Purchasing Manager, Border States Electric
By Joe Nowlan
It was as a student at North Dakota State University that Tony Serati first heard about the electrical distribution industry.
He was taking a supply chain management course and Jason Seger (his current boss at Border States Electric) came to speak to the class and give a presentation about the company and industrial distribution in general.
“I was fascinated by the company and hearing about a local Fargo, North Dakota-based company that was employee-owned,” he said. “I was just very attracted to Border States, even more so than to the industry itself at first.”
Eventually Serati became an intern at Border States which led to his being hired full time. (He graduated from North Dakota State with a degree in management information systems and a minor in computer science.)
Over time, Serati was promoted to positions including inventory planner, alliance inventory coordinator and strategic services team supervisor prior to his current position as purchasing manager which sees him leading a team of about 30. Since his time at Border States, Serati has achieved his CPIM and CSCP designations from APICS—the Association for Operations Management.
“I have responsibilities for our overall inventory assets, the service to our branches from an inventory standpoint and managing our supplier base,” he explained. “Right now we work with more than 2,000 suppliers annually so that can become a bit of a challenge…. We stock more than 70,000 unique products.”
Serati is a member of Border States storm recovery team—called into service when a hurricane or major winter blizzard strikes. And that isn’t limited to North Dakota or even the Midwest. When Super Storm Sandy clobbered the Northeast in 2012, “we ended up shipping product out there to utility companies to help in their recovery efforts,” he explained.
Living in the upper Midwest, of course, means that severe winter storms are not unusual. When this happens, the recovery team comes together in its own version of a war room, Serati explained.
“It can be dangerous when people are without power,” he said. “We’ve seen storms come through…that have taken down 6,000 utility poles. No one is equipped to handle that kind of damage. We’re talking about 20 below zero in January with wind chills….We have to get people back online as soon as possible.”
Serati lives in West Fargo, with girlfriend Karley and their two dogs, Carter and Belle. He is an enthusiastic booster of his North Dakota State University’s sports teams.
In addition, he is an avid guitar player having played the instrument for 17 years.
“I grew up in a very musical family. I got into it when I was younger. I enjoy jazz and blues and also get into folk and acoustic music,” he said.
He collects guitars and currently owns seven Taylor Guitars, a highly respected maker of acoustic instruments.
“It’s really a great escape from the work life. It’s a nice opportunity to just unwind and be my own little world.”
Q. What advice do you have for other young professionals in the electrical industry?
A. The best advice that I can give to up and comers in the industry is to work hard, learn the business, surround yourself with good people whether that’s from an employee standpoint or a mentorship standpoint. Throw yourself into your passion. Don’t be satisfied with the status quo. Always be looking to innovate. It is a great industry with a lot of opportunity. It is also a very stable industry with a lot of growth potential.… And it’s going to be there for people who work hard and sacrifice and really throw themselves into it.
Q. Where do you see the industry in five years?
A. I think there’s going to be a lot of growth opportunities whether that’s in oil exploration and drilling; domestically, I see a lot of opportunity in transmission and grid…. So there are a lot of opportunities from a market standpoint.
From an overall industry standpoint of where the business model is going, there are certainly some challenges….The Amazons of the world are getting really involved in industrial distribution from an online standpoint. And that’s an area where we really haven’t opened up nationwide. We certainly have an e-commerce solution that we use for existing customers but we need to understand what impact that could have on our business…. It hasn’t really been our niche market [or] a concern, but something we need to be very cognizant of and make sure that we’re in front of it.
We’re working on that right now as a company. We pride ourselves on our services and our supply chain solutions. A lot of our services and a lot of the value we provide to our customers can’t be replicated with an online service. It is based on local deliveries. It is based on seeing that Border States truck deliver your product every day and you know it is going to be there and when it’s going to be there… [Amazon] is certainly a concern and something we need to be very cognizant of and we are working to play in that space. But at the same time, we really pride ourselves in our service and we don’t think that can be replicated with the online world.
Joe Nowlan is a Boston-based freelance writer/editor and author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Tagged with tED