Learning Together in Leadership
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When the new vice president of ThinkTank Learning talks about the success of a company, it’s very clear his passion for answering this lies within the employees working there.  Acquiring an inventory of skills from all over the world, Fortelka is best known for his expertise in running world-wide client services, product operations, software engineering, quality management, market organization, and strategic planning. While the challenges and hurdles differ from company to company, for Fortelka, the fundamentals and principals of planning, organizing, directing, coordinating, controlling, auditing, and reporting remain the same.

“Business is business -no matter where you go,” Fortelka said.

Fortelka sits down to explain what his values are, why people inspire him, and what he thinks our company’s greatest assets are.

(The following has been edited for tone and clarity.)
How did you end up joining ThinkTank Learning?

Bob Fortelka: I started my professional career in Chicago after high school at Sears, corporate in the national buying department for furniture and stayed there for 6 years. I worked my way up in the office staff and became an applications computer programmer. During that time, I turned down an opportunity to become a full-time cowboy in Glendale Wyoming. It is interesting how life provides various paths to choose from. My next stop was a relatively new software business where I was there 16 years before being merged with the largest software company at the time. That was the company where I was a Vice President for a decade and earned a MBA from the Northwestern University, Kellogg School. From Chicago,  I transferred to Park City, Utah where I became a leader of a software business for three years. Then it was off to California to continue leadership roles in assisting companies to raise funding, launch new products, expand sales channels, and reach operational efficiency over the past 18 years. Then one day, Joanne Abel found me on LinkedIn and contacted me for my transformational expertise, an interest area for TTL, and that’s where I was introduced to Steven Ma.

Describe your values as a leader.  

BF: Over the years, I have developed a number of methodologies that have enabled companies to transform successfully. The principles that I have learned come down to one key thing: People are our greatest assets. People have vision and the where with all to execute plans. Without people you have nothing and you have to respect the team After all, they are at the forefront to make things happen.

So what is the definition of hard work?

BF: The definition of hard work is being able to plan your work and work the plan while staying focused. The key is to work hard but have fun.

What are some of your core values?

BF: My core value is that people have to deliver as promised. Our word is what fundamentally makes up the fabric of who we are. Trust also builds the team’s greatest asset. Distrust destroys teams. One of the critical success factors is to communicate, communicate, and communicate. People enjoy working with me because I’m honest—I’m tough but fair. I’m always striving for excellence. I will bend over backwards and make a promise to everyone that I will do everything to make him or her the best employee that they can be – as long as they are ready, willing and able. I also have found that the harder I work the luckier I get. Regarding success, success is different for everyone. What I know is that everyone has to find their center of balance…it’s important to align people with what they want to do and discover the artistry in which to achieve it.

Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Why and how did this person impact your life?

BF: There are two without a doubt: my father taught me my work ethic, the ability to manager complex tasks, and how to manage many complex tasks simultaneously. The second person is my friend who gave me my first VIP experience. We’ve been friends for over 40 years and still are real good friends. We’ve been in business together three times.  

What are the most important decisions you make as a leader at ThinkTank?

BF: The first thing is that I recognized the potential of our team. They are extraordinarily passionate about what we do and care for our clients.  The team is also inspired around improving the business and learning more skills. We need to provide a learning platform and a positive environment in which the team can apply their newly acquired capabilities. The second is to create a long-term plan and inform the team as we transform and grow. I tend to treat people as business partners with illustrating to them how their efforts and results influence our business. While transforming, you can never forget where you came from.

I don’t mind sitting in a cube—I’m just one of the team. I’m motivated by creating a long-term plan, keeping people apprised and making it happen. Senior management has to be a part of that team. We have to create an environment about people taking risks and being motivated to take action. My long-term plan has been set. Now it’s a matter of inspiring people, teaching them how to become better and creating an environment for people to make change happen. If the team can reach their maximum potential—we will ALL be winners.

How do you instill “inspiration” and “motivation” at ThinkTank?

BF: What I look for in people-it’s important that everyone listens to team members about their successes, failures, and the challenges they face. Anyone can make a decision, but not everyone can live with the decision they make. Listening is critical and there needs to be an environment to speak up and brainstorm solutions. As a leader, I expect the team to not just come to me with problems; Come to me with challenges and your ideas with recommendations for discussion—that’s part of the teaching environment. Our staff knows our issues and how they might want to provide solutions. It’s about being confident to take a risk to discuss things with  management. The last thing—a leader can’t do this all on their own—It’s too complex. We service many clients and we are only as strong as our weakest link. In summary, in my experience the vast majority of people respond really well to the opportunity to excel, they just need the proper support system. This also just happens to be one of the value systems we provide to our clients.

How do you encourage creative thinking within ThinkTank?

BF: ThinkTank is in a fine-tuning mode-we’re taking the best practices and different methods and structure to deliver the best in class services that we are capable of providing. Creative thinking is required in our everyday lives. The business world is frought with the need to change and adapt constant fluctuation in business conditions. This dynamic tends to create conflict. I work hard with the team to ensure that conflict is a positive change agent versus a destructive force. I like to pull the best out of people and help them to stay invigorated to get motivated to get moving. People who participate will get the greatest out of work—personally, professionally and altruistically. I have an open-door policy –I will always be there to help. While, I take every idea serious, not all ideas can be adopted immediately.  they will all be considered. I respect honesty and perspective.

Where do the great ideas come from for ThinkTank?

BF: The worst thing management can do is to come in with a prescribed framework on fixing it. Think of it as a vehicle: There are 1,000’s of moving part. While cars functionally are the same– every car is different just like business. Ideas have to come from the markets and clients that we serve.  It’s even more important to listen to our service delivery teams and our relationships We have to harvest ideas from the people listening to what the challenges are and then remove barriers to our success.

How do you communicate the “core values” at ThinkTank? Which is more important: mission, core values or vision?

BF: Steven Ma is a visionary and I respect the core values,  he has established to create a sound business . Our core values won’t change, but we will expand them from a business operation’s view. Values such as focus, alignment, and accountability will only reinforce our core values.

How do you help someone who is new to ThinkTank understand what our culture is?

BF: It’s important for people to understand the vision and understand what we really do. When you really think about what we are building at ThinkTank-it’s a bond with the youngest people going through academia and their life journey–when you think about it, we are shaping and sculpturing them as a human being.

How can you or anyone become a better leader?

BF: Be yourself and be consistent. Listen and observe what is happening around you. Everyone also needs to understand that everyone is a leader and that there are informal and formal leaders. Be cognizant that informal leaders can be a stronger influence in the business than the formal leaders. Lastly, align yourself with people you can learn from.

Would you like to add anything else?

BF: I’m really excited to be here. The team is great and our clients are awesome. There is no one that I have met that has not made an impact on me.

What are some of your favorite hobbies?

BF: Large mouth bass fishing, competitive fishing, Canadian Shield fishing in Ontario.  I also enjoy, golf, vacationing and rock collecting.

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