TPM, Inc. is a leading Carolinas-based technology company that has built a reputation for providing cutting-edge solutions to the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) community. Founded as “The Print Machine” nearly 50 years ago, TPM has six locations across three states: Columbia, Charleston and Greenville in South Carolina; Charlotte and Raleigh in North Carolina; and Atlanta, Georgia.
TPM’s President Chris Fay spent the early part of his career working in the construction industry following graduation from Clemson University in 2004. A Construction Science and Management major, Fay held both project management and business development roles with Harper General Contractors over a seven year period, and then owned his own graphics solutions business, before joining TPM almost 10 years ago.
GroundBreak Carolinas recently chatted with Fay about the current state of business and what’s ahead for this growing firm that focuses on helping companies “improve their designs, deliver more work, and win more business.”
You started out with TPM as General Manager in 2011, moving up to Vice President, and ultimately, President in 2018. What have you learned in each of your roles?
Some of the most important lessons I have learned revolve around the success of the team, including: it takes a highly successful team of people to move a company forward; one needs to let go of certain projects and trust and empower others to take the lead; that the wrong person on the team is more destructive than not having them at all; and finally, I now understand the real value of seeing people grow and succeed. I have grown so much in my nine-and-a-half years with the firm; however, I am not even close to where I want to be.
2020 has been a challenging year. How do you keep yourself and your employees focused during a pandemic?
2020 has absolutely been a challenging year, but as I look back over the past few months, I can honestly say that it will be one of the best years yet in some ways – not just for our company, but also for me personally. While we cannot claim the best financial performance, we have decided to focus on the things we can control: our thoughts, our actions, and how we choose to spend our time. As a company, we decided to take this slower time to ensure that we are set up for long-term success. In the end, we are a far better organization after experiencing 2020 than we were before. On the personal side, I had the chance to spend quality time with my wife and two young boys (ages 9 and 11). Our family had some of the best times just being together…. a gift that may never come our way again.
Can you elaborate on how your team has prevailed in 2020?
The single most important thing we did during this time is to communicate within our company. This is one of the reasons, in my opinion, that we earned the No. 13 slot as one of the Best Places to Work in South Carolina during this challenging time. We were very open and honest, sending out videos, emails, and hosting company meetings, etc., to ensure the entire team was informed of what we were experiencing together and how we will prevail. My two words during this time were “perspective” and “grace.” We also emphasized that we need to exercise grace with one another, both up and down the chain of command. Leadership will not always to make the right decision, our sales teams may not hit their quota, we may all have to deal with managing and teaching children at home; but if we exercise grace with one another, we will get through this time as a team. And, I am happy to report that we did all those things.
Your employees talk about a family atmosphere at TPM. How do you maintain a family atmosphere while growing the company?
A family atmosphere just means “where your heart is.” I equate our TPM family to any family, in that we are always looking out for each other’s long-term best interest. It may mean that we need to have some hard conversations, it may mean that we need to help develop one another, it may mean that we are free to make mistakes without having our family turn its back, it may mean that we celebrate each other’s successes as individuals. There are a lot of synergies to a family; when we talk about TPM, it is the way we treat our employees, our customers, our partners, and peers. How do we maintain the family atmosphere? We live it, every day.
What are some of the latest software programs that Bluebeam has released?
We have a number of key strategic partners, and I am proud to say that TPM is the Carolinas’ leading partner for Bluebeam, the predominant PDF and Collaboration tool for the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) communities. Many companies in the AEC space today use TPM for solutions like Autodesk technology, document management services, outsourced VDC/BIM and laser scanning services. When people ask me to tell them the benefits of Bluebeam, my very easy response is that it is a “no brainer” for anyone in the AEC space that needs to view, collaborate, mark up, and interact with PDF documents. I used the tool years ago when I was working in the construction industry and use it in my current role every day. And, with all the value that it provides, Bluebeam continues to bring more benefits, features, and solutions to the product set that helps it lead the market with AEC PDF tools.
What is the biggest difference at TPM today compared to when you started with the company nearly 10 years ago?
TPM was in a very interesting spot in 2011 when I joined the business. Our business typically lags the economy by a few years, so that year (2011) was our worst after the Great Recession. We had started a few new divisions, bought a few companies, purchased a new building in Charlotte, and were working with our customers in the new norm. So, to say it was a challenging time is an understatement.
How did you plan for the future of TPM when you joined the firm in 2011?
In 2011, TPM was in a great position, in that we had a good infrastructure, exceptional products and services, great customers, and a lot of really good people. However, it was time for a reinvention of the business. We consolidated divisions, rolled out new sales strategies, built a team of individuals who were willing to embrace change and never stop learning, expanded our regional efforts to increase market share, enhanced our culture, and constantly re-evaluated where we were and where we were going. Today, in 2020, I can honestly say that we are in a better position to succeed than ever before. Was it easy? No. Was it fun? Not always. But was it an incredible experience with more to come? Without a doubt!
What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?
Whether it be at the gym, at the office, in my personal or family life, I just love to see things grow and change. So, when I wake up in the morning, I know that my success that day will be dictated by how I have impacted my family, my team, my company, and peers.
What is the most significant lesson that you have learned in your career?
One lesson/mantra that I always carry with me is to “Lead by Example.” This is a phrase used by Marine Corp Officers and one that I take to heart. To effectively lead sustainable teams, you must lead by example every day. It is not to say that you cannot make mistakes, but the example you set every day sets the pace and expectations for the team far greater than anything you say.
You want to make a real difference when you volunteer your time. Tell us about your recent work with a specific charitable organization.
While some people feel like they need to sit on multiple boards and committees every year, I have come to realize that I can only truly make an impact when I am fully engaged and adding value; therefore, I limit my involvement to one or two key organizations at a time. My most recent contribution was sitting on two board terms and finishing as Board Chair of The Children’s Museum of the Upstate (TCMU). My passion is kids, so when I give time back, it is typically to help our youth develop and realize their full potential. My time on the board at TCMU was extremely rewarding but was also full of challenges. We dealt with financial struggles, employment concerns, turnover of our CEO, and much more. But, through the resiliency of the organization, the community leaders involved, and the staff moving the mission forward, we were able to continually overcome challenges and help drive the organization to be one of the premier children’s museums in the country. For that, I am proud to have played a small role during my time on the board. I am currently looking for that next chapter and organization that I can really sink my teeth into.
What are some of your favorite questions to ask those whom you lead?
One question I ask everyone is: Where do you see yourself in the next 3 to 5 years? It is important to me for people to not only focus on where they are today, but where they are heading in the future. If people do not have a picture of where they want to be, it is hard to start taking actions toward that goal. So, I always encourage our team to be thinking ahead. In what new roles do you see yourself? What challenges are you willing to assume? In what areas do you need development? For TPM to be successful for the long term, we must make sure that our team is successful far into the future… and it all starts with that vision.
What do you do for fun?
My wife tells me that I need to play more golf, which I think most guys would love to hear. However, I have the most fun when I am with my wife and two boys. My happiest moments come from just being together – whether we are swimming at the lake, riding in our golf cart, going on a trip, or simply watching a movie on the couch.
TPM is the Southeast’s local resource for engineering, design, and document management solutions. Visit TPM’s website for more information.