Locator Magazine's Boss of the Year
July / August / September / October 2004
Dave Kokot, standing fourth from the right, believes in his employees, many of whom nominated him for boss of the year.
Dave Kokot started his career at Spalding Auto Parts, Inc., in Spokane, Wash., when he was 16 years old. Though he was the part-time lawn mower, he was already learning how to be a great boss.
"I watched how [company co-owner] Max [Spalding] treated vendors, customers and employees," Kokot remembered. "I realized what it took to make a place successful is people."
Thirty-one years and many promotions later, Kokot is the general manager of Spalding Auto Parts and co-owns the business with Max and Russ Spalding. He's also UpFront's 2004 Boss of the Year, thanks to a nomination sent on behalf of the entire staff; no small feat, considering the business employs 160 people.
"I was pleasantly surprised, and I guess it is just something I wouldn't have expected," Kokot said. "For me to promote myself goes against everything I believe in. The people here are what make Spalding Auto successful."
However, Spalding Auto's employees and owners believe that Kokot has been essential to the company's success. Thirteen employees, as well as co-owner Russ Spalding, wrote personal letters to The Locator, detailing Kokot's kindness, dedication and work ethic.
"Dave is an extremely intelligent, detailed person who sets very high standards for those around him," Spalding said. "Dave understands the industry and has an unbelievable business sense."
Others told more personal stories. Six years ago, recycler Daniel Rogers was struggling and "had no direction." That changed when he began working at Spalding Auto and met Kokot.
"He said, among other things, he had confidence in me," Rogers remembered. "At 24, that will change the way you feel about your company."
Kokot remembered this conversation with Rogers, which happened after Rogers moved to a department where Kokot knew he'd excel.
"We know everyone has strengths and weaknesses," Kokot commented. "Once we find an employee's strengths, we try to put him in a position where he can shine the brightest."
Kokot spent years working through the ranks so he understands what most jobs are like. He also knows the employees who fill those jobs - all 160 of them.
"I am typically available to virtually anybody at any time of the day," he said. "I do bounce all over these 50 acres on most days, and I like to stop and visit with everyone. 'How are you doing? How's your wife?' I don't want anyone to feel like a number."
Kokot and the management staff seek to create a family-friendly environment. For example, working parents are allowed to rearrange work schedules around their children's daycare schedules.
"We are very forgiving when it comes to needed time off to care for a grandparent, a spouse or to travel across country to help a family member move," said Kokot, explaining that this policy is rarely abused. "What happens in their personal life can affect what happens here. We believe it's family first. If you're not happy at home, it's hard to be happy here."