Thomas Kivisto was born in Ironwood, Michigan and raised in Illinois. He made a name for himself in basketball starting in high school, and earned a full scholarship to the University of Kansas, where he graduated with honors and a major in psychology. He then studied urban planning at the Kansas School of Architecture. Throughout his University years, he continued to make a name for himself both in basketball and in his academic pursuits, setting basketball records at the University of Kansas that stand to this day, and being recognized as an Academic All-American team member.
After university, Kivisto worked for the Koch Oil Company for fourteen years. He was the Executive Vice President of the company prior to leaving in 1993, having presided over more than fifteen acquisitions as the head of their oil acquisitions program. He then founded his own oil company, and has since served on several university boards, several bank boards, and has worked with many non-profit organizations as well. Thomas Kivisto currently lives in California, where he heads his oil and gas equipment, real estate, and technology startup Lakeshore Energy Capital.
Why did you decide to create your own business?
I like working with motivated individuals who have a vision for building something great. I like creating jobs, creating sustainable advantages in the marketplace, and helping companies grow. I would say that my best friendships and relationships have been built around those people that I’ve been doing business with and that I’ve learned to trust through the ups and downs of the business environment. It’s a wonderful experience to get to know these people, get to know their families, and assist them in the joys of building their own companies. I find a lot of satisfaction with that.
What do you love most about the industry you are in?
The one industry I have the most excitement about is my newer investments in blockchain technology, and primarily in bitcoin. We make investments in startup companies using the blockchain protocol, and it’s revolutionary in terms of how it’s going to impact society. It might even be equal to the impact of the internet. Mainly because its security protocols are so much stronger than the internet and it’s decentralized.
What does a typical day consist of for you?
It starts off in the early morning, out here in California. New York is three hours ahead of us, Chicago is two hours ahead, and I have a lot of investments in those areas. The day typically starts off with conference calls, where I touch base with several business leaders. We’re typically raising money, and we’re making the number one decision that challenges most CEOs: how to raise capital for growth, and where to spend that capital.
That’s probably fifty percent of my day. The other half consists of a lot of the miscellaneous tasks that go along with that. Peripheral things like making choices about people, hiring, all of that sort of thing. But mostly it’s about the employment of capital.
What keeps you motivated?
The people I work with keep me motivated. Being a part of something bigger than oneself, and helping companies that have scorecards in place and that have a record of successes that can be measured by increased profitability, increased payroll distribution, and companies that run with integrity.
How do you motivate others?
By example, I would hope. I think the number one key to success, when talking about competitive successes in the free market, is hard work. It’s about putting the time in and doing the work every day, even when you don’t feel like doing it.
The second key is humility. It’s the ability to learn new things, and accept changes both wanted and unwanted, whether it’s through governmental rule changes or societal changes in buying and consumption behaviors, or disruptive technologies.
How has your company grown from its early days to now?
Companies that reach about five years old are considered pretty mature, and we’re managing mature assets. We have two of those companies. We also have four companies that are less than three years old that are experiencing exponential growth, and the exponential challenges that come along with that. The biggest challenge is figuring out where the next unmet consumer want is, and figuring out how to employ our capital to meet those wants and to stay on a profitable track.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
My father was probably the most influential figure for me growing up. He’s one of a handful of high school basketball coaches that have won a thousand high school basketball games. If you do the math on that, with high schools fifty years ago only playing eighteen to twenty-two games per year, that’s a long career coaching and an outstanding track record.
He did that without coaching at a private high school, which is a very important fact to understand when looking at history. He coached at six or seven different schools, and was often called in to coach for schools that had a losing record. Most of the great coaches before him came from private schools. They coached in one place for a very long time, gave scholarships to top student athletes, and so on. So when you compare that to what my dad accomplished, you can see that his work ethic was pretty incredible and that was so inspiring.
My older brother was also a huge influence, especially in sports. He taught me about pain and hard work, and putting in the time and dedication. And it’s easy to look around and see a lot of sports figures that are tremendous individuals, that you can look to as examples for hard work ethic, excellence in what they do, humility and a willingness to ask questions, and achievement. I think of Kobe Bryant. I think of Michael Jordan. I think of people who are dedicated to be the best that they can be. I don’t keep up with all of this social pressure to look at their personal lives or even their sports records or anything like that, but instead I just look at the expertise and the great skill that made them famous, and that earned them a place in history. I derive a lot of inspiration from those people, their dedication, and their work ethic.
Who has been a role model to you and why?
I’m not sure I could point to any one individual. I think it changes over time. The role models I relate to most today are the young entrepreneurs who balance very difficult lives. I see it from the people I work with. These are people who are in their early thirties and forties that are balancing eight to twelve hour days, trying to bring value for the people who work for them while balancing their own family lives. They’re involved in the community, helping to assist those who are less advantaged, who have disabilities, or who just caught a bad break in life. These are people trying to improve not only their own lives, but the lives of other people as well.
I look close in to find my inspirations today, more than outside. I’m an avid reader, and I think that has a lot to do with my efforts to always keep improving along with trying to adapt to changes. This will be a survival skill in the years ahead as this world will face challenges we could never have imagined.
How do you maintain a solid work life balance?
It’s about having a good partner, a good exercise program, and being around people who can be motivated and who can motivate the people around them. You’ve just got to take it one step at a time.
What traits do you possess that makes a successful leader?
Not being afraid of hard work, or afraid of failure. You’ve also got to learn to appreciate the collective IQ of the people you’re working with. Leaders should first be listeners, helping to coordinate a collective source of intellect that is smarter than any one individual could be. You surround yourself with good people – people smarter than yourself – and you tap into that, and trust it, and rely on it.
You work on a consensus, with people with like and similar interests. You can’t form a consensus with people who have conflicts, or who have a political agenda. So, in the business world, you look for people who rely on math and on measurements to help them make their decisions. The first rule we have in this collective IQ idea is that, if you’re going to throw up your hand and put an idea out there, you’re not repeating what’s already been said. You’re adding something to it. And if you have an opinion, know that it’s an opinion, and try to form opinions that are supported by the statistics. Of particular value are ideas supported statistically by a non-conflicted third party.
What suggestions do you have for someone starting in your industry?
You’ve got to really understand the product you’re trying to create, whether it’s a physical product or a service. You’ve either got to make it faster and cheaper than your competitors, or it has to bring a unique competitive advantage to the table that no one else has. If it’s the latter, you’ve got to understand your special sauce. If you’re an early developer of a consumer product, let’s say, you may have a great idea, but you’ve also got to be careful because the big players in the space will just copy what you’re doing and get it to the market quicker. You’ve got to have a special sauce, something only you can do, protected by patent or by some ingenuity of math or protocol.
It’s about understanding the product you want to create, and understanding the need for that product over time. Understand whether it’s a growing need, and whether someone else can step in and produce the same thing once you’ve put the idea out there. You’ve got to understand all of those nuances of the product you want to create.
After that, most people fail because they don’t get proper capitalization. Many companies think they’ve generated enough capital to see a product through, but run out of capital before they reach the finish line. That’s called ‘running out of runway’, and you’ve got to make sure you have ample capitalization to get your product all the way to a finished, consumable state.