The Opportunist

Features - Cover Story

There is always a better way, and Charles Glossop has spent his career seeking out ways to elevate those around him to improve and grow.

September 21, 2022

Charles Glossop has spent a career creating opportunities for others, and this runs to the core of his being and touches his heart. Whether he’s working with employees at his company, Hantho Outdoor Services in St. Louis Park, Min., and giving someone a start or advancing a career, or providing exemplary service to clients, for Charles the name of the game is problem solving and making lives easier.

Always an optimist, looking back on his life and career the 69-year-old says, “I have made many, many mistakes in my life. I’ve even come close to losing everything. But I’ve never lost focus on the opportunity that exists right around the corner.”

Who were your heroes growing up?

When I was 12 years old, I had an uncle. He was a World War II vet. He was on the beaches of Normandy. He stood on a landmine during the landing and survived, but he always walked with a suppressed leg – a built up heel in one of his shoes. His name was Capt. Douglas Mann. He was my mother’s eldest sister’s husband, and he was a farmer. He was always my mentor. He was the man I looked up to in life and he taught me what life was all about.

When I was 12, I went to work on his farm, where he just grew crops. He introduced me to a guy named Jack Penny, who was his head tractor driver. At the time he had 14 farm workers – we’re talking the mid-60s. The first morning we walked out and my uncle said, “Mr. Penny, this is my nephew. He works for you now. My first task was to start a tractor up. He asked if I knew how to run a tractor, and of course, I said yes. Jack pointed to one in the shed and told me to start it up and drive it over to him. I couldn’t get the tractor started. So, I walked back and Mr. Penny says, “We’ll Charles, you had two choices and you told me you could do it. You didn’t ask me if there was another way to get the tractor started.” He had intentionally disconnected the batteries.

So, what I learned at a very young age is that if you think you know how to do something there is always another way to do it and you should always ask. And I’ve used that philosophy my entire life.

The other thing my uncle taught me was a love for plants and growing crops. I learned everything in life at a young age from my uncle. That was my foundation.

I spent most of my summers growing up working on that farm. All my life, I’ve loved to work. Even to this day I’m out working with the guys in the field whether it’s winter or summer. Basically, I’m a doer. And I’ve always surrounded myself with really good people, people who have enabled me to do what I do best, which is sell work, do the work, train people, and allow people who are better than I to do the things I’m weak at. That’s a blessing.

What brought you to the US?

I graduated from university at a young age. Got a master’s degree. When I got out of college, I went to work for a farming company. They would manage farms for absentee landlords – wealthy businessmen. It was all wheat or barley or sugar beets even potatoes. I managed a large farming operation.

When I was 22 years old, a college professor told me about a program in Minnesota for a PhD in agriculture he thought I may be interested in. I applied, got accepted and came to Minnesota. I dropped out halfway through the first quarter and ended up meeting a farming family whose farm I managed for three years in Western Minnesota. When the oldest son got back from college there wasn’t room for me on the farm anymore, so I moved to Minneapolis in 1979.

I was watching some guys mowing lawns and thought I could do a better job. The rest is history.

How did you get into snow?

I was watching other people do it. From day one it struck me that there were more efficient ways to be doing what others were doing. People were plowing with plow trucks and getting out to angle the blades, pull pins and turn the blade manually. Then jump back into the truck to move snow from one area to another. I just knew there were more efficient ways.

We started using skid loaders. We tried using rotary brooms on sidewalks. And I knew, even then, that this is where I wanted to excel in my life.

At the time, we were using a sand-salt mix. We’d jump into the back of the pick-up and toss the sand-salt out manually from the back as the truck was moving – basically with no driver. That’s how we did it.

Then, 37 years ago we started using some liquids. We started of with a 55-gallon barrel and a sump pump. We tried really hard to get away from using sand because we saw the damage it was going to drainage systems. It never melted anything, it just gave traction. At the time, you couldn’t buy straight salt because all of the distributors were blending it.

In 1991, we had the big blizzard in Minnesota – the Halloween snowstorm – and we found out that trying to push a 10-foot drift with a four-wheel-drive pick-up was not the answer. So we started renting wheel loaders and started using them to move snow. We never looked back.

We never gave up on liquids. We’ve fine tuned the process. It’s not perfect, but it’s a very important instrument in our toolbox even today.

Now, my biggest fear is the EPA will begin dictating how we apply deicers … It’s still my biggest fear. I’ve always tried to lead, and I’ve always taught and encouraged people to use liquids. It needs to be part of the program, and the contractor needs to use it every single time for it to be successful.

Charles Glossop: “From a leadership standpoint, you must allow others to make mistakes so they can grow and develop. If you correct them or correct the team or criticize them for make or not making a decision, nothing will every happen and those individuals will never grow.”

We now have watershed districts that are stipulating a 65% reduction in the use of granular salt. This is a great motivator for us in the industry who are using liquids to take it to the next level.

