ABOUT TODAY’S GUEST | JOHN WHELPLEY
John Whelpley is one of the most important figures in the 70+ year history of Cutco. He started as an Accounting intern while still attending St. Bonaventure University in Olean, NY. After graduation, he joined the company full-time and was a key part of integrating several independent marketing arms under Vector Marketing Corporation. As the long-time CFO of Vector, John was responsible for safeguarding the company’s financial sustainability. He managed this task in a manner that emphasized a “people first” strategy for decision-making, which has become affectionately known as “The Vector Way.” Now, John serves as President and COO of Vector Marketing Corporation, and the company’s leadership largely reflects his philosophies and core values.
While being one of the most important leaders in the history of Vector and Cutco, John Whelpley has managed to maintain an almost “behind the scenes” profile.It’s time for everyone to get to know this exemplary leader, and I’m proud to share with you today his stories and lessons.
Q&A with John Whelpley:
Q: I’d love if you could start with your personal background.
- I grew up in a small town not far from Olean. I actually grew up on a farm and in a family business.
- Very early on, I learned a lot of my core values from my father running a business and treating people fairly.
- I got a chance to go to St. Bonaventure University. Between my junior and senior year, I got 2 job offers. One was to work at Cutco as an accounting intern. The other was to run a front gate at Chataqua Institute and have 40 young ladies who were running the teller windows reporting to me. I decided to go with the Cutco opportunity and I stayed.
- When I was graduating, we were still a subsidiary of Alcoa. My internship was supposed to lead to a job in Alcoa when I graduated. I was grateful that Bob Lorenz, who was the chief financial officer, kept me on.
- Shortly thereafter, Erick Laine led a leveraged buyout and purchased the company from Alcoa. So, I became a fulltime employee here.
- In my 2nd year, I took a pay cut to keep my job. Everybody did.
- We met our goal of profitability and got a loan from a bank, and we actually exceeded the plan on profit. So, Erick, Jim and Bob elected to give back that money to the employees.
- That started a profit-sharing program that continues today. One of the core values we have is we want to share the financial success with the employees.
Q: So, you graduated from St. Bonaventure. You were planning on going to work for Alcoa, but there was nothing there. So, you stayed in Cutco and had a chance to experience those early years, right?
- It was a great experience.
- Some people sometimes ask how did I get to where I am today?
- Part of it was I was there at the beginning and learned along the way.
- I was there when they needed people to take on tasks. That gave a lot of opportunities, young people today wouldn’t get from a larger company.
Q: What have been some favorite stories from your career or some experiences you feel standout?
- I’ve been fortunate. One of the opportunities I had was working with every one of our sales leaders. We had some great personal interaction time with them.
- It started with Don Freda who was the founder of Vector. While I was in Philadelphia, I got to spend time with him on a personal basis. I got to play in his house (he had a basketball court in his home).
- I got to work with Don Muelrath for 2 years in Napa. I had some great times with him and Marte.
- Mike Lancellot. Mike and Joanie are wonderful people. They are warm and genuine, they are outgoing.
- Bruce Goodman and Al DiLeonardo. I’ve had lots of wonderful time with Barbara, Madeleine and their husbands
- Part of what makes the culture of this business so good is our leaders are real people, genuine people who care about people. That’s the Vector Way!
- When we look at things, we’re trying to make decisions and say, hey! What’s right for everybody?
- At the end of the day, we’re a people business.
Q: What do you feel like are your own personal characteristics that have enabled you to climb up in the company?
- I think a big portion of it goes back to the culture of the business.
- Honesty, integrity and dealing with people. Trying to do the right thing by people
- Not just the Vector Way, but also in human relationships and actions.
- Respecting people and trying to find solutions.
- I’m also hard worker.
Q: For the company, if we were to ask people what is one of your great qualities, I’m sure generosity is one of the things a lot of people would say about you. It’s an interesting balance a leader like you has to find. You have done a great job finding that balance. Maybe you could speak a little more about that? How did that evolve with you?
- I learned some of it back with my father. He was a small businessowner. There were times when people in our family had issues and problems. He always helped them whether it was equipment or tools he had in his business.
- You could run to him, no questions asked or even a basket of fruit. He never promoted that. He never said to anyone, this is what I do.
- I believe a lot in that humility towards been generous. I’ve worked hard at it and have been rewarded well for it.
- To give back to others is something we should do. As we reap our rewards, we should share them back with others.
Q: As you look ahead into the future, what do you feel like you are most excited for the company?
- It’s the people.
- One of my goals in this organization is that the tens of thousands of people who are engaged in our direct sales, their managers, our regional managers, have an enduring opportunity.
- People say what would you like your legacy to be? That this business thrives. The good news is I think it will.
- We’re metamorphosing at an amazing rate.
- We are moving to a virtual training in sales organization literally overnight this year. It opens up whole new worlds for some of our people to be able to operate in.
- I’m excited about it, it means so much more. 5, 10 or even 20 years down the road, the business is not only going to be thriving, but bigger!
Q: How about personally? What is exciting in your life personally?
- My eldest son is going to get married this year.
- Both of my sons are very successful
- Watching your children grow. I’ve watched thousands of young people grow. But there is something special when it’s yours.
- Cool to hear how John grew up and after going to school in St. Bonaventure, had a chance to stay in the company.
- It was cool to hear the seeds around generosity and how we treat people, were formed when he was on the other side of the coin.
- The concept of the Vector Way. It’s about things like honesty, integrity, open communication with people, generosity, cooperation, follow through the things we say we’re going to do and striving to act in the best interests of the individual.
- That is a very powerful reason why Cutco and Vector have become so successful.
- John also challenged us saying as we reap rewards, be sure to give back to others.
Show Notes for this episode provided by Brian Njenga.