Craig Dumstorff isn’t a front office executive for a sports franchise. However, his leadership style and passion for team building would say otherwise.
Dumstorff is the vice president of IT at Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, a value-oriented, fresh, and healthy grocery company. He is responsible for all of the company’s IT functions. However, his favorite part of his job is building teams. It’s just as if he were the general manager of a sports team.
“I’m a people person first, and I’m passionate about helping others,” Dumstorff says. “I love seeing other people thrive, seeing their careers progress. And I love helping build them into leaders going forward. My passion to help others succeed is what gets me excited to come to work every day.”
Dumstorff discovered his love for the business side of IT while he was working on the industry’s technical side. Early in his career, he was a software developer early in his career. The CIO he worked for served as a mentor, and often talked to Dumstorff about his career path. Dumstorff learned that an employee’s career progression could be compromised due to continuous advances in technology and languages. However, the need to understand business logic, strategy, and how companies operate remains constant.
Moving to the Functional Side
“At that point, I made the conscious decision to move to the functional side and never looked back,” Dumstorff says. “I really embraced it. I figured out how much I loved the business side of the house. Ultimately, solving business problems through strategy, vision, and team building became my passion. I’m probably more business-focused than others in CIO-type roles. The conversation with a mentor and understanding the value of the skill set one brings to the table made the difference.”
What Dumstorff has witnessed in the sports world has played a part in how he’s constructed his IT teams. Frequently, in both sports and business, a team that looks good on paper won’t necessarily succeed because its members don’t know how to work with one another. Dumstorff would much rather work with a team that might not look as good on paper but is made up of people who will work well together to achieve common goals.
Strategy Straight from the Coach
Dumstorff’s team-based leadership comes in part from the inspiration he takes from sports. He takes particular interest in the NFL’s New England Patriots and the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs. The teams are led by Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. Both have long-standing records of success that span more than fifteen years. During that time, both teams had different players come in and out of their systems. However, they consistently competed at the highest caliber and found a way to win a series of championships.
“To achieve the goals of the organization, we need teams that are a collection of people that come together to work as a true team,” Dumstorff explains. “They trust and respect each other, and they understand and are accountable for their roles. When we build a true team, the sky is the limit for what we will achieve.” As a leader, he says, it’s his responsibility to serve those on his team by ensuring that the organization is not only helping them all succeed as individuals, but also bringing them together as a team to help Fresh Thyme succeed as a whole.
The Importance of a Democratic Approach
Dumstorff describes his leadership style as a combination of democratic and transformational approaches. On the democratic side, he likes to include his team in the decision-making process.
“We inherently obtain the team’s buy-in because it’s much easier to execute and implement our strategies when team members are a part of making decisions— when they’re engaged and invested in the solution,” he says.
Meanwhile, the transformational side of Dumstorff’s leadership style stems from wanting to see Fresh Thyme continue to be a forward-thinking business. “Business climates change rapidly,” Dumstorff says. “We have to make sure we’re a nimble and dynamic organization so we don’t get stuck in our ways and are continuously improving, adapting, and getting better and smarter at what we do.”
When Dumstorff joined Fresh Thyme, the company was only a few years old, so implementing his vision for the IT department happened pretty seamlessly. Now that the structure and vision are in place, Dumstorff and the other department heads also want to make sure that Fresh Thyme is an enjoyable place to work to attract top talent.
The Value of Fun
“We want to make sure we bring a lot of fun to the table as well,” Dumstorff says. “It has been received well throughout the organization, not just IT. I think it’s benefited because coming together as a small company and growing as rapidly as we are, there’s obviously a lot of stress and pressure that comes along with the rapid growth. We make sure we have fun and enjoy the ride as we go.”
Fresh Thyme is three years old and has already had close to seventy stores opened at the end of 2017. “It’s a testament to the team we have and the organization and culture we’re building,” Dumstorff says. “It’s impressive what we’ve accomplished, and we’ll accomplish even bigger and better things going forward. It really says a lot about the leadership in the organization and the team we’ve built to date.”