HomeWork features AHAM members’ insights on careers, success, life outside of work, and AHAM membership. This month, we spoke with Tony Kircher, President, Winix America.

What is the best advice about leadership you have ever received?
I am not sure if it falls into the category of advice but is certainly the best opportunity I had been given and there were lessons that still influence me today. In my late twenties, I was hired to develop the Asian market, especially Japan, for my employer. The business had been “limping along” for years, not quite meeting its potential. Sensing that they needed a real paradigm shift and that I was the guy to do it, one of the owners gave me “permission” to lose everything they had built and to start over from nothing. It was a brave choice on his part.
I went forward boldly. However, within a couple of years the business was bigger than it had ever been and on a strong growth trajectory. It was a lesson in risk taking, bravery and market disruption that still serves me today.
  
How important is it for leaders to foster a culture of mentorship in their organizations? What makes an effective mentor?
Winix is a Korean company, and therefore It would be unusual for us to NOT have a culture of mentorship, but I must admit it has not always been an easy task to marry the Korean expectation of what that means with the cultural perspective of our US or European workforce.
It seems that many companies have concepts of training and coaching as part of their management culture and many companies understand teamwork as more than a buzzword. But a mentor relationship goes deeper than that. It requires a commitment of selflessness for both parties. It requires a level of compassion, honesty, communication and surrender of ego which is rare.
I am not sure you can legislate that into an organization – Coaches? Yes. Trainers? Of course. Highly effective Team Leaders? You bet. But real mentors and mentees need to be part of your culture from the top down.
I have been lucky enough to have been on the receiving end of that kind of care a couple of times in my career, and it has made all the difference. 
  
How has a diverse and inclusive workforce helped your company to meet its objectives?
If you allow me, I would like to answer this question in a slightly different way. From my perspective promoting diversity and inclusiveness both inside and outside of our company IS the objective! 
Of course, we all know ways in which a company can benefit from diversity. But when you are personally able to do something that creates a more inclusive society then you should.
Therefore, we deliberately make sure that our hiring practices as well as our advertising and marketing at Winix includes everyone from every background, every ethnicity, every ability, and every family make up we can imagine. 
My own family is multi-racial, so this is an objective that is close to my heart. I feel we have an obligation to not only welcome diversity and inclusiveness at Winix, but to promote it both inside and outside of our company. 
  
What are your secrets to a productive day?
• Have a good breakfast - usually with my two boys (ages 11 and 12) – where we talk about our plans for the day. 
• Plan and schedule my day and priorities first thing in the morning and a classic list of things I want to accomplish.
• Encourage 15-minute meetings so that we do not waste time. 
• Review action items including “Who” and “When”.
• Schedule “focus” time in my schedule whereby I can shut my door and work (or think) without interruptions. 
• Don’t neglect my family, friends, health, or ethics – (these things have a funny way of sapping your energy and occupying your thoughts if you do not make time for them). 
• No electronics on my nightstand. A good sleep tonight will help you tomorrow!
  
Predict an innovation that will revolutionize the next generation.
I come from the sales and marketing side of business, so I suppose I’m most interested in the societal innovations and trends rather than the technical innovations. One of the trends that will necessarily revolutionize our industry is the desire to find an urgent solution to the threat of global warming, climate change and environmental degradation. 
  
What does your company gain from its involvement in AHAM, and how do you encourage your employees to stay involved?
About a year ago, when I was questioning a direction at AHAM, I had a staff member (politely) tell me that if I expect to have place at the table that I need to “show up.” He was right.
Since that time, I have tried to do just that, and I am duly impressed with the depth of understanding of the staff and their ability to develop consensus in a room full of rivals. There are ways that our industry would not be able to move forward without having AHAM as the connecting force. And I am looking forward to doing more within this forum.
  
What is your best advice you have for somebody who wants to succeed in the home appliance industry?
Find an organization that not only meets your career ambitions, but that also meets your personal values – and then give it your all without worry for your own personal gain. That will come in time.
  
What would be your dream job outside of your current industry?
I have an undergraduate degree in Asian Studies from Nanzan University (Nagoya, Japan) and a Master’s in International Affairs from Washington University (St. Louis). I have also spent several years living and working in Asia. I enjoy the challenges of negotiation, diplomacy and consensus building. Therefore, my dream job would be to serve as a US ambassador to one of the countries in the Asia/Pacific region. 
  
If you could go back in time 20 years, what would you tell your younger self?
20 years ago, I was living in Singapore running the Asian region for an office products brand and, frankly, looking for a new opportunity. I was already talking to other companies, including Winix who was not quite ready to open their US division. I therefore needed to take a leap and strike out on my own for about a year as a consultant, a sales rep and a singer/guitarist in local pubs (I kid you not!). 
It ended up being the best, albeit risky, career move I could have possibly made.
So I’m not sure I want to give any advice to my younger self… that younger and braver guy did alright in that moment, and this older guy would be proud of him for that!
HomeWork headshot
Tony Kircher
President
Winix America

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