Toby Stansell, president of Acumen IT, shows that circumstances don’t have to be perfect for success to be shared by all



If you didn’t know what a “Toby-ism” was before, you will now. Toby Stansell, president and chief operating officer of Acumen, is known not only for his business success – with a track record of turning businesses around, accomplishments include helping Acumen IT produce top-line revenue growth of 35 percent and achieving a level of profitability never before attained during Acumen’s 14-year history – but also for his ability to quote nearly everyone from every walk of life, turning even the most commonplace phrase into something profound.

Before joining Acumen IT, Stansell served as president of Greenville-based OOBE Inc. During his tenure at the corporate apparel and uniform provider, the company experienced unprecedented growth in revenue and profitability. He has also served in executive management roles for high-impact, fast-growth companies like Factory Logic and Western Data Systems.


What not to do


If Stansell were to write a book, it would be titled “What NOT to Do.” After all, he says, “Wise people learn from experience. Wiser people learn from the fools who went before them.” Among his list of things to avoid were:


1. Don’t be born in the city where the atomic bomb was invented

Born in Oak Ridge, Tenn., he reminisced on his childhood growing up in the same town as K-25, one of three plants that were part of the Manhattan Project. Secrecy was important to the town, ideologically troublesome for a boy who liked to talk.


2. Don’t be born with a hole in your heart the size of a dime

At a meager 36 pounds, his sister weighed more at two years old than he did in the first grade.


3. Don’t live in 900-square-foot government housing with no insulation


4. Don’t go to elementary school where they try to make you a foreign diplomat by the time you’re 8 years old

He was taught both French and Spanish from a young age.


5. Don’t join the military when you’re 5 years old

Students in Oak Ridge wore two military dog tags to school just in case of emergency – not exactly comforting.


6. When you’re 5 years old, don’t ride your bike in the street with your hands off the handlebar when police live in your apartment building

When a police officer warned him not to ride his bike without his hands, he told the officer “no.” Witnessing the encounter, his mother scolded him and told him to apologize. When he refused, his mother threw a blanket over him, tied him up and carried him over to the officer’s apartment to apologize. We’re not sure whether the moral of the story was to always treat others with respect, or to never say no to your mother.


The background, complete with the list of to-don’ts, while fascinating, isn’t the important part. In Stansell’s own words, “It’s not the background that matters. It’s what happens after the prologue.” Though his youth seems like there are more to-don’ts than to-do’s, this hasn’t prevented him from achieving great success, proof that from small beginnings come great things.


Toby-isms on teamwork


Stansell’s childhood may not have been “right,” but after all, being right can often lead to dismissal of others’ ideas, limitation of creativity, restriction of collaboration, and the breeding of arrogance, in turn making you seem unapproachable. To create an inviting, team-minded culture, Stansell uses three guiding principles:

Principle 1: There’s more than one way to get to the endgame and achieve the desired results


He is always open to other options, as long as they are ethical and don’t violate the brand value or the company’s culture.


Principle 2: It doesn’t matter if I’m right or you’re right – let’s just get it right


Sometimes you have to let go of your pride for the betterment of the team.


Principle 3: Major in the four C’s:


Communication, Collaboration, Cooperation and Coordination. As Toby puts it, “We get it right by getting it together.”


Other “Toby-isms” on teamwork include:

  • Don’t draw attention. Pay attention.
  • Talk less. Do more.
  • Talk with people, not about them.
  • Be clear. Always use stunning clarity.
  • In God we trust, all others bring data.
  • Don’t defend it, deal with it.
  • No drama – let’s take our energy out of the air and put it into the effort.
  • Humility is more important than visibility.
  • Learn to say, “What can I do for you?” And actually mean it.


One Greenville


As we learn to let go of the pressures of being right, adopting the “get it right by getting it together” attitude, we begin to build “One Greenville.” Though we have many players, we can have one team, with one shared message, blueprint, scorecard and vision. “Good leadership creates an environment that’s a perfect balance of accountability and authority.” As we work together to create one unified Greenville, we can assess our leadership skills using his three-pronged leadership test:

1. Did we consider all stakeholders? Expand prosperity by requesting outside input

2. Did we project? Did we think ahead, beyond today

3. Did we achieve the intended result? This is the ultimate test. Great leaders set goals.

“Let’s eliminate overlap and inconsistencies and put energy on coordination, not locked in silos without working with partners.” In essence, let’s adopt the abundant-world approach.

Stansell is the shining example that all circumstances don’t have to be perfect for plenty of success to be had for all. When we learn to work together and share responsibility, amazing things can happen. “Making a great life, or a great community, or achieving the seemingly impossible is not always about being right.“ Maybe being right truly is overrated.





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