Tom Degrandt started working at Sentry Equipment before some of our newer employees were even born.
He joined the company as a finisher in July 1995 when he was just 20 years old because he wanted to learn how to weld and he wanted health insurance – two things his previous job couldn’t provide. He was offered a job at the end of his two-hour interview and never looked back. “Time flies when you're having fun,” he says.
Tom grew up on a small farm outside of Oconomowoc in the rural community of Concord, where he cared for pigs, chickens, ducks, goats and cows. He wanted to be a farmer, but realized he needed to choose a different career path that offered more opportunities. “You know, you can't really have a conversation with a cow. You can, but other people will look at you weird,” he says with a laugh.
After 24 years on the job, he’s now a fabrication supervisor, a role that requires him to monitor and schedule labor for different areas of the manufacturing process, like welding and painting. “It's not a monotonous job,” he explains. “You're always learning something new. The environment is positive, the people are good to work with, and we're all here for a common goal.”
That shared goal is to produce the highest quality parts for customers all over the world. The key to that quality and the support behind it is the employee-owned business model. Tom says having a stake in the company makes him do better work and draw more meaning from his job. “When you buy something from Sentry Equipment, it's the Cadillac or the John Deere of the industry. You want it to be shiny. You want it to work. And if it doesn't, you want to have that support to make sure it does work.”
Three things he’d take on a deserted island: “I would probably take flints to make fire, probably a Rambo knife and maybe a beach chair.”
Favorite Movie: “Old School” – “It’s got some wild antics in it.”
Did he know how to pronounce Oconomowoc before working at Sentry Equipment? “I did. I actually was born in the Oconomowoc hospital.”
paying it forward
Part of the Sentry culture is passing down knowledge and mentoring new or younger employee-owners. Tom’s first boss at Sentry, Butch Gartzke, helped Tom excel in the areas he wanted to work and introduced him to Jim Phelps and Jerry Czemierys, two mentors who supported him in learning to work with metal. “If I ever got frustrated, Jerry was there to set me back in the right path. And if I didn't go on that path right, he was there to kick my butt back on it.”
Jerry passed away earlier this year, leaving Tom with a drive to further Jerry’s legacy by mentoring other new employee-owners. “I want to continue to mentor and train the younger generation coming in. I've always been the first to say that I don't know everything, and I never will, but I will do my best to help you do your job.”
This support elevates the performance of everyone on the team and encourages “A” player behavior, from working overtime to ensure an issue was fixed for a customer or staying until midnight so coworkers have what they need to get their work done. “To me, that kind of stuff shows that we’re doing what we need to do to meet customer demand,” he says.
When Tom’s not working, he likes to drive ATVs, fishing and spending time with his wife Lisa. They live north of Watertown, about 30 miles west of Sentry’s headquarters in Oconomowoc.
“I feel like I accomplish something every day,” he says. “What I do makes a difference, and I take pride in the quality of our work. I hope I’m here for many more years to come.”
Employee-Owner Profiles is a regular feature that highlights members of our team. As an employee-owned company, Sentry Equipment believes that employee ownership makes a difference. Our employee-owners are dedicated to hard work, positive results and continual improvement and innovation to provide our customers the highest quality products and services.