Since its founding in 1994, Choice One Engineering has been different from other places to work. Early on, Tony Schroeder and his four co-founders prioritized creating a personable, responsive, and fun environment where people were serious about results but not taking themselves too seriously. Like many entrepreneurs, they set out to build the company they wanted to work for and weren’t finding elsewhere.
In 2002, Tony connected with Aileron through a family friend. Choice One was doing well and had eight successful years on the books. Still, he believed there was more the company could do.
“We started doing all the things Aileron told us to do,” said Tony. “We created a people development process because we didn’t have one. We adjusted our company’s purpose and designed our work around it. We didn’t just want our employees to have a fulfilling life. Our vision was to provide our employees with a fulfilling life for a lifetime. The DOC System of Professional Management, Conscious Leadership and countless other programs and support from Aileron helped make that possible.”
As the company grew and Tony looked ahead to the future, he hoped to retire early and create a smooth transition for the company while keeping Choice One grounded in its fun-loving-and-results-delivering culture. Aileron helped make that possible.
Transitioning Leadership with Intention
Early in his professional management journey, Tony realized the importance of hiring and training great leaders to build the next generation of the business. One of those leaders was Matt Hoying.
Matt Hoying joined Choice One in 2004 and quickly saw the benefits of a business powered by professional management. He appreciated how Tony and his fellow leaders were developing their people and transparently running the business with purpose. He knew he wanted to be part of the business beyond engineering work.
A few years later, Matt approached Tony with the idea of starting a second Choice One location in Loveland, Ohio. He saw an opportunity to expand beyond the company’s Sidney, Ohio roots, and was eager to use that experience for his personal and professional development. Tony also saw an opportunity: to train the next generation of Choice One leadership and create an exit plan for his retirement.
“Empowering Matt to build a second location for Choice One was a real-time, small-scale experiment in seeing how he could run the business,” said Tony. “I saw his ability to think about the big vision for the company and what client relationships could and should be, and we started building toward a future where Matt was Choice One’s president.”
Matt and Tony mapped out the transition using a 10-year period for Matt to thoroughly train on principles of professional management and to gradually take on Tony’s responsibilities. Over time, though, they realized 10 years was longer than they (and the company) needed. Matt became president of Choice One in September 2016 – about five years earlier than originally planned.
In addition to the transition of daily tasks and strategic roles with Matt, Tony worked closely with his Aileron advisors on his own emotional transition. Like many entrepreneurs and business owners, his role at Choice One was tightly interwoven with his identity as a person and leader. Who could he be if not president at Choice One? How did he want to intentionally use newfound free time? How could he support Matt while also creating and maintaining boundaries? Exploring these questions helped Tony articulate a vision for his next chapter and ease into the transition.
Living Professional Management Throughout the Whole Organization
In his new role, Matt knew there were core elements of Choice One to carry forward, and many of those were grounded in the DOC System of Professional Management. For example, within their first two months at Choice One, every new employee participates in Exploring Conscious Leadership and Activating Professional Management. DOC Model graphics hang around the Choice One office, and employees not only know when the leadership team’s monthly DOC meeting is, but they often share topics and suggestions for those meetings.
“The work we’ve done and continue to do with Aileron gives our entire company a common language,” said Matt. “We have shared expectations of how to engage with each other and a framework to handle conflict. We understand the importance of being self-aware and the energy we are each responsible for bringing to every interaction. Professional management provides a way to hold each other accountable and be very clear about why and how we work.”
One of the ways Tony remains involved while preserving Matt’s autonomy is by providing monthly group coaching to Choice One’s employees. The gatherings provide a space to suspend judgment, be vulnerable, and cheer each other on.
“We want to help people be the best they can be, and group coaching provides a space for that,” said Tony. “It’s optional, but the majority of Choice One employees participate.”
Embracing Peer Empowerment
Since 2016, Matt has participated in Aileron’s CFP Peer Group, a cohort of presidents, owners, and CEOs who’ve completed the Course for Presidents® and meet regularly in a small group setting to share challenges, ideas, and perspectives.
While each group member is a president or owner, each member also has a different focus and area of expertise. Together the members quickly find common threads that run through their collective experiences.
“Our peer group has helped me see professional management as more than a theory. We’re able to talk about what’s hard, listen to other perspectives, and then use what we need to move forward. The same approach won’t work for all our businesses, but the peer group provides ideas, accountability, and intentional time to focus on the bigger picture.”
Connections with the Aileron community have been vital for both Matt and Tony. As Tony transitioned out of his presidential role at Choice One, he became an Aileron business advisor and now shares his experience to help other business owners build strong businesses and fulfilling lives. Tony and Matt are still in frequent communication and are committed to continuous learning in their respective roles.
Leadership can be lonely, especially when it feels like you’re in uncharted territory and no one else understands your specific struggles. Peer groups, common language, and a culture rooted in professional management help Aileron community members like Matt and Tony lessen that loneliness by sharing the joys and the struggles.
Together, we help each other move forward and build fulfilling lives for the long haul.
We’re shining the spotlight on our community and sharing the stories of our members. Are you interested in sharing your Aileron journey? Reach out to us.