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Salt Lake City — Not many business luncheons culminate with the honoree enthusiastically pulverizing an entire rake in a blender on stage. But that’s what happens when you pay tribute to Tom Dickson, founder of Blendtec and the social media superstar in its “Will it Blend?” marketing campaign.
Dickson was honored on Thursday by the MountainWest Capital Network as that organization’s 2014 Entrepreneur of the Year.
Blendtec’s innovative, high-speed blenders are sold in 90 countries, and the company employs 450 people, most of them in its Orem-based manufacturing facility. The company’s sales have been propelled by a unique social media campaign—featuring Dickson crushing and grinding various items in a Blendtec blender—that has been seen by nearly half a billion people worldwide.
Additionally, Blendtec is riding high on the heels of a successful lawsuit against competitor Vitamix for patent infringement. Blendtec was awarded $24.1 million in damages in 2010—the largest award in Utah history in a patent case—and that award was upheld in 2012 after two appeals.
First and foremost, Dickson is an inventor, said Craig Taylor, CEO of Blendtec. “His manufacturing plant is his playground—he has a lot of fun there. Tom’s exactly as seen on YouTube—lively, interesting and smart.”
Dickson’s hands-on approach to life dates back to his childhood and teens, when his hobby was souping up go-karts with high-powered engines. A native Californian, he studied mechanical engineering at Brigham Young University.
“He is a mechanical genius,” said Alan Ashton, co-founder of WordPerfect, founder of Thanksgiving Point and previous MWCN Entrepreneur of the Year.
Dickson’s blender innovation lies in the five-sided jar. The simple change from four to five sides eliminates a problem that has long plagued blenders: an air pocket that develops over the blending blades and halts the flow of ingredients.
Dickson’s attention to detail and concern for quality permeates the company’s blenders, said Taylor. “He has a desire to produce a durable, safe product that is going to change lives.” One example of this attention to detail is the blenders’ touch screen control, which eliminates the safety and sanitation hazard that comes with push buttons when food particles fall into the crevices around them.
As an inventor, Dickson is a disruptor and rule breaker, said Taylor. “‘Will it Blend?’ is an example of how Dickson does not follow the rules, even in how you should market a product,” he said.
The “Will it Blend?” campaign launched in 2006, when Blendtec hired a new marketing director, George Wright, who was intrigued by Dickson’s product-testing sessions, in which he would shove two-by-fours and other sturdy objects into the blenders to see if they would break. Wright filmed Dickson blending objects like marbles, whole rotisserie chickens and cans of soda, and then posted the videos on YouTube.
“He came to me five days later and said, ‘Tom, we hit a home run. We have 6 million views on YouTube!’ And I said, ‘Who tube?’” joked Dickson.
Immediately, Dickson began receiving invitations to appear on television shows like The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Today Show and Ellen, among many, many others. The “Will it Blend?” campaign has become a social media legend that is included in college textbooks and analyzed in trade publications, said Dickson.
As an entrepreneur, Dickson “was able to see opportunities where other people wouldn’t notice them,” said Ashton. He was also incredibly persistent. “He always got up. If he got knocked down, he got right up again.”
Ken Woolley, former CEO of Extra Space Storage and past MWCN Entrepreneur of the Year, said he admires Dickson’s passion for his employees. Woolley is a childhood friend of Dickson and has served on the board of Blendtec since its founding.
One reason for Dickson’s “success in building Blendtec has been a passion for employees, taking care of the people who work with him and for him … really kind of making Blendtec a family company, where everyone involved sort of feels like family,” said Woolley.
Dickson said the personal philosophies that have made him successful are to really have fun with what you do, surround yourself with the very best people, set your course and lead out, share the wealth and be grateful for what you have.
The MWCN Entrepreneur of the Year award dates back to 1988. Some past recipients include Jerry Atkin of SkyWest and Ray Noorda of Novell.
“Every year, there is just a handful of names from which to choose our honoree,” said Julie Jakob, CEO of Jakob Marketing Partners and chairperson of MWCN’s Entrepreneur of the Year committee.
“A MountainWest Capital Network Entrepreneur of the Year is a visionary founder of a Utah-based company who remains personally involved, inspires others to contribute personal and professional finances and risk in a company which offers a product or service, who ultimately returns significant wealth … and financial rewards to those who participate, and also gives back to the community,” said Jakob.