Years ago, when businessman Tom Hill was perusing the company’s rule book, he noticed one that said, “Do not stand on toilet seats or you will be terminated.”
Asking a supervisor about the odd rule, the man stated that employees would sit atop the commode to take a nap so as not to be found in the restroom. That is the moment Tom Hill, then-President of Kimray, Inc., an Oklahoma manufacturing company, knew something had to change.
“I realized we needed to stop purely making rules for every wrong thing our employees did and start building a company culture based on character,” says Hill, now chairman of Kimray, which produces oilfield equipment and controls and employs more than 500. “Character is who you are, and no rule will change that.”
That story and more are relayed in his new book, Making Character First, which tells the dramatic “turn-around story of Kimray, and his personal story of the founding and development of Character First® and includes a step-by-step guide for transforming the culture of any organization to one of character.”
As a lifelong Southern Baptist, Hill is a committed Christian who strives to practice what he preaches.
“While it is important to model good behavior, it is not sufficient. I believe you also have to teach good character,” he said.
Hill began his career at Kimray, Inc., in 1970, working for his father-in-law and founder of Kimray, Garman Kimmell, who passed away in 2008. Today, his sons, Thomas and David run the business, which continues to implement and exude the character-based program.
“The principles of Character First, which thousands of businesses and school districts and communities in more than 27 foreign countries have used, can be applied anywhere,” he said. “They can apply at home,” said Hill, who has 20 grandchildren.
He and his wife, Kay, are active members of Oklahoma City, Western Hills, which emphasizes community action and international missions.
“I was saved when I was 11 at Pryor, First,” said Hill. “It excites me when I see my own grandchildren going on mission trips around the world.
“I do sometimes get pushback from well-meaning people about Character First,” said Hill. “‘Shouldn’t it be ‘Christ First?’ they ask. I like to remind them that the 49 character traits we emphasize stem from the character of Christ. We are able to take our curriculum, as a non-religious group, into places that many pastors and church groups would not be welcomed.”
Hill is hoping his book, which was co-authored by Walter Jenkins, will be an encouragement to others who need to experience a transformation in their business or family.
“The key to building good character is first to see people doing good things, (and) praise them for the character behind it,” he said. “For example, I like to praise my grandchildren when I see them being responsible or attentive, which are just two of the 49 traits.”
Hill said managers, like any people, are trained to see the bad in others and point it out.
“We need to change our eyes to find the good and praise it,” he stressed.
In all of his life, Hill sees God at work.
“God chose to put me in the place where I am, and it is my job to be faithful with what I am given in terms of time and talents and treasure,” he concluded.
Brian Hobbs is director of communications for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.