trophy awards
(L-R) Kevin Jones, VP of Huntington Bank (event title sponsor); Richard Coldin, VP of Strauss Troy (event awards sponsor); Landon Martin, Trophy Awards; Brent Cooper, president and CEO of NKY Chamber. (All images courtesy of Trophy Awards Manufacturing)

A&E Exclusive: Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Names Trophy Awards Manufacturing Cool Place to Work


On March 29th, Trophy Awards Manufacturing was awarded the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce’s Cool Place to Work award. Landon Martin, trust builder, represented the company at the 2018 Business Impact Awards ceremony to be recognized. 

According to Tom Busch, president, this award comes after four years of working diligently to improve its culture – a journey that has meant hiring a mentor, reconstructing core values and staff, and implementing a new Employee Care department to craft individual development plans for staff members. 

The story traces back to 2001, when Busch purchased Trophy Awards from his parents with his sister and brother-in-law. Though the company reported measurable growth over their next 12 years of ownership, problems in their relationships as co-owners caused company culture to suffer, impacting the longevity of its staff. 

Busch tells A&E, “By the fall of 2013, I was ready to quit ... I had reached the point where I despised each day at Trophy Awards – I did not despise the work, but my relationships with my co-owners had gotten to point of hopelessness and raw frustration.”

To resolve this issue, the owners hired Chris Halter of Perfect 10 Corporate Cultures to act as a mentor, both in business and personal life. After working together for a few months, Halter interviewed the Trophy Awards team to get a sense of its cultural health. Busch says, “It was clear that our lack of leadership, and relational dysfunction, was a primary cause of our poor culture.”

Phase two of Halter’s intervention included re-strategizing leadership. Busch elaborates, “I had to be willing to cast off the comfort of my previous decade of failed leadership and take on a mature and genuine heart of servant leadership.”

Phase three was to establish the company’s core values and reevaluate its staff accordingly. Halter says that over 80 percent of conflict is caused from differing values, so to Busch, this meant that if Trophy Awards worked to find these core values, it would have an overall better foundation for success. “We believe there is power in agreement, and we worked hard to build unity in the values,” he explains. “We started hiring and firing based on these values … We probably lost 50 percent of our team within the first two years of (this transition).”

Looking back on this entire process, Busch says he believes turning a culture from toxic to healthy has been the most challenging work he’s ever done. “I don't believe that a good speech, or even a workshop, can create a great culture that is sustainable,” he says. “I think it takes years of perseverance and tenacity.” He compares it to flying a jet while trying to change out every part: “We've had to keep the business running, while we question and refine every part of our company.” Despite this, he states that the work has been worth it.

Staff members have reported positive effects both in and out of work: improved marriages, financial vitality, a greater level of self-awareness, and emotional health. Busch adds, “Our staff members interact and care for one another (in new ways) … When someone is struggling, we care for them with empathy, and when someone is excelling, we celebrate with them.”

Speaking to other business owners in a similar situation, Busch offers a word of advice: “I would encourage other owners to cast off the lie of despair, and to lean into hope and reconciliation. If we can work our way out of our pit of division, I believe there is hope for any business and any relationship

“You have the opportunity to impact every one of your staff members and their families. I believe in the long run, it will be worth every effort you give to the people you lead.”

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