You’re one of the founding members of SIMA. That was quite revolutionary at the time and instrumental in evolving the industry’s image from being a plow jockey to that of a snow and ice management professional.

I met up with John Allin in 1991. We were both in Michigan at what was known at the time as the Michigan Snowplower’s Association. We got to know each other. John came from Erie, Pa., which has over a 100 inches of snowfall each winter. We started talking about how we were plowing snow. And that conversation evolved into the notion that we needed to be smarter with how we were managing snow and ice. We both agreed there were so many contractors out there who didn’t know what they were doing.

In, 1996 I received a phone call from John who wanted to get some industry guys together from around the country and see if we can form an association. There were originally eight of us who flew out to Erie. We sat in John’s basement and over a weekend formed what was then and still is the Snow and Ice Management Association (SIMA).

One of our mandates was to have the association at such a level that smaller contractors had access to people who were doing large-scale snow and ice work. We always believed there were too many contractors out in the marketplace who needed guidance on doing it right.

Our goal was always to build a solid association where people could come and talk about how we could collectively become better at what we all do.

How would you best define your management style.

My management style used to be pretty anal. This is how we were going to do things. Follow me. We’ll walk into the battle together and figure it out as we go. That has evolved into more standing back and hiring good people to manage aspects of the business. This allows me the freedom to be there to mentor and to listen.

I don’t have an office desk. I work out of a cubicle and that’s how I like it. However, I’m one of those people who has a high level of expectation. And I love to solve problems. In this day and age, we constantly talk about thinking outside the box. What is no one else doing that we could be doing? As a visionary, it allows me the freedom to truly think outside the box. I allow my team to succeed because I no longer interfere in the day-to-day details.

How do you define leadership? And how does this work into your management style?

It’s allowing people to do what they do best. It’s being present as a sounding box when they have a bad day and letting them know they can call me 24 hours a day, seven days a week to bounce ideas, if necessary. It’s considering ideas and letting those around you to pick up on those ideas and be recognized for bring those ideas to the table. It’s allowing others to feel good about an owner who allows them to have freedom to be successful. That’s what leadership is all about.

My business partner is my son, Alex. He and I don’t always agree on business issues. He’s on the ops and equipment side of our business. We talk about purchases and what we’re going to do. I work along side him and learn from him, but occasionally we disagree – everything from how to train people to how to properly tie down equipment on a trailer. And time and again, we come back together and agree that we both have good points and take those and work with those to make the business better or to serve clients more effectively.

I believe you have to allow people to make mistakes. You’re not able to correct every mistake before it’s made. But when a mistake is made, let’s talk about it and try not to repeat it in the future. It’s what makes everyone stronger, and it’s something we must constantly remind ourselves of because sometimes really great ideas can come from it.

How has this come into play as you lead your company?

As a company, we’re heavily invested in equipment and try to do as many things as we can mechanically, as opposed to manually. Especially in today’s environment where labor is a major issue.

What leadership characteristics do you look for in those individuals who work within your company?

Your team must be allowed to make decision, whether they’re right or wrong. If you micromanage, you’ll never grow your organization. So, from a leadership standpoint, you must allow others to make mistakes so they can grow and develop. If you correct them or correct the team or criticize them for make or not making a decision, nothing will every happen and those individuals will never grow. Instead, they’ll always be looking over their shoulders to see what the boss is going to say at the end of the day.

How are your involved in your community and those places you call home?

No. 1, we always support local businesses. For example, a lot of restaurants have struggled due to COVID. So, when we do a company function, we try to include local restaurants in providing food and beverages to the team. In the same instance, when we’re purchasing equipment, we first look to local venders and suppliers to meet our needs, and this goes for purchasing parts for repairs.

In the local community, we’d like to do more. We give generously to the local hospitals, and we also support various endeavors to feed the hungry and supply food to those in need. Our philosophy has always been to help others and those in need every day. We work with many of our clients who manage Section 8 housing to provide jobs and employment opportunities for those individuals living in those communities.

How do you let loose? What do you do for fun?

This may sound funny, but I find work to be very stress releasing for me [laughs]. I do like to travel, especially a yearly trip to Belize where I like to hang out with the locals. And my family and greatest friends are still in the UK, so I like to get back there three to four times a year to visit.

And I also enjoy taking in funny little out of the way restaurants and talking to the locals. I’m very unpretentious.

What do you want your legacy to be?

That I left this world a better place than when I came into it. And I want people to know that I didn’t have an ego. I want others to enjoy the fruits of life that I’ve been able to enjoy as a human being. I worry about the people who are fighting so hard to just survive, and I worry they’re taking a step back. My wife, Jenny, and I want to build orphanages and feed the world. We want to create opportunities for people who don’t realize there are opportunities out there. Let’s lift them up and show them that there is, in fact, hope.