Being a Different Company

Admitting My Biases


By Jason Radmacher, MBA – Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of TBD Solutions Inc

It is odd being the son of two different lineages. On one hand, I am two generations removed from German immigrants who came to this country just prior to World War II. Their name is the German surname I carry. In contrast, my mother’s side has a deep-rooted American family tree that goes back to our nation’s founding. The families of my great-grandparents migrated to the south where my grandparents were raised, met, and fell in love. After World War II, they moved to Michigan as one of the industrial states that was brimming with opportunity. Neither ever lost their Southern wit or accents and stood out like sore thumbs in this Yankee state.

While my paternal grandfather succumbed to cancer in his early 50s, my maternal grandmother “Grands” lived to be almost 90 and was healthy enough to cook my 41st birthday dinner in her own home. The joy of having a longer relationship with my grandmother was that, to this day, I can still recall things she used to repeatedly say. One of her famous southern colloquialisms was, “Every old crow thinks its chicks are the blackest,” acknowledging her own profound biases in favor of her grandbabies.

As one who highly values transparency, this heritage leaves me with little choice about how to lead into this blog article: to talk about what I believe makes TBD Solutions a different kind of consultancy.

And I am biased.

Why TBD Solutions is Different

With an undergraduate business degree injected with a high-level of organizational behavior thinking and a graduate degree that furthered the complex philosophies of purposeful business planning and analysis, my temptation is to wax into an academic examination of why TBD Solutions is the way it is.

While I do prize that kind of thinking, sometimes the best lenses are the most simple and direct. That is why it’s best explained through this lens:

Understanding where you were informs where you are
and is a great predictor of where you are headed.

TBD Solutions  launched on April 1st , 2011 – April Fools’ Day. Along with my friend and company co-founder, Laura Vredeveld, we were two people that were willing to be a bit foolish to make something new, leaving behind very good jobs and pensions.

This is not to say that we woke up on the morning of March 31st , 2011, and said, “Let’s go start a new company tomorrow!” It was a decision made after almost three years of research, planning, and purposeful engagement, but the start came well before that.

In my executive role at a county-based behavioral healthcare organization, I had achieved what I had set out to do at a young age. For over 10 years, I had built a premier team that was doing incredible work. It was my full intention to continue in that role, perhaps take on additional administrative leadership, and retire in my 50s with my pension in tow.

What spurred this shift in direction is that Laura was invited to work internationally with people who shared a passion for business as being a way to change communities. While I began with no interest in such thinking, Laura expressed a hope and joy that had relationships with others as its core premise.

She roped me in with a pull that sounded undeniably “better,” even at the risk of setting aside the “guarantee” of the position I had.

Laura believed we could begin a company that prioritized relationships, placing the needs of others on a higher footing– especially those that are both dependent on other systems and have precious little control over them. It made sense why Laura’s thinking as a limited-license psychologist and quality director, would coalesce around such aspirational values.

We began to confer about what we could do to build upon our value of prioritizing people. As we inventoried our knowledge, skills, and abilities, a picture began to form as budding consultants:

TBD Solutions will offer excellent consultative services at a reasonable price
so that all necessary resources can otherwise be used to meet the needs of
people served by our customers. To this end, we will “redeem capitalism” by
infusing a focus on people and reinvesting in communities instead of
a primary focus on higher profits for the owners.

All companies must be able to make money, or they cannot be viable. But capitalism, when left unchecked from greed and a paramount desire for high returns, can quickly turn into something exploitative. We pivoted the foundation of the business by altering what success would mean and by building in ways to keep “return on shareholder equity” from becoming a beast that devoured good intention.

Upon launching the company, we were incredibly nervous. While we had each received accolades for our professional efforts in the safety of our jobs with larger employers, we questioned whether anyone would want to pay us for private consultation. To our pleasant surprise, we quickly received our first contracts and had people reaching out to us with opportunities.

New discoveries continued to surprise us as we grew and learned. We found best practices in places we never expected it – from very small organizations where staff must wear many hats, to large companies that care deeply about those who rely on their services.

By 2013, we had added our first full-time employee, Josh Hagedorn, our current chief knowledge officer, then continued to grow with a dozen employees in the subsequent years. Each person who joined the team did so by leaving great jobs and engaging in new opportunities with our small band of professionals.

With each new person joining, we also began to ask a question of each new “TBDer” teammate. While acknowledging that we all had to take on assignments that may not be our ideal choice, we also asked this question:

As a TBDer, do you have a passionate dream of what you would like to pursue in
meeting the needs of others and allowing for continued growth?
If so, how can TBD Solutions sponsor it so that it can become a reality?

It was a more difficult and involved question than we could have imagined. But the investment in other people’s dreams has resulted in truly fantastic results from our people to create new service offerings and affect change.

Here are some examples:

  • Practicing Effective Management (PEM) training came from a dream to help up-and-coming supervisors have a bedrock of tools to be good leaders.
  • Our experienced and passionate team works with universities and other state leaders in analyzing and innovating transitions for justice-involved populations.
  • We’ve seen our Crisis and Clinical professionals, led by Travis Atkinson, rise to national prominence in developing world-class crisis systems and caring not only for those served, but for the staff in those high-stress positions.

This is what makes us different. We have a highly invested team that has the support of TBD Solutions to live balanced lives in pursuit of their passions. We have incredibly lofty standards and expectations, but both are about “performance” and not “you must spend endless time in meeting minimum standards.”

This brave and ridiculously smart team is invigorating to be around and requires that we each bring our best game daily. Our TBDers love being part of a company that never loses sight of people over profit.

How do Laura and I feel about being around such amazing people? Humbled. Honored. Blessed.

That is how we see our team at TBD Solutions. And it’s why we’re a different kind of company.