Follett Shares Insight as NCC’s First Entrepreneur-in-Residence

Steve Follett brings his experience to the CIE

Mia Rossi,

Steve Follett visited the creative space he and his family made possible with a generous donation, the Follett Family Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), at Northampton Community College’s (NCC) Fowler Family Southside Center, as NCC’s first Entrepreneur-in-Residence. 

In addition to meeting with students, faculty and staff for the week of September 16, Follett spoke at the 1 Million Cups event on September 18. 1 Million Cups is a free event on Wednesdays at 9 a.m. in the CIE, open to the public, where attendees enjoy a cup of coffee while listening to prominent community professionals share their experiences in the business world.

Follett shared his business knowledge and advice with students and community members while at the Fowler Family Southside Center’s CIE.

“Development of our product and value for your money — that’s what made us stand out,” Follett said of his business, Follett Corporation, a worldwide manufacturer of ice machines and medical grade refrigerators.

He described his leadership style as very interactive. The key is to have regular and consistent communication, with a clear business plan, sharing the results of the business plan with workers and sharing commentary on those results. Celebrate successes and great performance, and acknowledge failures in order to correct them.

He also stressed that as a leader of your business, you should never forget work-life balance, for yourself or your team.

The biggest thing that brought him success in his competitive industry was a passion in serving customers. Follett took a page from Danny Meyer’s book, Setting The Table, where Meyer mentions having “Enhanced Hospitality” with customers. This is service with open dialogue, optimism, integrity, kindness, work ethic, empathy, curiosity to solve problems for customers, and self-awareness about how you are doing your job. “Have humility and continuously strive to improve. A motivated workforce will come from a business that has a desire to grow.”

He also stressed the quality of his products. “Spend money to get it right instead of spending less on something that isn’t quite what the customer wants.”

Follett gave an example of “Enhanced Hospitality” with his customer, Chick-fil-A. “We supplied refrigerators, storage containers, to them. For years, they had another supplier. Follett Corporation came in to see how we could help serve them better. It was a three-year process with a lot of patience, a time in which we asked all the questions we needed to in order to find out where the former supplier didn’t meet their needs. We also asked what the former company did right because we didn’t want Chick-fil-A to give up something they needed and expected when they changed suppliers.”

Audience members, many of which were also business owners and entrepreneurs in the community, had the opportunity to pick Follett’s brain a bit further towards the end of the morning.

One audience member asked, “How do you keep your customer satisfied?” Follett said that his business had quality of components. “We had manufacturing people to create the product, marketing people to tell us what our market wants, service people to ensure proper service on the machines, and this system of processes helped the business run more smoothly in order to keep the customer satisfied.”

Another person asked if Follett’s hiring process required testing, or was it more intuitive? Follett mentioned using the Wonderlic test, a cognitive ability test, at times to see how a potential employee’s skills match with the position that needs filling. However, Follett said the he primarily focused questions on technical skills and cultural fit. It was mainly intuitive, but “you try to reduce the probability that you make a mistake with someone. It doesn’t always happen.”

The big question about Follett’s company was why he sold the corporation earlier this year after 25 years of running it. “I didn’t want a hired gun to run the business while I still owned it. The only other option was to sell it. When we got interest from people who knew and were already in the industry, we selected a company that gave us the greatest probability to have staying power and keep the company running.”

Some business leaders had announcements at the end of 1 Million Cups. Many spoke about upcoming networking events in the region, places to take business professionals and clients for meetings, and more.

Follett concluded the event by saying, “Don’t forget to say thank you, and with that, I want to thank all of you for coming out this morning to hear me speak.”  

The CIE will welcome Attorney Fred Rooney in October and Peter Luethi, co-founder at Dreamjet SAS, in November as their next two Entrepreneurs-in-Residence.