He might not have known it at the time, but Roland Tolan learned some of the fundamental truths of business while playing professional soccer in his native country of Romania. His coach passed along a pithy nugget of insight, one that would sustain and drive Tolan during his 35-plus years in the office technology business: amateurs love practicing on their strengths because they are comfortable. But true professionals practice on their weaknesses.
An unabashed fan of entrepreneur Richard Branson, Tolan has few qualms about embracing change. Six years ago, he saw the value in changing his core business model from print-only to bundled services as a primary source of recurring revenue.
And in 2020, he partnered with Mark O’Brien to transform a business that only sold used equipment into a Konica Minolta-authorized dealership—backed by a solid leasing partner in Wells Fargo—and devised unique loyalty programs that helped move the needle from $1 million in sales to $3 million. Even with the constricting pressures from the pandemic, Tolan isn’t afraid to push forward in his quest to roll up Southern California dealers into the United Office Technologies Group (UOTG) collective at a time in life when many of his peers are eyeing the golf course and retirement.
“Being the chief operating officer of the company, I had the freedom to unleash the best in me and made the decisions that paid off immensely in building a strong foundation for the future of United Office Technologies Group,” said Tolan, a 2021 ENX Magazine Difference Maker.
Tolan had already amassed an impressive list of industry credentials, including stints with Century Business Services, Coast to Coast Business Equipment, Office Digital Solutions and Staples, prior to joining forces with O’Brien. But his path to the industry was carved out during a conversation over beers with a friend.
After immigrating to America, Tolan was attending night school to fortify the marketing degree he’d earned in Romania while selling test equipment for an electronics company. Jim Lovett, then a salesman with a Toshiba dealership in Anaheim, asked Tolan how he felt about the money he was making with the firm. The position was fine, Tolan recalled, but his commissions were capped. Lovett noted that his dealership, which did not cap commissions, was in search of sales reps and suggested coming in for an interview.
Tolan got the job because the dealer needed headcount, but the hiring manager expressed doubts that he would be successful in that business. The manager would soon eat crow; sans a commission cap, Tolan hit 300% of quota in his first three months. Within six months, he was promoted to the role his hiring manager held.
Perhaps it is only fitting that Tolan relishes the opportunity to develop talent through training and set them on the path to becoming financially secure. He inspires and encourages creative thinking for, like Branson, Tolan believes in the philosophy of “Treat your employees well, and they will treat your customers better.”
“I know that our existence and well-being is based on customer satisfaction and service,” he said. “I empower our customer service team to make immediate decisions. The ability to meet and exceed customer satisfaction—allowing them to give credits, etc.—makes it an easy and painless process for our clients.”
Setting the Pace
Tolan credits the late Bud Murphy, a longtime executive vice president of direct sales for Minolta, with showing him the P&L ropes, stressing creativity and emphasizing the virtue of outpacing competitors. “Hire right and train right,” Tolan recalled. “Attention to details in everything you do will prevent a lot of issues in the future.
“On a funny note, he did tell me that paper will always exist in any office environment for many years to come.”
For Tolan, 2020 was memorable on a number of fronts. UOTG’s partnership with All Covered helped bolster the dealer’s IT, VoIP and solutions offerings. A number of talented individuals joined the fold, and concessions made to clients during the pandemic helped the dealer quickly generate loyalty and credibility within its community. And during that period, UOTG migrated over to the FORZA operating system, enabling it to become more efficient while creating controls internally that helped spur growth.
As 2021 roars into the second half, Tolan will look to private label the dealer’s IT, VoIP and technology offerings while launching a unique e-commerce website that he believes will be a game-changer. UOTG is aggressively expanding its sales and consulting/service teams—both on the MFP and IT side—to provide an optimal experience for new and existing clients.
Tolan anticipates eclipsing the $10 million mark in revenues by year’s end. The company’s efforts caught the attention of a private equity firm, but Tolan prefers to focus on supporting employees and customers and establishing culture, as opposed to focusing on generating ROI for PE investors.
Continuous improvement, Tolan observed, is the key to perfection. Plus, he’s found that there’s value in taking a more measured approach.
“Throughout my professional career, I learned to slow down and take baby steps,” he said. “(That way), if you make a mistake, it won’t be as devastating as rushing and going all in. As we grow older, we learn to be more careful. We’ve made more mistakes in the past, and if you learned from those mistakes, it will bring you closer to perfection with a very low margin of error.”
Away from the office, Tolan loves spending time with his family. An avid hunter and fisherman, he also enjoys cooking whatever game he is able to procure. That love of the outdoors has prompted Tolan to donate hunting and fishing trips to the nonprofit Hunters for Youth, providing all-expenses-paid excursions for children who have lost their fathers and are financially disadvantaged. “Being in nature is pure therapy for me and is fuel for the brain,” he added.