Phil Derrow leans on his team at Ohio Transmission Corp. to weather the crisis


Three months ago, Ohio Transmission Corp.’s greatest challenge was managing a very rapid pace of growth. Then, the world fell off a cliff with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I don’t think shocking even begins to describe it,” says President and CEO Phil Derrow, adding that anyone who says they weren’t surprised isn’t being entirely honest with themselves.

Within the first week to 10 days, the company transitioned 1,000 people in its 1,400-person workforce to remote work, and large sections of Ohio Transmission Corp.’s customer base shut down or cut significantly back.

Fortunately, the company’s two divisions are considered essential businesses. OTP Industrial Solutions is an industrial distributer of mechanical power transmission equipment and pumps, and Air Technologies is North America’s largest independent compressor distributor and service center.

As Derrow’s senior leadership team helped employees figure out how to work from home, using systems already robust enough to handle the load, they stepped up communications and kept the staff focused on staying connected to customers.

Some of those customers, in fact, were still doing well, such as those in the food and beverage industry. The municipal sector also needed help with pump repair when people started using unique products in place of toilet paper.

For Derrow’s part, it was a matter of continuing to empower his team. He let them lead the charge because, while he likes being in a leadership role, he’s never thought it healthy to be the sole authority.

“I don’t have all the answers,” he says. “I don’t have all the best ideas — not even close to it. I’m not as close to our customers as our salespeople and service people are. I’m not as close to our associates as our managers and leadership team are.”

He says it’s important to avoid thinking you have to come in and save the day, falling into the trap of a Messiah complex.

“I never, never wanted to be that — that doesn’t end well for the Messiah,” Derrow says, adding that it also isn’t good for the organization or the employees.

Capitalize on the groundwork

These past six months have driven home the difference between the highs and lows of business and how important it is to stay on top of that with real-time information and quick decisions.

However, Ohio Transmission Corp.’s business model has proven advantageous.

“It isn’t about me keeping a pulse of the business,” Derrow says. “This crisis has really brought out the strength in our model, where our leadership team is already close to people. So having to take additional measures to remain close when the model changes wasn’t hard because it wasn’t any different philosophically than what we were doing.”

The company already recognized how important it was, and when the executive team meets each week — still in person, albeit 6 feet apart — there are essentially no surprises.

“Everybody on the team knows his or her role,” he says. “They know their teams. They know what needs to happen.”

The executive team has channels already in place for feedback, which in turn aids their ability to make decisions and execute.