Sales support manager, Van Meter/Werner Electric
By Joe Nowlan
At one time, Tyler Thompson served as a volunteer football coach at his old high school, Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He had played quarterback there while a student.
That coaching duty actually led to an internship at Van Meter/Werner Electric in Cedar Rapids.
One of the Kennedy players was named Boyer and his dad, Barry Boyer, was then-president and CEO of Van Meter.
“I met Barry through coaching his son. He went to school with my parents so he knew who I was a little bit,” explained Thompson.
The elder Boyer was impressed by the coaching-leadership skills that volunteer coach Thompson displayed.
“I’m very thankful for that opportunity because I wouldn’t be where I am if somebody didn’t show me that there is this industry here that’s pretty intriguing and fun to be a part of,” Thompson explained.
In 2009, he graduated from Coe College, located in Cedar Rapids, with business administration and psychology degrees. It’s that second degree that has helped Thompson as much as anything, he said.
“I always joke with people that knowing a balance sheet and knowing accounting are something I’d never trade,” Thompson said. “But the more valuable classes I’ve taken are social psychology and knowing things about people.
Distribution can be a pretty simple bsiness but it can be the people that make it complicated sometimes. But that’s also what can make it fun.”
Thompson came on board full time in 2009. Today he is sales support manager. While his rise has been steady, Thompson looks back to when he was a continuous improvement specialist as a role where he learned a great deal.
“It really spring boarded me into the role that I’m in today,” Thompson explained. “It allowed me to get very deeply ingrained in not only high-level conversations but also I was…fortunate enough to be able to dig into a lot of the processes that I’m responsible for now.”
Thompson is 27 years-old. He bought a house a few years ago. He and his father spent quite a bit of time renovating it.
“I’ve learned a heck of a lot about what goes into successful home ownership,” Thompson said. “My dad knows how to do a lot of those things. I think that it was a good opportunity to learn those things and spend some time with my parents on it.”
He regrets that these days his busy schedule at Van Meter prevents him from helping out the Kennedy football team. But he still appreciates the lessons that playing quarterback taught him—and one lesson in particular.
“Helping different players on the team to figure out where they are best able to contribute the most,” Thompson explained. “And that’s the same as it is in business…just really working to figure out how everyone works together and making sure people understand the value that they bring is important, just like on the football field.… If you explain how they fit into the big picture, not only do they have more enthusiasm but it also gives them the confidence to develop.”
Q. What advice do you have for other young professionals in the electrical industry?
A. Develop good relationships. I’ve always been proud of the relationships I’ve developed but sometimes it can take a lot of courage to push some of those relationships. There’s a lot of black and white in distribution, and it’s not terribly complicated nor is it really where the growth and potential is. Your ability to have good relationships and how to figure out how to constantly navigate that gray area, that area of helping people win projects, [is crucial]. The only thing that is consistent is people’s ability to develop those relationships and become respected, become somebody that when there’s an opportunity to do something pretty cool—whether for a customer or supplier—they’ll come to you.
Q. Why are you so passionate about the electrical industry?
A. I would say three things: one, you get a taste of a lot of different things [in electrical]…. So there are a lot of different avenues of the business world that you get exposure to. There’s plenty of stuff in the supply chain that you can improve.
That being said, the second thing is that it’s an industry where costs are pretty fixed in regards to what it costs to do business. So your people costs and your inventory are really the two big areas. Everything else is kind of negligible so that allows those relationships to be so important. So if you’re a charismatic type of person and can solve problems for either the supplier or customer you’re going to be successful.
That leads into the third thing which is that in my opinion the electrical distributor is not in jeopardy of losing its value to a Google Supply or an Amazon Supply – some of these technologies that seem to be taking over different segments of our business….We have specialists [here] on staff and we’ve got people that can solve problems. Google Supply or Amazon Supply are not going to hire that sort of a resource to solve those problems. It is our job to align ourselves with customers that see that value and see us as part of their business to help them be more profitable. And the same thing goes for our suppliers as well.
Joe Nowlan is a Boston-based freelance writer/editor and author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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