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Dragon Door Interviews Tom Davin, CEO of 5.11 Tactical, RKC

September 12, 2012 11:30 AM

tomDavin 0212 A
 
Dragon Door:    When did you first try kettlebell training?
 
Tom Davin:    About 10 years ago, when I was chief executive of Spectrum Health Clubs, I first became aware of kettlebells, but really didn’t know how to use them. In terms of actually using kettlebells as a fitness tool, it was after earning my CrossFit Level 1 certification that I wanted to learn more. I met Jeff Martone who said, "You gotta do RKC." That started me on the journey. About two years ago, I met Paul Daniels and started training in a more purposeful manner. Then I had to create the time to spend three days at an RKC certification. With help from Paul and Mark Toomey, and a little bit of prep time, here I am.
 
Dragon Door:   Fortunately you've had a fitness background as well...
 
Tom Davin:   I was a Division 1 lacrosse player at Duke University and then I was in the Marine Corps as a reconnaissance specialist, and taught tactics to Quantico – Marine infantry tactics. I’ve really been into fitness my entire life. When I was running Spectrum Health Clubs, I started to look at different fitness modalities. I actually blew out my entire shoulder complex while bench pressing 220 pounds, combine style, in 2004. That's when I asked myself, "Why am I even doing that?" So, I started to look at different fitness modalities, and was exposed to kettlebells in CrossFit.
 
Dragon Door:    What are some of the biggest changes you’ve noticed with kettlebell training?
 
Tom Davin:    Hip flexibility, and a sense of much more stability in my core, the lower back in particular. I’m about to be 55, and pretty well jacked up from a lifetime of activity. I used to have some SI joint issues, and now there's no SI pain, nothing. I feel really stable.
 
I do work on posture and standing tall, but I think the kettlebells have really made a difference. I have by no means perfected the swing—I’m on the journey of making my swing better and more powerful. But, I think the whole notion of tension, relaxation, and creating the power through that alternating relaxation and tension has been really transformational for me.
 
Dragon Door:    Very cool. How do you plan to continue with kettlebell training?
 
Tom Davin:    We’re opening a small 1,000 square foot kettlebell gym at my office. We're going to create time for people to workout before the work day, in the middle of the day, at lunch, and at the end of the day. We’ll have guest instructors—we'll invite Paul Daniels to come by. We’ve bought 22 RKC kettlebells, and we already need more because more people are getting interested. Also, I have three teenage daughters who are all athletes, and I want to get them into kettlebells. I wanted a little bit more expertise and training before getting people started, so I could do it properly.
 
Tom Davin SanDiego RKC kettlebell goblet squat
Tom Davin at the San Diego RKC August 2012
 
Dragon Door:    What inspired you to bring kettlebells into your company's workplace?
 
Tom Davin:    It’s the fact that with just a handful of tools and the understanding of how to use them, we can do so many different exercises. We’ll also be inviting various members of the military, law enforcement, et cetera to come in and join us.
 
Dragon Door:    How do you feel about your experience this weekend?
 
Tom Davin:    It opened the door for me to understand how much more I have to learn—I feel like I’ve got a foundation of knowledge, but it’s the ground floor of a 20 story structure. Before, when I was swinging kettlebells, I was incompetent but didn’t really know it. Now I’m consciously incompetent as an individual. I know enough to impart the basic kettlebell movements to others, but I have a lot to learn. So for me it’s the start of a new journey.
 
I think kettlebell training can make every other movement more powerful. Working on the lats, and fully engaging them, will help me climb over walls and do pull-ups better—same for a police officer, firefighter, or military operator. We will have those people at our kettlebell gym at 5.11 Tactical. We'll be able to show them the benefits of kettlebells, which aren’t obvious even if you watch a video on a website, or go to Dragon Door to read about them. It really takes an RKC instructor to help people get started by working on the proper foundation deadlift and swing before doing anything else. I look forward to sharing that with my wife and daughters first. Then, professionally helping people in our 5.11 ecosystem around the world to understand kettlebell training based on the RKC is a great workout system.
 
When we work on our culture, we call it our 5.11 Ethos. It’s a very holistic approach to help people become fully engaged professionally, personally, emotionally, and spiritually. The spiritual part is probably the hardest because we typically don’t want to talk about religion, but we do talk about being part of a movement where we’re serving others. We’re serving the end user who’s running into a burning building, responding to an alarm call, deploying down range to Afghanistan, or a security professional that has to be ready.
 
Our catch phrase is, "Always Be Ready," and that starts with our people internally. We have about 400 people at 5.11—with about 200 in Modesto, and 65 in Irvine. We also have people in Australia, Hong Kong, and Sweden. With kettlebells in Irvine and Modesto, our people will have the opportunity to learn to swing kettlebells at work. We'll have Mike Sousa, RKC, up in Modesto to help and I’ll be probably the lead person here in Irvine. Initially, we'll talk about kettlebells internally, and then let it leak out into the community.
 
For example, I’ll be at an Asian Pacific FBI National Academy meeting in about three weeks in Australia, so I’ll be looking for RKCs in Sydney. When I meet people who ask what I do for fitness I say, "My favorite exercise modality is kettlebells as used in the RKC disciplines." That plants the seed, and they'll want to know more—then, I'll encourage them to find an RKC instructor in their area.
 
