Reflecting on 35 Years of Success and His Quest to Build a Business of Enduring Value for Future Generations
On July 5, 2023, DeanHouston (DH+) celebrated its 35th anniversary. An incredible achievement made even more notable by the fact that in this 35th year of business, the company was recognized by the Cincinnati Business Courier as one of the 55 Fastest Growing Companies in the Greater Cincinnati region – the fifth time DH+ has received this award. In August, the company was named to the Inc. 5000 list as one of the fastest-growing companies in America – the sixth time the company has earned this prestigious distinction. And, if that wasn’t enough, our founder, Dale Dean, was nominated for the EY Entrepreneur of the Year award and was selected as a CEO-of-the-Year Finalist by the Cincinnati Business Courier, the second time he has received this recognition.
By all measures, after 35 years, DH+ remains a company on the move, with a passionate founder committed to seeing DH+ succeed indefinitely. In this series, we will interview Dale and learn more about his long-term vision for DH+.
DH+: To begin, Dale, I want to offer my congratulations on 35 consecutive years of growth and success and, based on the awards and distinctions, a phenomenal year overall. You must be incredibly proud.
DD: Thank you. I am incredibly proud, but even more so, I must say, incredibly humbled. I accept these accolades on behalf of all the talented people at DH+ because they are the ones who make this company great. I am merely the spokesperson on their behalf.
Our longevity of success validates for me the philosophy we embrace and have deployed throughout this 35-year journey – focus first and foremost on helping others achieve success, always putting their success ahead of your own, and you are guaranteed to succeed. This simple philosophy truly makes all the difference.
DH+: I have heard you express this philosophy, and, more importantly, I have watched it in action ever since I joined DH+ more than 16 years ago. I can honestly say it is a core value of this organization and truly permeates and defines every dimension of the DH+ “Whatever It Takes” culture and mindset. Do you consider this philosophy part of your legacy?
DD: I’ve never thought about our philosophy from the legacy standpoint, but I do consider it an integral part of our DNA.
As you know, my life’s mission is to build a business of enduring value that will benefit current and future generations of clients and team members forever – a business revered for helping people achieve success.
For me, there is nothing more energizing or fulfilling than helping others achieve their goals, dreams, and desired outcomes in life and business. I am as enthusiastic and passionate about this as the day we launched the business 35 years ago.
DH+: While your mission and passion haven’t changed over the past 35 years, a lot has changed. DH+ has had to evolve and transform multiple times through disruptive technological change, rapid growth, several recessions, a global pandemic, post-pandemic workplace dynamics, and looming economic uncertainty. Through it all, DH+ has endured. As CEO, how have you been able to navigate all these fast-paced changes repeatedly?
DD: I wish I could take the credit for successfully navigating our team through these changes, but the credit truly goes to our team and our clients for helping navigate me through these changes. First, we have exceptionally dedicated and intelligent DH+ people willing and capable of doing whatever it takes to help our clients succeed, and second, we have clients who fully embrace us as an integral part of their companies who collaborate and work closely with us on everything. We have navigated many storms together – economic, technological, rapid growth, rapid decelerations, and even a pandemic – and, as I said, we have done this together as one team with one mission, and this has ensured our successful transformation time after time.
DH+: On your bi-weekly companywide meetings, you talk a lot about being fluid and flexible and the importance of embracing change and transformation.
DD: Yes. Everyone on our team needs to understand that the only constant in life and business is change. It’s normal, natural, and certain. As a result, we need always to be fluid and flexible, meaning nimble and agile, so we can adapt quickly to change and not be afraid to try bold, new things and ways of doing things. Don’t resist change or challenges. Embrace them.
Bear in mind that when we started DH+, we used typewriters and did everything manually. We didn’t even have a computer. The commercial internet didn’t exist yet. Digital photography and production tools such as Adobe Suite didn’t exist. E-commerce didn’t exist. Social media didn’t exist. So, we’ve experienced a ton of disruptive change over the past three decades. And now, with AI, a new era of disruptive innovation and innovative thinking that we need to embrace. It’s a very exciting time – and we’re prepared for it because we won’t resist it; we’ll flow with it because we will remain true to our purpose, which is to do whatever it takes to help our clients and co-workers succeed. We will constantly ask ourselves – “what do I need to do today to help my clients and co-workers succeed…then we will do those things!” We will constantly be in the process of transformation. It is as natural as the sunrise every day. It’s an infinite game.
