On May 4, 2007 an EF-5 tornado wiped out the town of Greensburg, Kan., including BTI-Greensburg, the John Deere dealership. Just two years later, the dealership opened its doors to a new facility that set new standards for sustainable facilities. Along the way, the BTI leadership team rebuilt and expanded and helped Greensburg become an internationally recognized “green” community.

What BTI didn’t have on May 4, was a formal, documented disaster recovery plan. What they did have: All the components to survive a disaster, plus a vision to become even better than before. Mike Estes, vice president of BTI Corp., explains how they did it.

People First

“Within a few hours we have everybody accounted for. The good thing about rural America is that everybody pulls together,” says Estes. “We figured out where everybody was and let them know they still had a job. One of our disaster recovery items was to keep all of our people.”

Within a couple of days, they met with everyone.

Mike Estes, vice president of BTI Corp., says team dedication, partnerships, and vision helped propel the dealership to a new level after the tornado.

“We let them know that we had a big job ahead and we needed everyone’s help. We gave them emergency funding that they didn’t have to pay back, for motels and down payments on cars — enough to get them through a few months. And, we kept paying their salaries.”

The dealership’s management team stayed connected throughout the recovery. Mike, his brother, Kelly, who is president, sister, Letty Bachelor, controller and vice president, and others met and talked regularly to keep everyone updated.

“You want to allocate duties early on, the sooner the better. Have a large company meeting as quickly as possible. A lot of people have ideas that you might never have thought of,” he says.

Alternate Facilities, Processes

The dealership’s information technology expert had raced to the dealership to grab the servers when the sirens started going off. He stored them in his basement until after the storm and then set up a new IT center in the company’s other location in Bucklin, Kan.

“We lost a fair number of records, but most were backed up,” Estes says. “Today, we have a better backup plan, with two IT employees who plan for disaster recovery. When we built our new building, we put the servers in a tornado-proof shelter. Our other stores also now have tornado shelters.”

Within a month of the tornado, the dealership moved into a trailer for sales and administration. Within a few months, they had cleared a pad and built a 100 foot x 50 foot shed for parts and service.

BTI also moved forward with a deal they had been pursuing to buy a nearby dealership. Within a few weeks of the tornado, they took over a dealership in Pratt, Kan., about 30 miles away. That gave them another facility for equipment and inventory to serve their area customers. Some employees were shifted to that location and to the dealership’s Bucklin location. These temporary measures gave BTI the time it needed to consider what to do next.

Turn to Partners

BTI turned to partners to help in its recovery, including its insurance company, Federated Insurance.

“We had a $23 million loss. You need somebody that can handle that kind of loss,” Estes says. “We were always prepared in that area. Letty was in the insurance business and we’ve always had a propensity for insuring well. Kelly served on the Federated board when the tornado happened. It worked as well as insurance could work.”

BTI also had relationships with its elected officials. In fact, the state representative at the time, Dennis McKinney, was and still is a customer.

“That week, he got in his car and drove to Topeka and got a bill passed to help reconstruct Greensburg. We used that bill to get some serious funding.”

The disaster brought a visit from then Governor Kathleen Sebelius and President George W. Bush, and a disaster declaration also helped the dealership and community recovery.

John Deere also played a major role in the dealership’s recovery. Representatives helped with clean-up, checking inventory and more.

“John Deere corporate provided us with some Gators and a skid steer to assist in the clean-up efforts and shipped us chain saws, gloves, generators and the like for the benefit of the community. In addition, the combine factory ramped up and built some replacement machines for our customers who had lost their combines, right before our June wheat harvest.”

The company also supported the dealership’s new sustainable re-build.

“We could not have had a better partner than John Deere to go through this type of disaster with.”

Vision to Guide Rebuilding

“We had to figure out a way to come back to Greensburg. We had a good customer base and the community needed our support,” Estes says.

Estes and a few other business leaders challenged other owners to do the same. They called a meeting in a nearby town and asked owners what they planned to do.

“We took three white boards. We wrote ‘stay,’ ‘leave’ and ‘don’t know’ on them. Sixty-six said they would stay. One said he didn’t know. None said they were going to leave.”

The business owners continued meeting — every week for 18 months. It was during these and other meetings that various government agencies and experts helped the community rebuild as a green city.

Those initiatives led to the dealership building new sustainable facilities that earned a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Building Design (LEED) Platinum rating. This is the highest level awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council. BTI also won the Governor’s Award of Excellence, the state’s top business honor, in 2009.

BTI also expanded with a new business venture, selling wind turbines. They had installed one at the dealership as part of its environmental initiatives. They later partnered with the manufacturer to establish Harvest the Wind, a network of dealers.

“When you’re rebuilding, you need a vision. You may not die, but you won’t thrive without a vision. That’s why you get up in the morning and say, ‘OK, I can do this.’ That and faith in God, friends and family, ” Estes says.

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