Exclusive: Q&A with Tom Bartlett on Retirement from DataSource Inc.
After 50 years in the industry, Tom Bartlett, original co-founder and current vice president of business development of DataSource Inc., will retire at the end of December. We spoke with Bartlett about his time leading the company, how he’s adapted to rapid change and his plans for the future.
What would you say was your biggest accomplishment during your time at DataSource?
Tom Bartlett: My biggest accomplishment has to be starting and building this company with Sherie [Bartlett], who was a terrific partner and operator. Together, and with a great team of associates, we grew DataSource from $200,000 in 1989 to over $50 million today.
You've spent an amazing 50 years in this industry, which is quite an achievement. How is the industry different than it was when you first started? How did you adapt along the way?
TB: When I started in the ‘60s, you could walk in and ask to see someone—and you could be successful in attaining meetings with prospects that way. You could walk in, shake hands and make a sale. Today it’s so much different. Just getting in to see someone is much more difficult. You have to use tools to reach out that I never had, [like] social networking, emails, etc. To adapt, I have had to use a good team of partners within DataSource to help me just try to reach a prospect.
DataSource, itself, has come a long way since its inception in 1989. In addition to exponential growth and a move to Kansas City, the company has essentially transformed from a broad-based print supply-chain leader to a marketing- and brand-focused partner for big-name retailers. How did these changes benefit the company in the long run?
TB: DataSource has had to adapt the same as salespeople with new technology, new services and new products to support customer needs. DataSource has always been able to stay close to the customers, understand what they need now and will need tomorrow. This has helped us stay ahead of the competition and win against a growing list of competitors.
What was one of the biggest challenges you had to face? How did you overcome it?
TB: The biggest challenge I have had to face was with a business venture in Springfield, Mo. in 1980. Despite having much success, the business did not succeed and I lost everything. I decided to leave Springfield and start over. I had an old Volvo and a few bags. I decided to move to Kansas City. I eventually found work, but I slept in my car at a truck stop for six months before I built a territory and was back on my feet. My determination, salesmanship and pride in servicing my customers allowed me to regain success and have the wonderful business Sherie and I grew together at DataSource.
What advice do you have for incoming CEOs who might find themselves in similar situations?
TB: Leaders can be good at many things, but by being stretched as you grow, you are soon unable to do it alone. Surround yourself with a great team. With a service business like DataSource, or any business, you must have good people around you that you can rely on.
What are your plans for retirement?
TB: I enjoy life, and I look forward to enjoying it even more in retirement. I plan to spend time doing things I enjoy with family and friends. I plan to do a little more traveling, get more involved in car clubs and, for sure, a bit more golfing.
And, finally, what are you going to miss most about this industry?
TB: I have always loved what I do. Selling is my passion. Every day I shined my shoes and made calls and never doubted I could be really good in this industry. And I have so much love for DataSource and those who helped us grow along the way. I will miss employees and customers … but closing the deals … that’s what I will really miss.
Elise Hacking Carr is editor-in-chief/content director for Print+Promo magazine.