Publisher Terry Tanker met with Danfoss North America President Rick Sporrer. The two discussed leadership qualities, management responsibilities, sports, business inspiration, bucket lists and growing up on a farm.
1. Do you have a favorite sports team?
Iowa State. I’m a graduate and I continue to follow them.
2. What’s your favorite possession?
I grew up on a farm and in 1949 my dad bought a brand new 25 horsepower tractor. I still own it. About 3 years ago one of my daughters was in a high school mechanics class and they totally rebuilt it as one of their class projects.
3. What is your favorite hobby?
Anything outdoors. I love biking, hiking, and golf. My wife and I are learning to play pickleball.
4. What are three biggest things on your bucket list?
I have three daughters. All of them played soccer. Two of them played collegiate soccer. I’d like to attend a Women’s World Cup game with all three of them. Next, I’d like to travel to every continent. I’ve got four down, three to go. Antarctica is the challenge. And, I would love to drive at Daytona Speedway maybe signing up for the Richard Petty driving school.
5. What’s your background?
I was born and raised on a family farm in Iowa. It’s a farm that my siblings and I still own. And then, I attended Iowa State University, and majored in engineering. My first job was working for a food processing equipment company. I was an ice cream processing engineer. In 1991 I had an opportunity with Danfoss, and I’ve been here since.
6. Do you have a funny business story?
Years ago, on my first trip to Brazil our planning agent routed me from Sao Paulo to Rio instead of flying direct to save $300. Friday evening my host dropped me of and I assured him I was all set. I didn’t realize everything at the airport was in Portuguese and the gate agents didn’t speak English. I literally guessed and got on a flight. It wasn’t until the flight attendant went through the safety procedures in Portuguese then in English that I found someone I could communicate with. Luckily, I was on the right flight.
7. As the new President have you made any significant management changes?
No, fortunately the North America business unit has been running very well. We have nine other regions around the world, and they’ve all been structured to align operations, priorities, key elements, that our teams should deliver.
8. Were there any surprises when you took over as President?
I had served on our former president’s leadership team, so I was familiar with the North America operations. I came from the Power Solutions segment and needed to learn more about our Drives and Climate Solutions segments. There has been a learning curve, but it has energized me, and I’ve really enjoyed it.
9. What’s the most important quality you think you have to have as a leader?
Resilience, and it’s more relevant today than ever. Our business environment is changing, due to things we can’t control. These challenges force you to efectively move through a changing landscape.
10. What aspect of managing is most satisfying to you?
I like to empower our teams and provide resources, information or funding to enable them to be successful. It’s gratifying to see our teams come together to form a customer solution and succeed.
11. What’s your most important management responsibility?
Creating an environment where team members understand the goals, have clarity and feel like they can provide their input. If they have a concern, they can voice it. If they have a great idea, they can initiate it, they feel empowered. And then at the end, I want them to be recognized for their success.
12. How do you inspire your team?
Engaging them and establishing the goal. Then giving them the resources and tools to succeed. There are often many ways to achieve a goal so provide the context and resources and then get out of the way and let them do their job.
13. What’s the most significant challenge you’ve faced in the last 12 months?
Coming out of the pandemic, there was an unforecasted and unprecedented increase in customer demand. And it stress-tested logistics, supply chains, manufacturing, and our workforce, in ways we’ve never experienced before.
14. What business principles guide you?
The word I use is balance. There’s a need to be consistent, predictable, and simplistic in our processes. However, you need to be innovative and drive continuous improvement. So, the guiding principle for me is balance.
15. What fundamental business areas are you focusing on?
Making sure we establish a leading employee experience. In this business climate we want our workforce development to be a differentiator. Companies that can attract talented employees, are the ones that are best able to meet their customer needs. Also developing, deploying, providing the most energy efficient products and solutions to our customers. And, lastly regionalizing and improving, our supply chain.
16. Is there an area of the business that you should delegate, but enjoy doing? I’d like to flip that question. For the first time in 33 years with the company I have an administrative assistant. Honestly, I’m learning, how to best utilize a very capable person. I’m actually delegating things to her that I’ve always done.
17. In which areas of management do you excel? Listening. I think that’s been a quality I’ve had for a long time. When you listen to people it makes them feel like they can share their ideas. It’s a safe environment where people can open up, and you get more engagement, and more productivity as a result.
18. What are your key priorities this year?
Driving energy efficient solutions. For years we’ve invested in the technology and now, coupled with government incentives, we are in a strong position to support the incorporation of better solutions with our customers. We’re focused on decarbonization and all the efforts surrounding that.
19. Why have you remained with Danfoss for 30+ years?
I am amazed and proud of the many ways Danfoss touches our everyday life. We have offerings in a broad array of industries. There is an incredible amount of technology in what we do and I enjoy being able to convey how we’re making an impact. Second, it is the many opportunities to meet, work, and celebrate accomplishments with a diverse group of people from around the world.
20. What keeps you up at night?
Understanding how today’s events like trade restrictions, higher interest rates, and business incentives will shape our business both near and long term, and ensuring we have a culture of urgency and agility to respond in these volatile and uncertain times.