Jamin Arvig and the Ripple Effect of Thoughtful Leadership
2020 YPO Global Impact Award
Jamin Arvig is the Mid-America U.S. regional honoree for the 2020 YPO Global Impact Award. The award focuses on YPO members making impact outside the organization that is both sustainable and scalable, affecting people, prosperity, peace or our planet.
In 2000, a string of news articles about the lack of safe drinking water caught YPO member Jamin Arvig’s attention. The facts were eye-opening: more than 1 billion people lacked access to clean water. In the United States, crumbling infrastructure meant tap water wasn’t a safe and healthy option for many people; worldwide, many more lacked any source of running water. Bottled water had become a popular stopgap, but it was expensive and relied on plastic bottles that ended up in landfills. For Arvig, it was a catalyzing moment.
“I didn’t realize the problem was as widespread as it was,” Arvig says. He points to consumers’ excitement over tech gadgets and responds, “They’re great, and they’re world-changing, but the fanciest electronic isn’t nearly as important as clean drinking water.”
Then only 19 years old, Arvig was already a successful entrepreneur. He started an outdoor services business he grew and sold while in high school and moved into residential real estate during college. However, something was missing in his work: the chance to make a positive impact on the world.
In water, Arvig saw an opportunity to harness the growing e-commerce marketplace for good. His idea was to bring water filters to consumers online at lower prices, making tap water safe for more people and eliminating plastic water bottles from landfills.
From opportunity to thriving enterprise
In 2002, Arvig founded Tier1Water (originally named WaterFilters.net) with the simple yet impactful mission to improve water and the world. As with many an entrepreneur, his Minnesota garage served as company headquarters. In a testament to Arvig’s entrepreneurial instinct, the company doubled in size each year over the next decade.
“The turning point was in 2009,” he says. “We were at the Inc. 500 awards, and I looked around and began to realize, ‘This is an impactful business. It’s making a difference in the world.’”
Today, Arvig has grown the company from its humble beginnings into a family of brands focusing on Tier1Water, an award-winning 100-person outfit that distributes and manufactures filtration products for the water and air purification industries. Based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, his company encompasses brands like DiscountFilterStore and Tier1water.com, which launched in 2013.
Tier1Water helps homeowners and businesses have access to clean water by identifying and solving water problems all around North America with its water treatment systems, drinking water filters, pool and spa filters and, refrigerator filters and much more. Tier1Water also partners with other brands that need help in selling their products direct-to-consumer through marketplaces.
Since its founding almost 20 years ago, the company has also donated to water charities doing work that ranges from river cleanup in Maryland to digging wells in Uganda.
The catalyst of 360-degree service
While growth is perhaps the best word to characterize what drives Arvig as a leader, it’s not necessarily growth in the economic sense.
“There’s nothing I’m more passionate about than personal growth,” he says. “I think, like a lot of entrepreneurs, sometimes the vision needs to get expanded later on. That was the case with this startup.”
The scope of that passion includes Tier1Water’s employees as much as it does himself: The aspect of Arvig’s leadership strategy that stands out most is his commitment to the idea that when employees find fulfillment at work, everyone wins. One of the company’s core values is service, especially service to each other.
“We call it 360-degree service, and it really touches all aspects of how we operate,” he says.
He explains it as a group of concentric circles that make up a “Calling Target.” On the outer ring is simply a job, something that pays the bills. In the center of the group is what someone is passionate about — what they see as their calling. Arvig’s philosophy is to help employees find their calling and empower them to heed it. That, in turn, is passed on to the customer.
“This is one way I hope to serve people in our company consistently, to help people find their calling,” he says. “Many times, they don’t even know exactly what they’re looking for, but the goal is to help them understand who they are, what they want, what makes them thrive and gives them energy, or brings out the best in them — and help them do that each day.”
In emphasizing service, Arvig has established a leadership paradigm for a company that does right by its customers, employees, partners and the bottom line, and continues to do so as it evolves. And while the business revolves around products that reduce waste and improve public health, charitable giving is a cornerstone of Arvig’s commitment to service as well.
A business model that gives back
Tier1Water has supported a number of clean water charities since its founding. Examples include the Clean Water Fund, which assists grassroots campaigns to clean up polluted water supplies in the United States, and The Water Project, which aids communities in sub-Saharan Africa with access to water through infrastructure projects.
“Whether it’s through bringing clean water to areas that don’t have it, bringing education about the importance of clean water, or helping with disaster relief and crumbling infrastructure … there are lots of areas to help create some positive impact in the world,” he says.
In 2011, Tier1Water created a partnership with charity: water, in which 5-10% of profits benefit these nonprofits. Charity: water’s mission is to facilitate safe, clean drinking water for communities in developing countries. As of 2020, charity: water reports that more than 10 million people in 27 countries now have access to drinking water as a result of its efforts. The nonprofits guarantee 100% of profits donated go to fieldwork, which could be funding the repair of a well in Ethiopia; gutters to catch and store rainwater in India; or a treatment system to remove contaminants from an existing water system in Cambodia.
New era, new goals
Arvig’s leadership strategy is noteworthy in that it hinges as much on introspection as acumen, and 20 years on, his emphasis on personal growth means his entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well. That, in turn, has kept his company nimble and poised for what’s next. A prime example is Tier1’s newest experience at Tier1water.com.
Tier1Water.com and DiscountFilterStore.com share a mission, but while the former specializes in delivering affordable quality filters, the latter is built around solving water problems through a very simple and transparent process and product. Arvig’s plan for Tier1 is to disrupt the filtration industry by empowering end users to easily and confidently solve their water problems, while getting direct-to-consumer pricing.
“There’s an antiquated model of dealers that go into homes and pitch a very extensive unit,” he says. “Because of all our infrastructure, we can do it more efficiently and more cheaply.”
As with his original company, it’s an idea he knows will increase consumer access to clean tap water and decrease dependency on bottled water.
Bigger than one founder
While his heart may have been in the right place to start, Arvig credits his involvement in the YPO community with sharpening his focus. He can’t put his finger on a single moment that galvanized him as a leader, but instead describes it more as a journey toward leadership development. Mentors and peers he met through YPO were key in that.
“The two characteristics of folks in YPO are a passion for learning and for helping each other,” he says. “I think the vast majority of YPO members want to leave a legacy, and I think one of the ways we can do that as YPO members is to build a business that outlasts us and do much more than what we could do individually. That’s my definition of making an impact.”