C/I Specification Manager, Eaton Corp.
By Joe Nowlan
Jessica Richardson’s first job in the electrical industry may be unique among this year’s “30 Under 35” honorees: She started as a temp.
Richardson’s husband, Jordan, is a physical therapist and captain in the Air Force. In 2012, he was stationed at Seymour Johnson AFB in North Carolina. Cooper Industries had a facility not far from where the Richardsons lived. (Eaton acquired Cooper in 2012.)
“I didn’t know anything about the electrical industry. But I knew it was a growing industry,” Richardson said. “I knew that it was something where if I stuck with it…there would be many opportunities.”
From HR, she moved up to four different positions at the La Grange, N.C., facility before being named a value stream manager. Richardson enjoyed the work and pace of the electrical industry.
At this point, however, the Air Force intervened. Jordan was being sent to California—specifically Lincoln, near Sacramento. Jessica was not exactly singing “California, here I come.”
“I was kind of bummed out,” Richardson laughed. “I was moving up in the company. I had great relationships. I was accomplishing a lot of good things. I felt like part of a very good family there, too.”
But the Cooper leadership team realized it had a very bright young prospect in Richardson and approached her about a position in California. Upon arriving on the west coast, she started work as a specifications manager.
Richardson graduated from Austin Peay University in Clarksville, Tenn. She was a communications major and minored in broadcasting and worked more behind the scenes than in front of a camera or microphone.
“Oddly enough, I dealt with a lot of electrical devices then, hooking them up and seeing what worked. Little did I know that my hands-on experience there would actually feed into what I’m doing now,” she said.
When Eaton acquired Cooper, a crucial transition period soon followed. As part of that transition, Richardson was asked to explain the work being done in the wiring device department to a group of Eaton executives, many of whom were longtime veterans of the industry. While she admits to being a bit intimated initially, Richardson’s presentation was well-received.
“I was proud of myself,” she said. “But I also felt very fortunate to have the team that I had to prepare me for that. If I had not been a part of a really great team, I would never have been comfortable enough to have done that.”
Being part of and collaborating with a good team is important to Richardson. Even more so after having recently attended her first NAED Women in Industry Conference held in Austin, Texas. Around 200 women attended, she said, including three women from Eaton’s Cooper Wiring Devices business.
“Meeting some of the ladies who were at the [conference] was so enlightening,” Richardson said. “There were some very good speakers there talking about how to be a good leader which is something that I want to do one day. It’s something I strive to be. What that’s going to be in, I don’t know. But I enjoy being a leader and I enjoy the collaboration.”
Q. What advice do you have for other young professionals in the electrical industry?
A. Listen, and then do. We don’t know everything…but the best thing you can do when you go into the industry is to listen, you watch and you do. If you don’t get your hands dirty, you’re not going to understand the full scope of everything. Listen to what people have to say first. We have a lot of knowledge out there and some of it is not written down. A lot of it is based on experience. Gain that experience and then you will evolve as you go. And ask a lot of questions. People are more willing to help you if you first listen, then watch, then do and then ask questions.”
Q. When you think is the biggest opportunity within the industry?
A. I think the biggest opportunity that we still have yet to capture is the use of social media. I think we are on a good path and I think we are starting to dabble in it [as an industry]. But the electrical industry has always been kind of old school. Now my generation, I use Twitter, for example, I can be connected with distributors and contractors and engineers. But some of us have not really caught on yet that we can use social media to tweet out new products. People can answer questions live. And not only live but if somebody in a store asks a question and they tweet me—they can get a response within 10 minutes. And perhaps not only a response but then other people will see that response and the knowledge just expands and grows. Hopefully in the near future we’ll be able to really start engaging other people. When I refer to personal relationships, a lot of times nowadays a personal relationship means you have never “met” that person [physically] but you’ve “met” them online. Which means you can reach anybody and have a personal relationship…with that person or company on social media. You can still have an impact on their business.
Joe Nowlan is a Boston-based freelance writer/editor and author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Tagged with tED