Tom Sega: From Customer to CEO of Duluth Pack
Have you ever loved a company and its products so much that you called the head of management and asked if you could buy the company? Most individuals are more than likely to say, ‘no’.
However, we interviewed someone who did just that. Tom Sega, a lifelong salesman with passions and careers in entrepreneurship and engineering, has been the CEO of Duluth Pack for the past 13 years. His beginnings of being a Duluth Pack customer relates closely to others who have turned to our brand over others. With traveling up to 30 weeks a year for his previous career, Tom would go through briefcases every six months to a year. He was tired of paying high prices for products that did not last him very long. Then one day, after finally having enough, Tom took a close friend’s advice and went to Duluth Pack to look for a quality briefcase after he heard them say, “Duluth Pack makes good stuff.” He purchased an olive drab canvas laptop briefcase and has now had it for 28 years, still using it almost every day. Ever since that day, Tom has been an avid believer in Duluth Pack products and their quality. After acquiring a few more Duluth Pack handcrafted items, Tom realized he had a vision of what this company could become and needed to see it through.
As stated by Tom, “This brand had the potential to be so much bigger and better than it was. It was already the best in its markets with the way they made their products and how they stood by their core values. They were just stuck in one market and one market only, and that is all they were really talking about. They were not talking about their briefcases, overnight bags, or gun cases, all things I have purchased. So, I thought to myself, ‘Holy cow, there is really something here.’”
After coming to this realization in 2003, Tom spent the next four years trying to convince senior management to sell the company to him. After continuous persistence, the chance he had been waiting for had finally come. Thirteen years ago, on April Fool’s Day in 2007, he closed the deal and became the CEO of Duluth Pack. Tom describes being CEO as being a one-of-a-kind experience saying, “It’s been like going to play every day since I walked into the company, because I love and believe so much in what we do.”
To get a further understanding of his role as CEO as well as a Duluth Pack customer, we asked Tom a variety of questions. His answers show how much pride he has in his company and how much he truly believes in the work in the company does and the products it handcrafts.
What are your favorite Duluth Pack Products?
Tom would consider himself a Duluth Pack junkie. The day he walked into the door as CEO, he owned 11 Duluth Pack products. Tom views these products as an investment that will last him a lifetime. All the Duluth Pack products he owns have been with him through thick and thin. From traveling across the world and building memories, these products have been through it all. His favorite product to this day is the All Day Lumbar Pack. The reason he loves this pack is that he is an avid outdoorsman and brings it along with him during his fishing and hunting trips. He uses this product most often when he is at his cabin in Canada. His second favorite product is his first Duluth Pack purchase, which was the olive drab canvas Laptop Briefcase. He has so many memories with this bag from the countless business trips he has taken over the years and surviving a plane crash with it (yes, this is true!). Lastly, his final go-to product would be the Rambler Pack, which he frequently uses during his hunting trips throughout the year.
What does your typical day as CEO look like?
Tom made sure to point out that every day as Duluth Pack’s CEO is something he looks forward to. Each day he has a full schedule with meetings, phone calls, and daily tasks he needs to get done. Even though his days are planned ahead of time, Tom rarely gets to stick to his schedule. He changes and adapts his schedule to best fit the needs of his employees. As Tom explained, “My day is spent helping to fulfill other’s needs. My job is to make sure all managers, and all employees, are set up for success. It is making sure we are breaking down hurdles for others, that we are setting up our employees for success, and that I have a vision for the company where we will be in 12 months, 24 months, and in 5 years from now.” Tom usually works seven days a week in pursuit to accomplish all tasks that must get done. When hunting season comes around, he enjoys his favorite outdoor activities, but knows that business operations take top priority. So, he will check his emails, budgets, and more from his hunting stand in the middle of the woods. By doing this, he kills two birds with one stone and uses his time as efficiently as possible. Talk about being committed to your work.
What has been the most challenging moment as CEO thus far?
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tom was faced with countless obstacles, just like so many other business owners did. His goal was to make Duluth Pack an essential company so that he could get the business up and running again as well as keep his employees employed during these unprecedented times. To overcome this challenge, they decided to get into the business of manufacturing PPE medical gowns. Tom further explained this situation by stating, “We did this transition in two weeks. It is one of the proudest moments in my career I have had. How quickly we were able to pivot and partner up with other companies so that we could become essential and get people back to work. It was as stressful as it could get.” With this new business development, Duluth Pack plans to continue its production of reusable and Made in the USA PPE medical gowns for years to come to help essential workers and frontline workers around the country. To learn more about this, watch the CNBC National interview where Duluth Pack and Tom were recognized for the company’s quick acting approach to manufacturing made in the USA, reusable PPE healthcare gowns for frontline workers.
When it comes to Duluth Pack as a company, what are you most proud of?
Tom claimed, “The number one thing that I am most proud of is to lead a brand like this one. We are the oldest canvas and leather pack and bag manufacturer in the United States of America, and not another company in this country can say that. We are it, and I am very proud of that. I am also very proud of our core values and that we never ever waiver from that. We do not try to be everything to everyone. This brand is not for everyone. Duluth Pack is for the people who care about our core values: quality, premium products that are made in America, and have a lifetime guarantee. That is our customer.”
Over the past 13 years as CEO, Tom has transformed Duluth Pack from being a company that employs 21 individuals to now having just around 100 employees all based in Duluth, MN. Tom is still eager to come to work each day with an open mind, ready to play and learn. He says he learns something new from his employees daily, and their passion for the brand is what keeps him going. He is doing work that he believes in and wants others to believe it for themselves too. His passion for the brand, its products, customers, and employees have made Duluth Pack what it is today.
We hope you enjoyed learning more about Tom Sega’s journey from being a lifelong Duluth Pack customer to now the CEO of the company.
Happy day, friends!