Tom Crowley has always followed his heart, whether it was his band or his business at MBX Systems

Let people do their job

Crowley says disciplined strategic planning is one of the keys to success in any business endeavor.

“I have an outside business coach who I have been using since 1999 and ever since we started working with him, we continue to grow,” Crowley says. “What that process does is it forces us to look internally and externally on an annual basis in terms of SWOT analysis — strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. We create plans around what we want to do. Then we’re very strong at communicating our plan to the entire company.”

The value of the communication component should not be underestimated. Crowley wants his team to feel the support of management rather than the pressure of his company’s leadership team.

“We have a culture where we foster autonomy,” Crowley says.

“It’s taking the time to find the people who are the right people to work in your company. If you do that and you give them a plan and you let them run, that’s when things really start to happen. What it also does for our executive team, when you have such strong people working your plan, it allows our executive team to work on the business. We can continue to look three to five years out.”

When you set out to hire new employees, you have to put as much effort into it as you would any other aspect of your business. By using an extensive and thorough interviewing process, Crowley is able to uncover the traits that make up an ideal candidate to work at MBX.

“We do our best to make sure the people who work here understand our culture and can work with our value set,” Crowley says. “We have a strong set of values upon which we base how we roll here. Everybody here gets it.”

Even when it’s operating at the peak of its potential, however, you still need to monitor your culture and entry channels to make sure you’re not missing something or slipping in one particular area or another.

“We have a section we do in the annual strategic planning process about brutal facts,” Crowley says.

“It can be facts about anything. It can be facts about the market, facts about employees who work here, just brutal facts. Things that we really have to address. It’s a safe environment to bring these things up. It gives us an opportunity to address some serious issues head on. Some of these issues might be HR related where people aren’t happy or something just is not right. It’s just fostering that open communication which allows managers to find out what’s going on. It’s making people feel like they can come to you with a problem. My door is open, so you can come talk to me.”

Lead with humility

As Crowley looks at his leadership style today compared to what it was when he was transitioning from band member to entrepreneur, he finds that he is a lot more patient today.

“I think I listen better,” Crowley says. “I’m continuously grateful. I try to bring a positive attitude when I walk into the place. I let people know that I care for them. Sometimes, it’s difficult because there are a lot of the balls in the air. But I try to make sure I make time for the people here and try to listen to them as best I can to what they have to say.”

In addition to the changes in his own life and leadership career, the business and the challenges it faces have evolved as well. The economic downturns of both 2000 and 2009 could have been significant obstacles to continued growth.

“Fortunately, we still kept growing through that time and I had no layoffs in either of those downturns,” Crowley says. “We had a big hard drive crisis in 2010 where a tsunami wiped out a hard drive plant in Singapore. That was a major crisis here. But I had a great supply chain and a great bank behind us and we were able to do what we needed to do to get through that.”

One truth that most successful leaders take to heart early in their careers is that you will not be the answer, or the provider of an answer to every problem your company faces.

“Sometimes people tell you stuff where you want to think you know it all,” Crowley says.

“I don’t know it all. So it’s being humble enough to say, ‘Yeah, you’re right. I should have done it that way.’ Admit your mistake, learn from it and move on. Man, have I made a ton of mistakes. It’s just remaining humble and open to people who ultimately really care about you.”

Fortunately, the mistakes are few and far between these days. MBX continues to grow its revenue, the company has more than 130 employees and Crowley says he’s bullish on the future.

“Three verticals right now that we are focusing on are security, storage and video with a concentration on what’s called GPU, or graphics processing units,” Crowley says. “You’ve heard of all the breaches in security that happen all the time. So projected investment in security, it’s total investment — some is software and some is hardware — but it still has a very strong trajectory to it.”

In the meantime, the former member of Idle Tears can take pleasure in the person who sits right outside his office.

“My daughter works here now,” Crowley says. “When I started she was a little tiny kid and now she’s in a cube right outside my office. That is a thrill.”

How to reach: MBX Systems, (800) 560-1195 or