Real Success with Nate Kaeding: Tom Pientok

Timberline Manufacturing’s Tom Pientok talks with Nate about his upbringing and his introduction to manufacturing during a recent recording session at the CBJ offices. PHOTO ADAM MOORE


Sponsored by MidWestOne Bank, this is the latest edition of the CBJ’s new podcast feature with Nate Kaeding and notable Iowa business and cultural leaders, available first to CBJ members. Listen to this episode below, and subscribe on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play and SoundCloud.

By Nate Kaeding

Tom Pientok was introduced to the world of blue-collar work early on, growing up in the small town of Whitehall, Wiscon­sin. His dad and uncle were owners of the local underground sewer and water utility business, where he often pitched in as a youngster. Success back then for the Pientok family — as it still is today — was realized at the end of each day’s hard work.

Today, Mr. Pientok is the new president and CEO of Timberline Man­ufacturing in Marion. It’s an employee-owned elec­trical component manu­facturer whose products comprise the inner-work­ings of fighter planes, mining equipment, emergency response vehicles and a whole host of other world-changing and life-saving machines. It may be a far cry from his earliest days of digging in the dirt, but it’s no less challenging for Mr. Pientok, who has come to enjoy and appreciate the pace and team dynamics of modern manufacturing over 30-plus years in the field, including 11 years as president and CEO of Apache Inc., once one of the Corridor’s largest privately held companies.

Mr. Pientok and I spoke about his humble upbringing, his serendipitous introduction to the world of manufacturing and what it takes to run a major company in an age of constant change (while still having a life).

You were born and raised in a small town in Wisconsin. What was your childhood like in terms of your exposure to business and work?

TP: Sure. I was born in Whitehall, Wisconsin, population 1,461. My dad and my uncle took over my grandfather’s underground sewer and water utility business. So we own that business.

Do you have any early childhood memories of traveling around with your dad to job sites?

Oh, yeah. We were talking before we started here about some things that I did as a child — at seven, eight, nine years old, going to jobs with my dad, thinking I was actually helping them. Getting a shovel from him and that pile of dirt he had me go shovel that was still there at the end of the day. I felt like I was working, and frankly I was. That was just part of our household. You gave it everything you had.

Did your mother have a career?

I believe it was about seventh or eighth grade, she took the city librarian job. She was librarian in my hometown for about 30 years.

So you had the sewers covered as well as the library?

We’ve got it all. [laughs] So it was an interesting household. We had five kids, Mom’s role was managing the household. At one point in time on our little city block, we had 35-40 kids and my mother was the only stay-at-home mom, so she was managing the neighborhood. We learned a lot from my mother about leadership in a whole different way. Then obviously my dad, a private business owner, was 24/7. There was no rest. He didn’t take time for fun. It was just a part of what you did.

Read the full interview with Tom Pientok in this week’s print or digital editions of the CBJ.