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2013 30 Under 35 Profile: Neil Gartin

Neil Gartin
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Senior Procurement Analyst, Border States Electric

By Joe Nowlan

As a student at Minnesota State University Moorhead (MSUM), Moorhead, Minn., Neil Gartin had his sights set on medical school or a career in industrial science.

“I graduated with a degree in chemistry but figured out that I wasn’t really cut out to be a lab chemist,” Gartin explained.

MSUM is just across the Red River from Fargo, N.D., where Border States Electric’s headquarters is located. While in school, Gartin worked a weeklong temp job at Border States. This would represent his only contact with the electrical industry until a few years later.

After graduation, Gartin worked for Microsoft Business Solutions until he noticed an opening—at Border States, of all places.

“I applied and was offered a job as an inventory planner and spent the next several years learning as much as I could about the business,” said Gartin.

That led to his current role as senior procurement analyst for Border States’ Southwest Region, based in Phoenix. Procurement and inventory management are constantly evolving with new applications for metrics and analytics. But it’s the type of change that Gartin embraces.

“Change can be uncomfortable for everyone, but … Border States is growing rapidly, and growth means change. We have more vertical markets and more varied types of products and customers,” he explained. “As the company grows, people, processes and technology need to evolve and adapt to fit changing business needs.”

Like many of his colleagues in this 30 Under 35 series, Gartin realizes that those changes are customer-driven more than anything else.

“We have customers asking us for things they weren’t asking for years ago…. The general business climate is moving toward faster and faster changes. New product and supply-chain innovations can be disruptive. The electrical supply business is certainly not exempt from that,” he said. “So we need to be on our toes and … make sure we are nimble enough to react to changes that come from inside or outside of our industry.”

Early in his Border States career, Gartin was mentored by various senior employees. That mentoring is something he enjoys doing today in a kind of a pay-it-forward gesture.

“I’ve had multiple mentors in my career and have also been able to be a mentor,” Gartin said. “It is a real treat to be able to participate in the development of another employee’s career, in one way or another, to get to know them, to work with them and to be able to provide them with feedback.”

In August 2013, Gartin and his wife, Bethany, moved to Phoenix, site of the second-largest Border States office. When his travel schedule permits, the Gartins enjoy exploring the Phoenix area, hiking, mountain biking and doing various outdoor activities.

Managing inventory in Phoenix is not exactly where the chemistry major thought he’d end up, but he’s happy with the situation.

“Everyone has an interesting story about how they ended up in this business,” Gartin said. “It is not something that people typically set out to get into when in college or even before that. [The electrical industry] is not that well known to the general public.”

Q. What advice do you have for other young professionals in the electrical industry?

A. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. That is something that I personally do quite a bit of and very much enjoy the chance to sit down with a veteran employee and just pick their brains about questions, big or small.

I also think that our industry can learn from others that are perhaps moving faster than ours in terms of their evolution. We can also learn a lot by seeking educational opportunities from broader fields outside of the industry….

I have just finished a master’s degree in supply-chain management at Penn State. It blew my mind. There is so much to learn [from] just interacting with a large group of professionals that work in many different industries. To be able to take their expertise and bring it back to what we do in our company and our industry—that kind of outside perspective is incredibly valuable in driving some of the decisions that we make, some of the processes that we develop.

Q. What is one of the biggest challenges to running your department in today’s economic climate?

A. While I do not run a department at Border States, I do have some leadership responsibilities. Generally speaking, I would say a great challenge lies in change management—knowing when change in necessary, what change is necessary and how to successfully implement it. It’s a huge growth opportunity for me because I don’t know how good I am at it [laughter].

Things that are driving the need to change come in part from our economic climate. The fact is that our business is more challenging these days. There is margin erosion taking place. There is lot of consolidation going on. We have to implement change in order to keep up with those external influences and also to be competitive in general.

Joe Nowlan is a Boston-based freelance writer/editor and author. He can be reached at jcnowlan@msn.com.

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