Photo by Jason Wold
Twomey compares board service to exercise: “You do it over and over, and you get better and better at it.”
Director, The Toro Company
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You might say that Chris Twomey was custom built for his seat on The Toro Company’s board.
Twomey is chairman of Arctic Cat, the Thief River Falls–based manufacturer of snowmobiles and ATVs, and has also been its CEO since 1986, three years after he joined the company. Toro, headquartered in Bloomington, makes residential and commercial outdoor-maintenance equipment. Both companies have distinguished brands and are counted among the leaders of their respective markets. Both sell their products through independent dealers or distributors. And both operate in regulated industries, where such issues as emissions and product safety influence decisions ranging from design to distribution.
“[Toro] has a great reputation, a great brand, great products, a great history, and a great culture,” Twomey says. “When they asked me to sit on the board [in January 1998], I was very pleased.”
And Toro was pleased to have him. “Chris has a great level of familiarity with the issues Toro is confronted with,” says Ken Melrose, Toro’s former CEO and chairman, who retired in March. “He’s very judicious, though, as to how much and when he uses his know-how and background. But at the same time, he was there to provide credible support when I or another management person said, ‘Here’s the problem.’”
Melrose says that Twomey’s presence was a particularly strong asset when, a few years back, Toro decided to develop a new line of lawn mowers for The Home Depot. Toro has long relied on a network of independent dealers to sell and maintain its machines.
“The key to making this happen was that we had to do it in a way that preserved the serviceability of our products and didn’t disenfranchise the servicing dealer,” Melrose says. So Toro ensured the dealers could also sell the new mowers at the same price points as The Home Depot. It also established working relationships between all Home Depot locations and the nearest dealers, who provide service and support for Toro machines sold by the big-box retailer.
A new line of Toro lawn and garden tractors made its debut at Home Depot this year. “It’s worked extremely well,” Melrose says. “We’ve essentially become the lawn and garden brand of choice for Home Depot, but we’re doing it in a way that’s actually helped the dealer business.” He credits Twomey with understanding and believing in Toro’s commitment to service, and his ability to help educate his fellow board members about the ways this commitment influences sales and distribution.
“I believe that applying basic principles to somebody else’s business makes you better in your own business,” Twomey says of his board service. “So I’d say I get as much out of it as I think I’m able to contribute.”