Outstanding Corporate Citizenship Awards Finalist Interview with Thomas J. Deierlein, President & CEO, ThunderCat Technology
1. Why do you believe CSR strategy is important for a company/you?
We promote the fact that our purpose is as follows ”The purpose of ThunderCat Technology is to make the United States a safer and better place for all Americans.” In our daily operations we do this by providing various Federal Agencies with best in class technologies to help them perform and excel in their respective missions. So, it is only natural that in order to fulfill this purpose outside of classic business operations, we are finding other ways to pursue this mission. Therefore, we look for ways to give back to our community. It is also important for our company identity and morale for our team to know we are not doing this strictly for business purposes – we are truly making a difference.
2. Do you believe that the CSR work you participate in should be affiliated with the work you/your company does? For example, should an Oil company’s CSR be in cleaning up oil spills?
No, I don’t. Although it seems logical at first glance, I believe that an organization should pursue those areas and causes that the employees identify with the most. In the Energy company example – perhaps the cause they believe in most and fight for is homelessness, or inner city education, or international food or medical programs. I don’t think they should shy away from issues related and certainly should look to be engaged – but at the same time a company should be directing resources (money, time volunteering, management/advice) to causes they relate to as a group regardless of business model or industry.
In our example, it does happen to hold true. ThunderCat Technology is a SDVOSB, Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business, and one of our focus areas is helping the families of wounded warriors. Our CEO, Tom Deierlein, was shot by a sniper and spent almost 8 months at Walter Reed and the VA spinal cord polytrauma center in Tampa. He is a certified peer mentor for SOCOM (Special Operations Command) and therefore helping wounded warriors is close to our heart.
In our example, it also turns out not to be true. We are a technology company, yet some of our work, like coaching a local teens hockey team or serving as a docent at the Air and Space Museum is unrelated to our business. But, our engineering manager was a professional hockey player and that is a passion. Our PMO, is a retired Navy pilot and that is his passion. In this case, the most important role of the company is to ensure they are given enough time off and a flexible schedule to allow them to engage with the community and explore their passion.
3. What makes you/your company stand out compared to other individuals/companies participating in CSR?
We don’t know enough about what others are doing. We don’t see it as a competition. Helping others is part of our DNA. It is what we do. Quite frankly it makes us feel good about our business and ourselves – we enjoy it. My guess is that is the same for other companies.
One thing that may make us a little different is the range of causes. Certainly we have a focus on children of wounded warriors and helping Veterans, but if ANY employee comes to us with a cause they found or are passionate about and they want to donate to or participate in their program – we look at it and engage/donate if possible. That is why our donations/efforts go from USO to Breast Cancer, to scholarships for student athletes, to a local robotics team.
4. Do you believe contributing back to the community allows you/your company to have a deeper connection with your/its consumers?
Certainly our connection to the military and veterans is something that creates a bond with some DOD clients if they find out about it, but that is not why we do it. We do it because we believe in the causes and enjoy making a difference in people’s lives. We are a B2G company, vs a B2C, business-to-consumer so our efforts largely go unnoticed – and we are 100% fine with that. ”The purpose of ThunderCat Technology is to make the United States a safer and better place for all Americans.”
5. What are some events or causes that inspire you and your team?
Here is a list of some of the top ones we have engaged with over the past couple of years. http://www.thundercattech.com/about-us/philanthropy/
As mentioned, our founder is a Wounded Warrior, shot by a sniper in 2006 in Baghdad. Therefore, as a Wounded Warrior and as a service disabled veteran who owns a small business, two of our primary focuses are helping Wounded Warriors and other Vetrepreneurs. Second, we help innocent children impacted by war including Gold Star families. Third, we prefer to help smaller grassroots organizations.
We also do more than simple donations – we prefer to be engaged as volunteers in the causes we support. For example, our CEO is a certified peer mentor with the Wounded Warrior Project and with the USSOCOM Care Coalition and has served as a primary peer mentor to 4 Special Operations wounded warriors, (3 Green Berets and an Air Force Combat Controller). We have helped a non-profit get started called Invisible Wounds (for PTSD). We serve as business mentors for transitioning Vets with Commit Foundation. Our PMO is a Docent with National Air & Space Museum.
The CEO is also a co-founder is Tom Deierlein Foundation, www.tdfoundation.org whose mission is TD Foundation provides aid to children directly affected by war in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as to children of wounded warriors and fallen heroes here in the US.
Lastly, over the past 2 years we have engaged with a few local organizations including Our Military Kids, http://ourmilitarykids.org/ based in McLean, Quality of Life Foundation, http://qolfoundation.org/, based in Woodbridge, Code of Support, http://www.codeofsupport.org/ based in Alexandria, Boulder Crest Retreat, http://www.bouldercrestretreat.org/, in Bluemont, and Luke’s Wings, http://www.lukeswings.org/ right in downtown DC
6. What advice would you give to individuals/companies trying to participate in CSR?
First, don’t force it or do it to simply say you are “giving back”. Find causes and charities that resonate with your staff. Second, look for smaller, grassroots organizations where your donation and volunteering can have a major impact. Someplace that $1,000, $5,000 or $10,000 or even $100 makes a huge difference. Third, get engaged, don’t just write checks. For example with Commit Foundation, http://www.commitfoundation.org/, ThunderCat sponsored their Dallas event with $5,000 but the CEO is also a 3 time mentor for transitioning Vets.