Dragon Door:    Compared to other fitness modalities you've tried in the past, what else do you like about kettlebell training?
 
Tom Davin:    The efficiency and the portability of it—I bought a bowling ball bag that weighs 2 pounds, I wrap a 20kg kettlebell in a towel then put it in the bag—it all checks in at about 48 pounds. So, when I travel all over, there's a kettlebell with my checked luggage. When I’m traveling with business people who say they don’t have time to work out, I say, "Guess what. I brought a gym with me." They might look at me like I'm crazy! If I have only one thing with me, it's the kettlebell. If I can, I'll take a TRX, quad baller (by Trigger Point), and jump rope too. I show them how we can set up a little circuit so that four people can train at once—or more if you throw in a little jogging around the park.
 
Dragon Door:    What’s one of your favorite circuits or workouts when you're on the go?
 
Tom Davin:    Recently, I was in Boulder, Colorado, which I think is at about 6,500 feet above sea level. I went for a two-mile jog along the river, then I came back and alternated kettlebell swings with jump rope. Next, I did Turkish get ups on alternating sides while looking at the Rocky Mountains. It was just incredible. I didn't need to do any complexes because the high altitude had me gassed after just 20 swings with my 20kg kettlebell.
 
Dragon Door:    How did you prepare for the RKC workshop?
 
Tom Davin:   I worked intensively for about eight weeks. Mark Toomey advised me to talk to Paul Daniels who is a gifted instructor. I tried to train with Paul at least once a week—it didn’t always work out that way, it ended up about two out of every three weeks. He was very demanding, the biggest demand being my assignment of 500 swings every day, 7 days a week. I didn’t get 500 every day, but I probably got at least 200 every day over that 8 week period. It helped prepare my hands. That swing volume helped my glutes get stronger too—I still have a ways to go. I used to have some SI pain, now it’s completely gone. I feel like my hips are in more neutral position, and I feel like I’m less quad dominant in all the things I do. I’m able to more actively engage my prime movers, upper hammies, and gluteus. It just feels better.
 
Tom Davin during the Grad Workout at the San Diego RKC August 2012 - kettlebell swing
Tom Davin during the Grad Workout at the San Diego RKC August 2012
 
Dragon Door:    When we were talking earlier, you mentioned that you also conduct interviews. What are some of the questions you ask in your five minute eleven second videos?
 
Tom Davin:    It depends on who I'm speaking with—if I'm talking to a police or fire chief, I ask them to describe their department, the people they serve, and what’s going on in their community. What major challenges are they facing, and what are they doing to build their culture? What is the ethos of their group and how do they lead? What kind of training do they provide? How do they evaluate future leaders, or determine who will be the next chief in five to 10 years? How do they help give the younger people the experience to move up in the organization? That’s our role as leaders—to always develop the next generation of leaders. I try to be a student of leadership, and lead by example.
 
So, I’m very passionate about challenging everyone. I like to say leadership is a choice. It’s not a function of title, position, or how many people are working for an individual. It’s all about the mindset of saying, "I’m going to be a leader. I’m going to make a difference by impacting the things within my circle of influence, or whatever is around me. I'm going to take charge and do something about any problems I can address. That’s leadership."
 
Dragon Door:    How do you express your leadership within 5.11?
 
Tom Davin:     We talk about leadership in everything we do. I have a meeting with 45 people tomorrow—we’re going to talk about inventing our future, and the role everybody has in helping us write that future story. I sent a note out to everyone, challenging them to come prepared to answer certain questions about how we move our business forward.
 
I’m actually going to kick off the meeting by highlighting the massive opportunity we have in our world of tactical gear. Then, I’ll show them future headlines from Business Week magazine, Economist, Outside magazine, and talk about the great products we will have developed by then—and about all the leaders who will have had a chance to grow. Not so much about numbers, but I will be talking about how we will have created a business in China that will go from a couple million in sales to $50 million in sales. This helps everybody understand what the future will be, and to feel it, and "get it" emotionally. It’s not just a slide, it’s not just Tom saying, "We’re going to have a business unit in China." The future headlines about how our company is a leading business in China help make the idea and plan tangible. Then, it’s up to us to do something about it. So it’s very exciting.
 
People always have doubts—the more real you can make it, the more people can picture it, feel it and then own the actions in moving towards it. Again, that’s leadership, and you don’t have to be the president of something to do that kind of thing.
 
Dragon Door:    That's an incredibly fascinating concept! And you'll also be leading a healthy living example with your kettlebell training, as people see you use them with great success.
 
Tom Davin:    That’s right, and at our company, you get to work out and learn kettlebells at the office. It's all part of the package—we get to do fun stuff. I sent six of my product executives to military static line jump school last week. It's the same exact program that the Navy SEALs and the EOD people from the Navy go through, it's like a two-week course packed into three days.
 
Dragon Door:    Do you think you’ll be sending more of your company to RKC and HKC?
 
Tom Davin:    Once they’re ready and know a little bit about kettlebells, absolutely. We will also send people to get instructor certifications for yoga or Pilates, because we want to have some variety too. We're not going to put machines in our gym, but we want people to have these different disciplines—I want to make it very accessible.
 
Dragon Door:    That’s going to be great!
 
 
 
Tom Davin is the CEO of 5.11 Tactical, a life-long athlete, former US Marine Captain, and new RKC Instructor
 
 
 

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