Values based leader interview: Tony Spoletini, Spolumbos

06 May

Values based leader interview: Tony Spoletini, Spolumbos

As you hopefully read already, InSite is about developing and celebrating a new wave of leadership; leaders who intentionally focus on both profit and purpose, strategy and sustainability. In short, we can call them Values-Based Leaders. These are leaders you can trust, whose mission it is to build great businesses, and build up the great people within them.

Today we are profiling one of Calgary’s great businesses, and one of its favorite sons, Tony Spoletini of Spolumbos.



Values based leaders interview: Tony Spoletini

As a Calgary native who played football for the St. Francis Browns and Calgary Dinos, I had many heroes I looked up to on the football field, and Tony Spoletini was near the top. Every kid has heroes and role models, and nothing inspires the everyday blue-collar kid more than someone who has walked the path before them and made it big time. Why else would the city of Philadelphia erect a statue of a fictitious boxer? Who do you think kids in Cole Harbour, NS (or Canada, in general) think of the first time they lace up their skates?

At any rate, Tony Spoletini was a great person to look up to because he had attended the same schools I had, and he had a brilliant football career. To be the hometown kid who was an all-star and then a university standout and then play for the hometown team (after a year playing for that green & gold wearing team up north), was an enviable path that most athletes would love to emulate.

What makes Tony Spoletini special, however, is not just that he was talented and worked and earned his way into the rare air as a professional athlete. Even after a 4 year professional football career Tony (with his co-founders Tom Spoletini and Mike Palumbo) set new goals and took the entrepreneurial risk to try and make great sausages. Enter Spolumbos Fine Food & Deli ( Back then, in Tony’s words, “No one marketed high-quality, gluten-free sausages”. They wanted to change the image of sausages from “lips and ears” to their high-quality vision. Even finding success in professional athletics and business is still not quite why I asked Tony to sit for an interview.

I wanted an interview because Tony Spoletini exemplifies the qualities of values based leadership, as so few leaders in business do today. Tony credits the founding trio’s football background for the foundation of their value of team, “everyone is treated equally with integrity”. This is immediately apparent when one sits down in Spolumbos and watches the way Tony interacts with his customers. At the time of our interview, the place was packed and everybody wanted to talk to Tony. He came over right away and offered me a cappuccino, then when he could sit down, was very apologetic about starting our meeting 3 minutes late despite people approaching him left, right and center needing something.

When asked how Spolumbos invests in their team of 40, to try and mimic the sort of excellent customer service that one of their founders gives, Tony cited “proper training and support” and “no degrading. What happens on the field stays on the field”. Tony went on to say that although he had coaches who had to ‘lay the law down’ at times, he always respected those coaches who could do so respectfully, and wanted to emulate their leadership one day. Tony elaborated in that although discipline is an everyday part of business and leadership, there is never a reason to ridicule a team member in public, and even if things aren’t going to work out, “there are dignified ways of letting people go”.

“Leading by example” is one of the keys for Tony to get the best effort from the team daily. He also adds “treating people with respect, and demanding respect for each other” as integral to the team success. That success in business is dependent on “service, quality, and corporate responsibility” according to Spoletini. Tony credits his partners with being able to juggle these potentially competitive tasks, as “one of us can be handling the business while another is working with our people”. Delegation is kay, remarks Tony, to this formula.

Spolumbos corporate responsibility is rooted in youth athletics, and health initiatives such as kids cancer treatment & research. To Tony, youth sport “gave us our start” and so he, Tom, and Mike want to help other future leaders get their start.

As for the future, Tony suggests “you’ve always got to be getting better”. After 20 years of success and building a reliable, trustworthy, household name of a brand, the key is to innovate around service and quality, and to “look for new opportunities without overextending”.

His advice for other leaders of future entrepreneurs? “It may sound cliché, but keep things simple, and treat others how you’d want to be treated”.

My experience is that these words are not cliché, but authentic and stemming from genuine care. As I was leaving, Tony was emphatically gracious and thankful for me taking the time to meet with him, despite the fact he had to run off right after to a waiting meeting, and despite the fact that I was the one who asked him for the meeting.

Spolumbos truly is a great example of a business that you can feel good about what you are buying, and who you are buying it from.