DH+: Since your mission is to ensure that DH+ thrives forever to the benefit of our clients and our people, can you share with us how you are preparing the company to transition into the future, considering this forever-changing landscape?
DD: Yes, of course. I’m always trying to look beyond the horizon and plan how best to ensure that DH+ and its clients and people thrive in the future. Just before our 25th anniversary, which was ten years ago, I developed a formal transition and transformation strategy – a methodical approach to purposefully prepare our people with the skills, mindset, tools, and leadership for the future.
I introduced a new organizational design structure so that the next generation of leaders and managers had the opportunity for hands-on learning and experience-building. I empowered them with the authority, autonomy, and accountability to make decisions, implement change, and elevate their business IQ by doing rather than being told what to do.
Other than my philosophical underpinning, I gave everyone only two rules:
- Make this the place our clients love to do business with – I cannot tell you specifically how to do this, but provided it is moral and ethical, I will support it without interference.
- Make this the place your co-workers love to be part of – every day when you come to the office, check your ego at the door and ask yourself, what can I do today to make this the place my co-worker loves to be part of, and now you have an entire army of people trying to make this the place you love to be part of.
With respect to the leadership transition aspect of the plan, I started by defining all my roles and responsibilities identified in the organizational chart the positions we needed to create to delegate my core responsibilities to the next generation of leaders. For instance, since DH+ was a shoestring start-up, I served as the CEO, COO, CFO, CRO, CSO, and VP HR.
So, as part of the 10-year transition plan, we now have a bona fide CFO, COO, CRO, CSO and VP HR. This year, on July 5, the date of our 35th anniversary, I transitioned my CEO role to Jason Kaple, a 12-year member of the DH+ Leadership team and former GM of DH+ Chicago. Jason is fifteen years younger than me, so he has a long runway, is technically astute and is fully in tune with modern industrial marketing. Combining this with his experienced, proven business operation acumen and genuine client-first and team-building attitude, he is the right person to lead my efforts to build a business of enduring value for current and future generations.
DH+: So, if you have delegated these roles and responsibilities, what is your title and role today?
DD: First, I should explain that my role as “CEO” to me has always meant Coaching. Empowerment. Opportunities. But this is really a definition of who I am rather than a title or a role. I strongly believe in empowering people, creating unique opportunities for them to grow and thrive, and providing mentoring, coaching and support so people can achieve their desired outcomes. I have always received tremendous fulfillment from this. So, I don’t intend ever to quit doing this!
My title is now Founder & Chair. I want to be clear that this title change is not a sign that I am pulling back—quite the contrary. DH+ is my life’s work, and I’m not finished yet. Instead, I am executing against my long-range plan to ensure, to the best of my ability, that DH+, our clients and our people can thrive forever.
I am working collaboratively with Jason on the organizational and operational optimization of the business and the development of our long-range plan. I am focusing my attention on helping our clients, people, and the next generation of leaders succeed. I will serve as a coach and mentor to the current leaders, managers and, for that matter, all our team members.
I have been in the industrial marketing arena now for 43 years and have led DH+ through a lot of challenges and changes over the past 35 years. I will share all these lessons and accumulated wisdom, experience, and energy with our team to help them succeed. I will continue to engage with our clients as I always have; I love this part of my job. I will support our new business development and brand-building efforts. I will collaborate closely with Jason and all the other leaders as they strive to build the most exceptional industrial marketing firm in the world. These are exciting times, and our team has the energy, passion, and support from me to ensure that DH+, our clients and our people will thrive for the next 35 years…and beyond.
DH+: Thank you for sharing this insight with us. We definitely feel your enthusiasm and passion. As part of the next edition of our Executive Spotlight Series, we’ll interview Jason Kaple, our new CEO, followed by each of the other key leaders. These are exciting times for DH+.