PCA is a passion for Tom Lewis – Founder and CEO of the homebuilder T.W. Lewis Company – whose T.W. Lewis Foundation provided seed funding for PCA-Phoenix. Learn more about what motivates him in this interview with former PCA Chief Revenue Officer David Shapiro.
I don’t know that I’ve ever been as excited about being involved with a non-profit as I am with PCA. I think it’s because it has to do with sports and character, and those are two subjects that get me on a different level. When you put those together, it really gets me excited.
David Shapiro: How would you summarize your involvement with PCA so far, and what are you most proud of regarding your involvement with us?
Tom Lewis: I take a lot of pride in talking to people and telling them I’m associated with Positive Coaching Alliance, and that I’m leading their effort to come to Phoenix. Sports mean a lot to me. Character-building means a lot to me, and Phoenix means a lot to me. I’m really proud to put all those things together. I appreciate PCA making that possible.
DS: Why do you specifically support Positive Coaching Alliance?
TL: It goes back to my childhood. A lot of times in our (PCA-Phoenix) board meetings, we’ve gone around the room and asked people, ‘What brought you to PCA?’ and everyone talks about a childhood experience in sports. My dad was always my coach up until I was about 12 or 13. It was nothing but positive. That’s all I did. If I wasn’t at school I was at practice. I can’t imagine growing up without sports.
Sports is just like life under a microscope. What plays out in real life, plays out in 60 minutes on a basketball court or two hours on a football field. All the things that are involved in life are involved in sports. You hear a lot of talk today about teamwork in business. But if you’ve never been on a real team, and you’ve only read books about what teams mean…it's hard to really understand the team concept.
Playing a sport with someone is like going to battle with someone, sharing a foxhole with someone. You enjoy the ups and the downs and the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. It’s so real when it comes to teaching the lessons of teamwork, discipline and life.
In life there are a lot of ups and downs. Life is a rollercoaster. But if you’ve played sports, you know you don’t win every game. You try to win every game, but you know you’re not going to win every game, so it doesn’t kill you to lose one. You just try to shake it off and come back. There are people who never had sports experiences who can’t handle defeat. Handling defeat is an important life lesson.
And, who are the organizations in America that are really leading the charge today in the area of character development for young people? To me, sports and character-development go hand in hand, and it’s something that needs more attention.
DS: I know you coached your three boys, and reflecting back on that, how do you think PCA might have helped you if you were exposed to our organization 15 years ago when your kids were still in youth sports?
TL: PCA could have helped me. I had a lot of fun with them from age 5 to about 12. I didn’t have coaching techniques like the ELM Tree, or how to shake off a bad play…those things that PCA offers, but I generally tried to give each kid a positive experience. I genuinely tried to win because it was fun for me, and I thought fun for the kids, but I made sure everybody got equal playing time.
I tried to work them hard and give them some discipline, but I think there are a lot of tips that I didn’t have. What I learned about coaching I learned from the good coaches that I had.
DS: You’ve obviously built a very successful business, and I’m curious if any of the PCA principles you’ve been exposed to relate to the philosophy you used to build T.W. Lewis.
TL: In building T.W. Lewis Company, first of all, we had core values: honesty, hard work, reliability, integrity, achievement and compassion. My values came from sports. If I hadn’t ever played sports, I think I’d be a different person.Trying to win is not important to everybody, but I’ve always just enjoyed competing. But if I lose, I’m OK with that. I don’t get all upset. It’s just like, ‘Well, we’ve got to try harder to win next time.
You could compare making money to winning. The bad coach wins at all costs. The bad businessman makes money at all costs. We don’t do that. There are things more important than money, and those values are six of them.
DS: We’ve talked about incorporating your approach to business into PCA’s approach to our operations. Can you say more about your vision behind that and the impact you hope to have on PCA’s operational structure?
TL: Details are really important. You can’t go wrong with the overarching philosophy of Better Athletes, Better People or Building Character Through Youth Sports. Nobody’s going to argue with that. Let’s call that a great idea. But there’s never been a great business built on a single great idea.
Businesses get built on execution and on knowing what their core values are and being willing to change everything else in order to increase their performance and their results and their customer satisfaction levels. It’s all about executing a good plan.
There’s a saying I’ve always loved. Woody Allen said it. You can win 80 percent of the time if you just show up, 90% of the time of you show up and have a plan, and 100% of the time if you show up and have a plan and are committed. It’s one thing to have goals. If you don’t have a goal, you’re a rudderless ship.
Let’s say you have a goal to build character through youth sports. Well, what’s the plan? Now you’re getting into the nitty-gritty. What are we going to do, when are we going to do it, how are we going to do it, how are we going to measure our success, what are going to be our short-term goals, what are we willing to sacrifice to make these things happen? It’s really just digging into the details.
What I’ve done with T.L. Lewis Company for 25 years is really appreciate the little picture as much as I do the big picture. It’s kind of like, Vince Lombardi, who said, ‘This is a football,’ at his practice. You do have to break down and get back to the basics. Business planning is a great opportunity to do that. Give me every line item you’re going to spend, every line item you’re going to possibly generate revenue from. Now, what are we going to do?. What do we expect? And just go through that, and that’s the way we’ve always planned things. And it’s amazing how close we come to our plans because they were very precise.
DS: I imagine you get approached by a lot of non-profit organizations both locally and nationally, and I’m curious how you sort through all those requests for financial support, and where do you focus your giving?
TL: We started our family foundation in 2001 and take 10% of our pre-tax profits and give it to the foundation, so we’ve built an endowment. We continue to fund it every year with whatever we can.
The first thing we’ve focused on has been higher education. We’ve had a scholarship program in Arizona for 12 years now. We’re having our banquet next week where we’re awarding 12 Maricopa County/Phoenix area students with college scholarships. That’s been a big part of our program, and we plan to continue to do that and increase the size of it, and we’re adding career counseling and personality assessments and other learning opportunities to add some value to our scholarships. We like the idea of working with talented young student and helping the most deserving ones through college.
Another area that has resonated with me is children and families in need. America is a great place to live, but there’s 20% of our population living a life that we can’t even imagine…the homeless, the children in crisis, the foster children, the emotional/behavioral problems. There’s a lot of children and families in need…call it God’s working poor…if they’re lucky enough to have a job. So we support a number of nonprofits in that area.
The third area, as we label it, is ‘our community,’ which is metro Phoenix, and that’s where I’ve put Positive Coaching Alliance as one of those things that make our community a better place to live. We also support The Nature Conservancy in Arizona and the Desert Botanical Garden, here in Phoenix.
DS: What’s your hope or vision for PCA? If you look at our organization, say five or 10 years from now, what do you hope PCA looks like?
TL: First of all when it comes to Phoenix, we should set a goal for five years from now -- what ultimately we want to become -- and then try to get there in five years. You’d measure it by the number of clinics you put on and maybe the number of children that you touch through the coaches. I'd like to see us doing 300 clinics per year with 50-percent market penetration in five years. Nationally, by 2020, I would like to see PCA have a chapter in 20 markets. Those are my hopes for PCA, that we ramp up quickly and efficiently.