Tim Hanson, MAS, president and owner of Ball Pro Promotional Group (UPIC: SPORTS), is my friend. He has built a company we’ve come to know and trust for great products, service and solutions. In today’s market of supersized suppliers where reaching a principal can be challenging, I appreciate Tim’s accessibility.
I remember starting as a new distributor more than 30 years ago, and how much time, effort and energy it took. The big achievements were finding customers, establishing relationships with a bank and suppliers, and, of course, joining PPAI. Then, there were the challenges of managing the business, hiring the right people, retaining customers and implementing the right technology to streamline operations. In the beginning, my wife, Annie, and I would start our workday early and often worked into the night processing orders written that day. At the core of everything was something I never thought twice about: good health.
I moved to Minnesota in 1994. Establishing the business there was a challenge. Lucky for me, I met Tim at a tradeshow. One day I reached out to Tim, asking if we could meet for breakfast. I wanted to get his opinion on a business decision. Our business was growing, and Annie and I were trying to decide if we should let a new employee work in our home office. Tim objectively presented the pros and cons, and we opted to lease an office instead. He explained it would probably be more professional, all around, for employees to work out of an office rather than our home. Ever since then, we’ve been friends.
This is a story about pressing on when life throws you so many curve balls you feel as though you’ve struck out. It’s also about learning not to quit, about regrouping and making contingency plans to keep the business going. In Tim’s case, it’s like he’s standing in the middle of a driving range and getting pelted with golf balls.
You see, Cheryl, Tim’s wife of 36 years, and the mother of their three sons, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in June 2009. Then, almost simultaneously, Tim’s key inside customer service representative, Jason Greenslit, who had worked for Tim since 1998, was diagnosed with cancer, at the young age of 37.
Finding themselves in deep water, Tim and Cheryl visited their minister, seeking consolation. He told them: “The Lord teaches you to live, not in the past or future, but in the moment.” But accepting these words wasn’t easy for Tim. You see, Tim has always been achievement oriented. A CPA by trade, he was named the Automotive Aftermarket Young Executive of the Year in 1984.
Over breakfast one day, Tim told me: “I’ve always worked a five-year plan. I make the plan, work the plan and update it annually. We’ve been blessed with good employees and customers. Slowing down my life to spend more time with Cheryl has been a big adjustment.”
Fortunately, Tim’s planning mindset included purchasing long-term care insurance that’s helped defray the costs of paying a full-time caregiver to stay with Cheryl at the house. He has learned how to live one day at a time.
“We make it so Cheryl says, ‘Every day is a party,’” says Tim. “The best investment my father ever made was buying a cabin up north. When the boys were younger, we forged strong family ties at the cabin. Now that Cheryl is in the mid-stages of Alzheimer’s, we go up to the cabin every Friday during the summer months, and spend as much time together as possible. During the week, Cheryl’s friends take her out to lunch, or do fun things such as go shopping, see movies or hang out in the park, while she can still enjoy these activities. Unlike the suddenness of getting hit by a bus, Cheryl’s diagnosis helps me prepare for what lies ahead.”
In 2010, Tim and Cheryl were named the honorary family for the Minnesota Memory Walk. Using his golf tournament fund-raising model, Tim reached out to people he knew. He raised $28,000 in contributions for the event, and more than 100 people joined their team for the walk. Tim has also formed an Alzheimer’s support group for people under the age of 65. They meet monthly at a local church, under the auspices of the Alzheimer’s Association. Some participants in the group are as young as their late 40s.
Since Cheryl’s diagnosis, their son, Adam, vice president and customer service manager, has jumped in to help manage the day-to-day operations of the business so Tim can spend more time with his wife.
Once a grade-school teacher, Cheryl can no longer drive, write or spell correctly. It’s tough, but there are more family meals now than before, and Tim and his sons have lunch with Cheryl almost daily. Tim’s sister and 90-year-old mother help Cheryl clean the house weekly. Friends, family and a care provider give their time to help out with Cheryl during the rest of the week. The family has taken trips to Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon and Florida to build lasting memories while Cheryl is still with them mentally and physically.
Although challenging, Tim has managed to remain upbeat because of his strong faith. I’m in awe of his positive attitude.
I spoke with Tim recently; it had been a couple months since we last talked. He told me it’s less than a year before the dreaded day when Cheryl will move into a memory care facility. And Jason, God rest his soul, passed away in September, at the age of 39. He will be greatly missed by all at Ball Pro. Tim said he’s planning on naming a product after Jason, and is in the process of adding a tribute to him on his Ball Pro website.
Meanwhile, despite his challenges, Tim is still working more than 40 hours a week to make Ball Pro a bigger and better company.
We really never know what’s coming down the road. Not knowing, we often work too much and fail to take care of ourselves. We often fail to schedule time for doing the things we really like, such as hobbies. We even neglect our friends and family. I’m guilty of all of these.
I’ve learned that life is like a bicycle wheel, with many spokes coming from the center. Unless the wheel is balanced, it won’t turn true. The same applies to us. If we’re not balanced, we’re out of sync. Ours is a high-stress business. If we don’t have balance in our lives, the constant pressure of meeting deadlines can, and will, take its toll on our health.
It’s also important, as a business owner, to have contingency plans in place to keep the business running and generating revenue in times of personal crisis. Your business probably is your best investment. Protect it.
Let’s also keep our thoughts and prayers turned toward Tim and Cheryl, and wish them strength.
Ken Tuvman, CAS, is national sales manager at distributor A.K. Rose, Inc., a certified WBENC company in Chanhassen, Minnesota. He’s worked full-time in the industry since 1980 and is a freelance writer, photographer and blues guitar player.