Anything but the Ordinary
"I’m an ordinary man living an extraordinary life..."
Dallas recalls how his grandmother had the ability to make everyone she met feel important. She told him he was brought into the world for a reason. “No matter how much hell you caught,” said Dallas, “she made you feel special.”
He also recollects strong relationships with Goizueta faculty like Ben Krasinski, a professor who had the ability to make him feel special. “I’d get to class early to speak with him,” said Dallas. The connection was — and is — enduring: “For 20 years, I went back to his class as a guest lecturer,” Dallas said. During his visits, Dallas was able to not only share some wisdom, but also gain some knowledge. “Ben is always learning, staying on top of what’s current, and that’s how he brings a fresh perspective to class,” Dallas said.
His connections with family and faculty drive Dallas, and he attributes his remarkable life to those who supported him along the way. “I’m an ordinary man living an extraordinary life,” he said.
One of Dallas’ fundamental beliefs is that you can work and learn at the same time. That's something Dallas has done his entire life. But that approach was perhaps most pivotal early in his career. As a cost accountant with Georgia-Pacific, he saw the personal computer make its appearance. “When I saw the PC,” said Dallas, “I just knew it was going to change the world.”
He was inspired to learn more about the PC. So while he kept working full time, he went back to school and took three programming classes in the evening. That interest and extra effort changed Dallas’ world like the PC changed the business world.
“So many people get too busy working, and what that does is close your mind,” said Dallas. “You should never be too busy to learn.”
"I’ve always been able to see what makes individuals unique."
Learning and working at the same time is reflective of a theme in Dallas’ life: “My life has always been one of ‘And,’” he said. He always sought to see connectivity, how one thing and another went together. It’s an approach that served him well after finishing his career at Georgia-Pacific and taking a leadership role at Medtronic, a medical technology company with growth aspirations.
Their purpose, “Alleviating pain. Restoring health. Extending life.” spoke to him. When he joined the company, it was apparent that acquisitions were helping Medtronic to grow. Yet the confluence of different organizations was also confounding, as it often is in a business’s growth trajectory. Bringing these formerly independent companies together would mean capitalizing on their respective strengths while shoring up shortcomings through Medtronic’s size and scale. Dallas’ ability to see the “And” came into play.
“I’ve always been able to see what makes individuals unique,” said Dallas. Once he understood that, he was able to figure out how their traits could best be utilized. “You have to do it in that order, otherwise you fail,” he said.
He was able to apply that approach at Medtronic by spending time with various surgical teams, speaking with and learning every aspect of their operation. By taking the time to understand employees at the individual level, Dallas was able to facilitate operational stewardship instead of authoritative, top-down leadership, and help Medtronic to become the world’s largest medical technology company.
Reflecting his concern for others, Dallas’ personal definition of leadership revolves around altruism. According to Dallas, it’s a simple two-part definition that pays dividends where it matters most: “First, leaders must make a difference. And second, you have to teach others to do the same.”
It isn’t everyone’s definition, but it’s one that works for him, one that moves the business world forward in a positive direction.
"That’s really the only way to really learn -- being comfortable with being uncomfortable."
Dallas went to school on a basketball scholarship, but was benched when he had to have surgery on both knees. It was a tough time for him, and at the time he struggled with the lot he’d been given. “But I’ve always believed that God puts people in my life who confirmed I was where I needed to be,” he said, and this time was no different.
In English class, he was assigned to read and give his interpretation of “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” by Yeats. When he received his graded assignment, he was surprised at what was written at the top: an “A,” along with the note, “Now let’s work on that grammar.”
Dallas said his English teacher was able to see beyond his grammar and look instead at the effort he put in to his work. That was just what he needed. Encouraged, Dallas focused on his studies, making the dean's list and becoming an All-American Scholar. He carried that focus back to the court when he returned to the basketball team, becoming its MVP.
Dallas has had his share of confusion and uncertainty throughout his life and career. But Dallas said there’s a lesson there: “You’ve got to learn to deal with the unknowns and make adjustments along the way.”
Beyond his business career, Dallas has put this approach into practice by traveling the world, which he and his wife have done for about three decades, both domestically and internationally. “We immerse ourselves in the experience,” said Dallas. “We don’t go where the tourists are, and we sure do have plenty of experiences of getting lost. That’s really the only way to really learn -- being comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
Being comfortable with being uncomfortable is what Dallas calls the learner’s mindset. Even after a long career filled with accomplishments, there’s little doubt that Dallas is still ready to learn more.