Jim Richards - Total Security Solutions - 2018 John G. Thodis Michigan Manufacturer of the Year (Small Tier)

As the stated mission for one mid-sized manufacturer, those words underscore the family-first focus of many industry leaders.

For Jim Richards, founding Total Security Solutions (TSS) was about building a business, being competitive and providing quality, custom- built bulletproof barrier systems. But it was also about a lot more. It was about job security and peace of mind for Fowlerville families.

“I’m Fowlerville through and through. We were always going to expand here before we’d expand somewhere else — this is where home is,” explains Richards. “I want TSS to be a place people want to work. If they can dedicate 100 percent of themselves to us, I’ll do whatever I can to provide the resources for them to succeed.”

Over the past 12 years, thanks to Jim’s diligent oversight over every aspect of the business, TSS has become one of Michigan’s fastest growing companies. With a love for the industry that started by working with his dad, Jim’s competitive nature and compassionate leadership has helped distinguish TSS from an industry already full of innovators.

“We go faster than our competition and we do it while maintaining the quality our products and our customers demand,” Richards explained. “We are regularly operating 20 to 30 percent above our natural comfort zone and, while it can be a challenge to find the people capable of working at that pace, the ones who can have helped make hitting each new level of expansion possible.”

A self-described perfectionist, Jim never settles for “good enough” — there is always room to improve, always a chance for people to be better. Like most entrepreneurs, Jim has experience in every facet of the business. He’s developed its strategic plan in the board room and run the CNC machines on the factory floor. This level of immersion is valuable and necessary for a company’s early years, but as a brand grows, leadership must be able to delegate.

“We were at around 20 people when I realized, if we were going to reach the next level, I had to loosen my grip on the reins and trust others with more responsibility,” Richards recalls. “We put in place some scalable processes, introduced a culture of accountability and developed a clear vision for where we all should want the company to go. It was pretty cool to see that the team’s connection to each other got stronger the more I was willing to let go.”

As others stepped up, Jim began a deep process of soul-searching where he focused on cementing TSS’s core values and developing a company-wide mindset which would help to maintain stable growth even through uncertain times.

“It’s important that TSS employees grow as the company grows and implementing transparency, information sharing and professional development into the culture all create empathy for each other’s roles and responsibilities,” says Richards. “We needed a way to communicate that vision and it starts, for us, with the Entrepreneurial Operating System®.”

Under Jim’s leadership, TSS implemented the Entrepreneurial Operating System® (EOS), a methodology essential to building the TSS culture and one fully embraced by both the leadership team and department managers. In addition to providing extensive new-hire training on the company’s vision, values, and strategic direction, TSS also holds monthly “all-hands” lunch-and-learns. Each session strives to educate employees around a specific topic that helps create and maintain a culture of lifelong learning.

The TSS leadership team meets weekly to review key metrics, assess progress on company initiatives, and solve issues which stand in the way of meeting company goals. Key metrics are shared with each department and incentives are provided for reaching shared goals, making every worker a stakeholder.

“The talent here matters most to me and not just hiring them but being sure they are happy here and that they feel a part of this company,” explains Richards. “We have regular meetings and every employee has the chance to be heard; from education, training, 1:1 coaching and other initiatives, employee satisfaction scores have risen significantly since implementing EOS, making it easier to attract and retain the highest caliber talent.”

Another sign of great leadership, Richards isn’t above the learning process and regularly works to improve himself thanks to feedback from his team. His weekly “Breakfast with the CEO” are off-site breakfast meetings which allow leader and team to get to know each other better, express concerns, offer insight, explain decisions and gather candid feedback. Through it all, from the founding of TSS to today, Richards’ lifelong commitment to fostering leadership, service and compassion — not just in business but in the community — has allowed everyone on the team to feel a sense of ownership in TSS’ direction.

“TSS stopped being about me the day I founded it,” Richards says with pride. “This is a business that should outlive me and be a part of this community for generations. That’s the ultimate goal.”