Close your eyes. spin a globe, and see where your finger lands. Odds are Dennis Marunde has been there.
Curious by nature, the president of Arvidson Pools & Spas has traveled the world, exploring nearly all of Western Europe, portions of Eastern Europe, Australia, New Zealand, the Caribbean, Japan, and North, South and Central America.
“I’ve had a lifelong passion for gaining and understanding ‘the big picture,’” says Marunde. “Somehow or other, travelling with a goal of better understanding what motivates people the world over, what affects their values and how they look at the world helps me realize my interest in that big picture.”
These adventures aren’t simply self-gratifying; he’s actually helping others by serving as assistant director of the study abroad program for his alma mater, Principia College. All told, Marunde will have participated in eight of these trips, including one to Peru, where he will be leading a group until late spring.
Marunde first caught the travel bug as an undergraduate, attending five consecutive study abroad programs beginning with one to Guatemala. Years later, after completing graduate school, he accepted an opportunity to visit Africa and assist a friend on safari. Unbeknownst to him at the time, the excursion would ultimately shape the way he approached the leadership of his Chicago-area based pool firm, and pave the way for his ability to travel from two to five months each year.
“One day on safari, this idea came to me that the role of a manager ought to be to make himself obsolete, and I thought, ‘Wow, maybe I should pay attention to that,’” recalls Marunde. “I vowed that when I went back to work, I was going to create structures, systems and people who would be able to have the same experience. I could grow the business by giving all those people opportunities to rise to their potential.”
After returning from that trip to lead the company his grandfather founded in 1958, Marunde slowly began implementing his new philosophy. But it would be another several years before he had a chance to truly test his theory.
When a former classmate approached him to help with the study abroad program at Principia, Marunde couldn’t resist. The trip to Japan went so well, the school invited him to continue on in that role and he has been invited back at least every other year since.
Moreover, the plan he devised for his company appeared to take effect, so Marunde had the confidence to leave his post in the hands of his staff, which included a brother, Doug Marunde, vice president of construction, and a cousin, Dan Arvidson, vice presies."dent of operations.
“I was so proud of the people at work who realized that we developed a system and got the right people on board so they learned how to communicate and solve problems together without me being a referee,” he says. “There are a lot of things to make a business successful. But my measure of success is not just how large it is or how profitable it is but how functional we are.”
To determine this, Marunde asked himself questions such as, “Do we work in an environment of trust?” and “Have we found ways to cooperate and collaborate in support of each other and in support of our customers?” The answer was a resounding, “Yes."
Of course, his absence may come at a certain cost, particularly due to the seasonal nature of the industry, but Marunde sees it as a way for his employees to grow in their roles.
“When I go away, it may be more status quo instead of rushing forward, but it gives people a breather and a chance to work together,” he notes. “It’s no longer a question of whether I can be gone for the winter only. When the opportunity presents itself, and if it seems like the right thing to do, I am able to.”
During his travels, Marunde has an opportunity to share his knowledge of the business world with the students, offering guidance on economics and other areas of his expertise as they visit factories such as a Volvo plant in developing countries like Brazil. But often he simply serves as a bridge between the students and the professors, keeping everyone mentally, physically and emotionally healthy.
Many of the trips are quite rigorous, and Marunde’s presence is most welcome during moments of harsh weather, fatigue and stress or when the group is confined to close quarters for extended periods.
Take his last trip to Brazil, for example, where the students were living out of backpacks, hiking for seven- to nine hours a day through the Chapada Diamantina National Park, known as the Lost World, and sleeping in rustic cabins or campsites operated by indigenous people.
“Not everyone had the right shoes, and I remember how we came together and carried each other and coached each other. I had to carry a man twice my size when he got sick,” he says. “When you have been through certain hardships, that’s when you really start to bond with people.”
The relationships Marunde has forged with many of his students last well beyond their time together in the subways of Tokyo or huts in Peru. As the keeper of his company’s culture, he always is hoping to bring something back from his trips that will improve the business structure. One way he has done so is by hiring some of the students. All told, eight of his former travel companions have worked at Arvidson. In fact, his current IT manager, whom he met while on a study abroad program to Japan, has worked at the firm for eight years.
“To experience these places together and see them through the lens of their mind’s eye further enriches every trip,” he says. “A friend of mine used to tell me, ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood.’ I’m just seeking to understand, I guess,” he says.