Live Beyond Yourself: Connecting Success and Purpose with Dave Tolmie

Casey Gordon | June 16, 2016

“Let me tell you a story,” Dave Tolmie says between takes during our interview.

One evening during their freshman year in college, Dave took his daughter and a few of her friends to dinner. A friend asked Dave to share his wisdom for attaining success without compromising one’s sense of personal fulfillment. It didn’t take long for Dave to respond with three words:

Live beyond yourself.

Days later, Dave had this mantra etched into a number of stones, giving one to each person who sat at dinner that night. Dave tells us that his daughter and her friends are now adults, and to this day each of them still has their stone.

This story and those words, simple as they may be, are a powerful testament to the respect Dave commands from pretty much everyone he crosses paths with.

A quick summary of Dave’s long history of purpose-driven success: As CEO, Dave led Yesmail to a successful IPO and subsequent sale for $720 million back in the dot-com era. Dave also built and sold a regional health club company to Bally Total Fitness for $90 million before joining Bally to oversee the company’s $650 million annual revenue and its 13,000-person sales and operations workforce.

Dave has been a Partner with Edgewater Funds since its inception in 2001. Today the firm has $2.4 billion in committed capital. He is an active civil servant, serving on the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee of the Field Museum and Opportunity International. Dave is also the Chairman of The Faraja Fund Foundation, which supports the Faraja Primary School for children with physical disabilities in Tanzania, Africa.

The first of many wise words Dave shared with us were that the most successful investments aren’t really about money. They’re about people. You can invest a billion dollars in the best idea of all time but if you bring in a CEO who doesn’t form amicable, effective working relationships, your investment is going to fail.

Dave has a pretty stellar track record of making — and making good on — investments, so we’d say he’s probably on to something.

Dave shares 5 personality traits he looks for in new leaders:

1. Patterns of success. Not just in business, but in life. Success has a way of repeating itself.

2. Ability to attract and retain great people. True success takes a great team.

3. Customer focus. The CEO needs to be the best salesperson. If they are focused on the customer, the rest of the organization will follow.

4. Likability (i.e. the No Asshole Rule). Is a person effective in their relationships? A person’s bluechip resume is useless if nobody gets along with them.

5. Unquestioned integrity. Great leadership begins and ends here. If you’re not sure about a person’s integrity, you’ve got your answer.

FIVEinSIXTY is our interview series with leading CEOs, founders, and other executives about building amazing company culture, designing creative offices, and creating compelling employer brands.

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