After starting his employment at Toro 28 years ago, in March 2005 Michael Hoffman was named president and CEO of the company. “I’m lucky to be part of Toro and to have a job that lets me create opportunities and give back,” he said. While Hoffman would be the first to say that it is too early to make predictions about his new role, it seems that “giving back” will be a defining characteristic of his leadership. Hoffman acknowledges his debt to former CEO Ken Melrose, who mentored him, and sees himself as carrying on Melrose’s tradition by mentoring others.
When Hoffman first moved to the Twin Cities from southern Minnesota in 1977, he had a college education in mind. An opportunity to work for Toro surfaced soon after his move, so Hoffman enrolled in the New College evening program at St. Thomas. He started by taking two classes a week and soon was taking four. He went to school after work Monday through Thursday and took classes on Saturday as well. “I was working in a department that allowed for this,” he explained, “and I wasn’t married at the time.”
At that pace, he expected to quickly finish his undergraduate degree, but then he moved into a sales position, which forced him to take fewer classes per semester. About a third of his coursework was done at Boston College while he worked for Toro in Boston from 1982 until 1984. “My senior year took two-and-a-half years,” Hoffman said. In 1988, his commitment paid off; he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in marketing. “It was a great experience,” he said. Hoffman didn’t stop withhis undergraduate degree; he earned an M.B.A. from the University of Minnesota.
Hoffman describes his role at Toro as “bringing the company’s vision to life and then getting out of the way.” He is a fan of business author Jim Collins and believes that, as Collins recommends, he needs to make sure Toro keeps its unchanging values while it embraces constantly changing ways of accomplishing its mission. As he adjusts to his new role, Hoffman has been turning not only to Collins but also to other authors who can help him grow into the role of CEO. His current reading includes The Five Temptations of a CEO by Patrick Lencioni and You’re in Charge – Now What? by Thomas Neff and James Citrin.
Hoffman may be busy in his new role (“I have a lot of learning that is yet to take place,” he said), but he refuses to see himself as special simply because he is a CEO. “Time’s a challenge for everyone,” he said. “I want to find a way to balance work and family and give to the community at large.” He seems to be succeeding. A picture on the wall of his office reveals one of his passions: white-water rafting. At the time of this interview, he was planning a trip down the Salmon River in Idaho with his wife. And no matter how busy he gets, family remains one of his priorities. Since Hoffman lost his own parents in his 20s and 30s, he places a lot of importance on staying healthy so he can be there for his kids and their children.
Hoffman’s life demonstrates commitment to learning, hard work and relationships. He knows that commitment has contributed to his success, but he also describes himself as a lucky guy. “I’ve been blessed,” he said. Hoffman was recently elected to serve on the board for the Greater Twin Cities United Way.
He is grateful to be in a position where he has so much ability to give back, but he doesn’t believe that you have to wait to achieve some level of success before you “pay forward” your blessings. “It’s important to think about how you might give back. We can do it sooner rather than later.”
The Toro CompanyToro began nearly a century ago as a manufacturing company serving the farming industry. By 1921, it had developed the first mechanical golf course maintenance equipment. Today, it manufactures equipment for homeowners, contractors and sports facilities such as mowers, irrigation equipment and snow throwers. Hoffman says that Toro is a values-driven company that is “very much about people. Our long-term shareholder value comes from our culture. We are successful because it is all about people.”