebraska, both inside and outside of Intellicom. Shundoff prides himself on helping young people make an emotional connection to their community. “If you want to retain people, they better love what they do, they better love who they work with and provide a service to, and they better love where they live,” Shundoff advises. “If they can create an emotional connection in their life and their work, they are less likely to leave.”