In a recent blog I posted a reprint an article in which Tom Lindhardt, founder of Kompan, discussed his art and his career. I promised then that I would share my person recollections of Tom. Having overcome a two-week struggle to restore my workstation and data, I’m now ready to proceed.
Having had some time to consider this task, I’d like to make this simple by identifying the two impressions Tom left me with. The characteristic feelings I came to sense with Tom were pride and a certain melancholy. I think the best way to convey those is with a few examples.
Over the years of our acquaintance, I began to recognize that Tom romanticized America much as I did Denmark. He loved the brashness and authenticity of Americans. I remember getting off a puddle jumper in the tiny airport in Odense wearing a Stetson hat, jeans, a big belt buckle, boots and a shearling jacket. I thought Tom would lose it. I was all I could do not to crack up.
Once when hanging out at his cabin in the woods, he suggested we do some forest management. Together with his son, we inspected the wood lot to identify trees that needed to be thinned. He would stand behind me and point to where he thought the tree should land. He would just shake his head when I dropped them in the exact location. Well, of course we Americans know all about being woodsmen!
After Kompan acquired BigToys, Tom wanted to see the Cascade Mountains. It was an amazing couple of days filled with the beauty of the area, great food, hikes. It was all that Tom had expected of the America and a great memory for both of us.
Tom’s sense of pride was very distinctive as it was free of ego. He could be both proud of his personal success while also being proud of his team. For him these were inseparable. Touring the factory, he would chat with everyone by name and ask questions that demonstrated that he knew them well. When Kompan received a prestigious award, of which there were many, Tom would accept these honors personally, but also for Kompan, which was also him, as well as the whole team that made Kompan function. His pride was well earned and simultaneously shared.
I also came to know his melancholy that was always a whisper in the background. My impression was that he could envision where things were not perfect. When Kompan acquired Speelhout, the playground producer in the Netherlands, we worked closely with the team there to create the 10 Plus range of active play apparatus for teens. In many ways this was a disruptive product that set the stage for the whole category of deck-less play systems that have since become commonplace.
While Tom was excited by the 10 Plus project, his disappointment was also palatable. He bemoaned design by committee, necessitated by the collaboration with Speelhout, made the system overly complex and too expensive. He also recognized that any Kompan product had to come from the whole team, and that he had to accept that he could not extend his leadership so that projects became under top-down control. I believe that this experience was a big motivator in his creation of a separate design team that was free of all of Kompan’s history. This decision resulted in the revolutionary Galaxy metal system that went on to be a huge success and set a very high bar for play functionality.
The last post about Tom got a number of responses from others who knew Tom. I hope this personal reflection will inspire others to share their recollections.