How this ambitious business-owner and HDO alum wants to make the workplace better, from the film on the windows to one-on-one career-planning sessions
Jonathan Thompson, HDO Class of 2020, had been researching MBA programs for a while when he found Human Dimensions of Organizations. Two years after graduating with his master’s degree, he’s using his HDO leadership and ethics education (and even the same readings from his courses) to build his business, and his employees’ careers
First, can you tell us a little about your business and your range of products?
JT: Sunsational Solutions started as a family business in Indianapolis. My Dad moved our family to Texas in 1998 and after years of working for the business and graduating from college, I wanted to build it further on my own. I bought it in 2007, got married to my wife (who is now a partner in the business) and 15 years later we have 23 employees.
Primarily we offer window films solutions, but recently we’ve added decorative films to our products. Architects are starting to spec these wrapping films, like you’ll see some office doors and even walls that look like solid wood, but are actually just regular materials covered in very realistic films that can really change the entire look. COVID-19 really impacted our business as more folks started working from home and realized how warm different rooms in their house would become during working hours. We ended up getting a lot of business toward the end of 2020 simply as a result of people noticing their home environments. We had a similar trend happen after the 2008 recession, as weatherization became really popular in home-building due to the tax credits.
How did you discover HDO and how did it benefit Sunsational Solutions?
JT: My wife was working at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at UT doing web design and coding when we heard about this program (HDO) through a few faculty members. She suggested I check it out, as I was researching MBA’s and considering the expense. I went to one of the info sessions after work one night, took a look at the Master’s Capstone projects and spoke with Dr. Amy Ware a few times and I was completely sold.
It really benefitted myself and my business in unexpected ways. I knew from the beginning I really wanted to study and be good at hiring people. I wanted to understand how to attract people to my industry quicker, as a good portion of it was aging out into retirement, and I was looking at using the Big 5 personality test associated with the Myers-Briggs and really make it my own. COVID-19 took place during our cohort’s second semester, which is academically heavy on leadership. With all the varying content and books we were reading, I immediately saw a difference in how I was leading my team at work and how it was molding me to be a very different person, with a new lens of considerations and more confidence. Unlike a lot of other programs, I can identify and explain exactly what I got out of every single class in the HDO Master’s program. To really boil it down, we were learning how to really look at and assess issues and situations as opposed to judging them. I still, to this day, refer back to and use the books I was reading in the curriculum.
What is Sunsational Solutions looking to achieve in the next few years?
JT: It’s funny you ask, we just received an award, 2021 National Dealer of the Year-Mid Market, a few weeks ago! Hundreds of businesses across the country apply for two awards a year-one for the national companies and one for the regional/local companies. We actually set this award as a goal back in early 2021, so we’re very proud of that. 2022 is all about growth. We want it to be a year of personal growth for everyone in our business. We sat in our meeting rooms and talked about people’s individual goals within their jobs and careers. I was actually shocked at how open the employees were about sharing very transparent goals with us, and it was really energizing to map out these plans. We want people to be motivated to perform to grow within the company and achieve as much as possible.
Industry-wise, bulletproof glass is becoming more common and even a regulation in some types of buildings. Unfortunately, with an increase in protests and school shootings, bulletproof glass is a much bigger part of the business now. When school shootings began happening, the intruder wouldn’t have to work hard to break into the building or break through the glass doors, as one bullet would just shatter the glass and they could walk right in. Now, schools have installed this film (tempered glass) on their doors and windows (in addition to higher tech security that’s come in more recent years). The same plastic used to make water bottles, is used to make these films that have an adhesive to keep the glass together like a laminate. We seal the film to the frame, and anyone breaking in would have to break that bond between the glass and the laminate film, but the point is that the glass won’t leave the frame now. We call this a “delayed-entry safety film”.
There’s a company that developed a solution to stack films together about the thickness of 10-12 sheets of paper each which will actually stop a bullet, repeatedly. There are polycarbonate inserts also coming out that you can put in over existing glass that’s near impossible to get through without a chainsaw…which would attract a low of attention. Safety films have become more popular in recent years, for example, now federal buildings are required to have bomb-blast film.
If you were to get into the safety side of the business, do you think your HDO education gives you a different perspective or filter when it comes to motivations or thought processes?
JT: Yes, absolutely! It makes sense from a business standpointm, certainly as it becomes more common and popular. I’m always asking myself if it’s the right thing, morally, to market or suggest. I think about, specifically, if we were to market the importance of having bulletproof glass to folks, I’d be suggesting that there’s an existing threat or need for it. It’s hard to differentiate whether or not that’s instilling an unnecessary fear in people. I find myself really asking deeper, multifacated questions that I might not have considered before HDO. I can have a deeper level of conversations with my coworkers and employees as a result.
My wife and I talk a lot about the interactions that have come about between friends and colleagues since the recent elections. I believe that this is the time we need to be embracing people who have differing opinions and thoughts from our own. We talked about these ideas in the leadership semester of HDO, these differences are important, whether or not you agree with them. It’s important to have differing opinions as part of a functioning society. My HDO cohort went through the beginning of COVID-19 and the 2020 election together, so we really got to see many of these HDO concepts play out in real time.
Where do you see HDO impacting your life going forward?
JT: Immediately I’ve really seen my HDO degree impact the conversations and the environment of my workplace. Every week we’ve started having a business-wide meeting where we talk about all the ongoing projects from the sale all the way to the install process. I’ve found that it’s really given everyone an opportunity to talk about what works and what isn’t working and has really cut down the amount of “gossip” or one-off comments that come across as negative. Taking away the opportunity for seemingly idle gossip has really brought our employees closer and enforced this idea of building this business together.
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