Making Mountains into Molehills
Joe Blanchard is inducted into the Hall of Fame
Spend as much time learning about and understanding people skills as you do technical skills. Remember the lessons your parents and grandparents taught you about how to treat others and to behave and try to continue to do that throughout your adult life. Once you’re in a leadership role with people looking to you for guidance and direction, consider how you treat others. How you act will have an effect on them and how they act in the future. That’s one of the responsibilities that comes with leadership. You’re not a balanced person if you just want accolades without the obligations.” These are words by which Joe Blanchard has lived, conducted business and become highly successful.
Joe is the president of Blanchard Machinery Company, the South Carolina Caterpillar equipment dealer. Under his direction, the company has grown to include six divisions with numerous Caterpillar models and other machinery lines.
His success is no surprise — heavy equipment is in his bloodline. “My family’s history with Caterpillar goes back to the early 1950s with our grandfather becoming the Caterpillar dealer in Tampa and Orlando. My earliest work experience was going to the office on Saturdays with my father,” Joe says, though his father remembers it a little differently.
“He liked to work when he was a young man,” Bob Blanchard says. “I’m talking about 10 or 12 years old. As soon as I felt it safe for him to run the lawn mower, he wanted the job. Now remember back then, we mostly had push mowers that took quite a bit of time and effort. So he was our first lawn mower in the family. He continued to work, and when he was old enough I started taking him to the machinery business.”
But it was Joe’s first job outside the family trade that taught him one his greatest lessons — how to treat others. “In high school, I was a janitor in an office building. I learned a lot about how people view and treat other people based on who they perceive they are. It was a lesson that resonated early with me. I probably made $2 an hour, but the life lessons were invaluable.”
The elder Blanchard wanted to ensure his son made his own way in business, so he saw to it that all of his kids had someone else as a boss. Bob told that “someone else” as long as his kids were made to do every job everyone else was doing, they would get along fine. “I also told that ‘someone else’ if they start letting my kids slack off, then we would not get along fine.” As a result, Joe did every job there was to do: sweeping the floor, cleaning the bathrooms, putting up or retrieving parts from the shelves. “Anything he was able to do, that’s what he did,” Bob says.
At some point, most kids are enchanted by construction equipment. They hold a certain bit of romance. Joe certainly became captivated, but Bob wasn’t sure it would last. “Liking the business when you’re 10 or 12 years old is much different than liking it when you’re 22 or 24, but Joe continued his love for the machinery business, and he still has it to this day.”
Before Joe could become a successful businessman, he first had to overcome being a middle-of-the-road student. “I ended up going to boarding school as a junior in high school, and my academic advisor there said I had unrealized academic potential,” Joe says laughing at the memory. In a structured environment, however, he did well, becoming a better learner.
The other major obstacle he had to overcome as part of a family business was having people recognize and understand that, while he received some advantages because of his family connections, he also had to have the demonstrated ability to make his own success. “It goes back to how people first view you. People would say, ‘He’s the boss’s son.’ You get the opportunity because of that, yes, but you have to earn the respect, and you do that by working as hard or harder than everybody else,” Joe says.
Joe credits much of his success, both in business and in life, to his parents. “They demonstrated a set of values and work ethic, and from that I am lucky. A lot of people don’t have that advantage in life, but I was blessed with a couple of great parents.” When he moved to South Carolina in 1987, he came under the tutelage of Phil Denny, the sales manager for the company based in Columbia for the South Carolina Caterpillar dealership at the time, and a person who walked steeped in the traditions Joe’s parents demonstrated.
Joe claims that Phil has the greatest set of people skills he has ever seen, a man who always looked to find a win-win for everyone. He still seeks his guidance, though Phil long ago retired. Joe even arranged for his oldest son, Rozier, who worked for a Caterpillar dealer in another state, to consult with Phil, simply to learn all he could about the finesse and nuance of dealing with people. Joe’s other son, Boyd, currently works with a Caterpillar dealer in New York and his daughter, Katherine, is a marketing intern at Blanchard as she is completing her senior year at USC.
One of the values Joe’s parents taught him included the principle of giving back. His mother, father, aunts and uncles all remained heavily involved in civic activities in the Tampa Bay area. The behavior they modeled made an impression on Joe, and today he carries it forward. “If you‘re in a business that makes a living in the community, you owe the community service in return. It was something both my parents exhibited while I was growing up. When I moved to Columbia, I got involved early on in several community things,” he says.
He served the now-defunct Cultural Council of Richland and Lexington Counties as chair of its fundraising campaign. He also helped raise funds for the Riverbanks Society, which supports Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens, and has been involved with the Habitat for Humanity of Central South Carolina for a number of years. “I was chairman of their board for two terms. That was really rewarding to me because we ended up sponsoring and building homes for people. It was a way to engage everyone who is part of our workforce, really doing something good for the community, and it was really a positive experience.”
Shortly after moving to Columbia, Joe served on the Columbia College Board of Visitors. He later served as a trustee and became board chair. In 2014, the college honored him with its coveted Medallion Award, recognizing Joe for his generous support for the mission of women’s higher education with what the school termed, “transformational gifts and leadership that have inspired others to step forward.”
Currently, Joe chairs the South Carolina Mining Council, a function of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control that adjudicates issues pertaining to mining permits in the state. In addition, he serves on the board of Blue Cross/Blue Shield of South Carolina.
One of his greatest passions is the Columbia Museum of Art, a place that holds special meaning for Joe. It’s where he met his wife, Melissa, when she worked there. “Some of the greatest satisfaction I’ve had involve some of the things that we’ve been involved with at the Columbia Museum of Art,” Joe says. Some of those efforts include the noted exhibit Turner to Cezanne — a Blanchard-supported show that brought 46,000 people to the museum in 2009. The museum jointly awarded the Blanchards The John Richard Craft Leadership Award for their philanthropy.
It is difficult to determine who is the greater beneficiary of the relationship between the Museum of Art and Joe and Melissa Blanchard — since Joe counts his family as one of his greatest achievements. However, Joe notes that Melissa has played a tremendous role in developing the kids to work in the family business.
“I am an outdoorsman, and I love to go hunting and fishing, as much as anything just spending all that time outside. I love to travel. But the thing I really enjoy is spending time with my family. We are close to one another and have great relationships. I’m very proud of that,” he says.
He also considers it one of his greatest blessings that he has a great many friends. “I’ve got lifelong friends, new friends and true friends. A lot of people, I think, don’t have that in their lives.”
True to form for a relationship person, Joe gives ample credit for his business success to the men and women who make up his workforce. “We’ve been fortunate to hire and retain a wonderful group of people in our company. Our company culture is one of excellent customer service and helping one another. We have been able to hire a bunch of people who really want to do a good job, and I’m proud of all of them. I’ve got a lot of folks doing their best to make me look good.”