We sat down with two local leaders to get their insights on success, development, motivation, and more.
Joseph Thomas III
FIELD Services and Juvenile Drug Treatment Court Manager at Kalamazoo County Ninth Circuit Court—Family Division
President and Chief Executive Officer of ITC Holdings Corp.
First Things First
First big purchase?
Thomas: My professional barbecue pit.
Apsey: A brand-new car: A shiny, red Ford Probe.
First thing you would do with a million dollars?
Thomas: I would fund a community center for local kids.
Apsey: Take my family on vacation!
First award you won?
Thomas: As a teenager, I won a junior golf tournament.
Apsey: I was born and grew up in Scotland. In elementary school, I won a Robert Burns poetry contest.
What is your proudest leadership moment?
Thomas: I remember when others first started identifying me as a leader. That is my proudest achievement. I didn’t grow up seeing myself as a leader, but when other people began to recognize the potential in me, believed in me, and even trusted me to lead them, that’s when I started to live up to my position. Now, being in a leadership role, I can give voice to a population that wasn’t always at the table.
Apsey: The day I was announced as the new president and CEO of ITC, I stood in front of all our employees and shareholders to proudly express my gratitude for the opportunity. I had the chance to articulate my vision for the growth of ITC and dedication to driving value for those we serve. This moment serves as my true north; I think back to it every day to make sure I stay true to what I stand for and represent.
Which leader would you most like to meet?
Thomas: President Obama. I first learned about him before he was running for president. I read his memoir, “Dreams from My Father,” and saw a lot of parallels between our values. I’d love to pick his brain and learn how he went from organizing a grassroots activism in Chicago to becoming a president of the U.S.
Apsey: Margaret Thatcher. I marvel at her vision, tenacity, and ability to lead significant reforms in an environment that was so resistant to change. And, as a woman and leader of one of the world’s most powerful countries almost 40 years ago, I would be fascinated to hear about her experiences and perspective.
What is your secret for managing a busy schedule?
Thomas: I try to live every moment as it comes. No matter if I’m at work or at home, if things are hectic or laid back, I do my best to enjoy every moment. I don’t take anything for granted. I stay positive and find little things each day to be thankful for. There’s so much negativity in the world already that you have to find ways to keep the praise high.
Apsey: Despite a hectic schedule, I always make it a priority to have a weekly meeting with my senior leadership team so we can all stay abreast of current events and provide each other with direction and feedback. These meetings also offer an opportunity to set the tone and expectations. Communication and collaboration are the keys to effectively leading, managing, and executing.
How do you celebrate the successes of your team?
Thomas: I’ve learned that not everybody wants to be in the spotlight. I try not to have a cooker-cutter approach to recognition. As a leader, I have the responsibility to know my colleagues as people, and I individualize my approach accordingly. Some people respond better to a private pat on the back, while others appreciate humor. The one thing I never do is give out gift cards. To me, that’s so impersonal.
Apsey: One of our values at ITC is “Being Better Together,” so we are always taking advantage of opportunities to highlight the great work and accomplishments of our employees. We recognize and reward performance with everything from simple shout-outs and thank you notes to our annual formal award ceremony. I believe that celebrating success drives a healthy culture.
How do you relax?
Thomas: I enjoy spending time with my kids. I love watching them grow. When I leave work, I do my best not to take it all with me. When I go home, I want to be completely focused on my family. When I’m with my son, I talk to him about his passion: Soccer. And my daughter loves to sing, so I have to be there to support her. If I focus on my kids and my wife, the troubles of the world fall away.
Apsey: Day to day, the most effective way for me to relax is to stop, put down the electronic devices, and enjoy the time with my husband and family. Although I’m never quite perfect, I strive to balance work and family time. That’s the only way I can feel balanced and relaxed. My happy place is our cottage up north in Michigan. When I’m there, I can be happy and appreciate my family and the beauty of the outdoors.
What’s the best way to start the day?
Thomas: Every morning, I wake up and read one of the Proverbs [from the Bible]. To me, [the Book of] Proverbs is about wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. Reading them strengthens me to face whatever the day may bring. When I walk in the door each morning, I know I’m likely to see and hear unbelievably heartbreaking stories, so it’s essential for me to be spiritually grounded.
Apsey: Always with a cup of coffee! Every morning I mentally walk through my day, thinking not just [about] logistics but the purpose of each meeting and decision. This helps me prepare for what I need to accomplish. I envision how I need to “show up” to every interaction.
How do you practice self-care and manage your energy?
Thomas: I keep things light. In my workplace, we confront difficult situations on a daily basis. When you deal with so many heartrending stories, you have to find ways to stay upbeat. I love humor. Finding opportunities for laughter helps keep my team and me in good spirits.
Apsey: Your energy level is a crucial factor in your engagement and performance as a leader. You also have to set the example. Of course, sleep, exercise, and eating well always help, but it starts with your inner self. Managing your energy, and resulting behavior, begins with being satisfied, happy, and at peace with yourself.