Meeting a Business Legend

Tom Paterson – A Master Process Thinker and Business Legend

From ATMs to Disney’s Space Mountain, people all over the world have been impacted by what Tom Paterson has designed, discovered or helped to facilitate.  It’s no wonder then that Peter Drucker called Tom “the greatest process thinker in the world.”

Last fall I had the privilege of meeting Tom while attending training to become a Paterson Certified Strategic Operating Plan Facilitator. Now in his 89th year, he remains focused and productive in passing on his legacy processes to others through the Paterson Center.


Educated as a mechanical engineer and later receiving an MBA from Pepperdine University, Tom integrated his unique talents of process design, organizational management, opportunity sensing, and understanding behavioral change into what has become known as the Paterson Process™/StratOp which is his strategic operating plan process for businesses and non-profits.

 A Proven Process That Delivers Results

For over 40 years, Tom has helped start-ups and billion-dollar organizations grow sales and profits.   Here’s a sampling of how Tom’s process has impacted the following organizations.

  •  Helped catapult JLG to become the world leader of aerial work platforms
  • Created the breakthrough idea of overnight delivery for the Flying Tigers which became the key profit driver in its sale to FedEx
  • Birthed the “caffeine-free” category for Seven-Up
  • Guided the Tarrington Company to become the largest independent maker in the world of car steering columns

More recently, Tom’s StratOp process helped Otterbox identify convergent technology as a new market/product focus, propelling the company from $6 million in 2006 sales to $1.4 Billion in 2013.

Tom’s ATM Story

Coming from a banking background, Tom’s contribution to the development of the ATM machine has been particularly intriguing to me.  On the final day of my Paterson training, I had the opportunity to ask him more about this.

Tom told me that while employed with RCA in the 1960s, he was at Stanford University researching technology to develop the light weight camcorder.  On a Sunday afternoon, as he got into his car after a day of work, he realized he didn’t have any cash.  Consequently, back then there was no way to obtain cash outside of banking hours.

What he told me next was fascinating.  He said he sat in his car and thought through the entire process of how a pin number could be used to access one’s personal banking accounts through an ATM machine.  He then flew back to RCA’s office in New Jersey and filed a patent for the ATM pin technology.

Upon successful receipt of the patent, Tom received $150 from RCA.  He was quick to point out that he holds no resentment for the payout; that’s how things were done in those days.  “And besides,” he said, “look at how many jobs have been created by the development of ATM technology over the years.”

Not only is Tom a master process thinker, but he’s also a very humble guy.

I learned so much from my time with Tom and am honored to be carrying forward his legacy as a Paterson Certified Strategic Operating Plan Facilitator. 

To learn more about Tom’s Strategic Operating Plan (StratOp) process and how it might help your organization grow, please contact me at or visit my website at Terri Krohn Consulting.   I would welcome the opportunity to visit with you.


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Terri Krohn provides strategic focus and facilitation services for small to medium sized businesses. As a strategic planning facilitator & accountability partner, I help you position your business for growth and success. With my help, getting there includes: - creating an intentional business focus - developing a strategic business plan to support your focus - providing accountability through planning implementation - building measurement systems to track success

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