Project Department Manager, Rexel West Coast
By Joe Nowlan
After finishing school, David Wills took the advice of some pals and moved near them to San Diego, from his native San Jose.
But finding an appropriate job was a challenge. As a stopgap measure he took a department manager’s position at a Crate & Barrel.
“But it ended up working out great because that is where I met my wife,” Wills said. “She was a design assistant at Crate & Barrel while she was finishing up at San Diego State.”
His girlfriend’s father was good friends with the president of Independent Electric in San Diego and put in a good word for Wills.
“I got the job and went through the whole gamut over the course of about a year and a half,” he explained. “I went from the warehouse to shipping and receiving to operations, counter and inside sales.”
Wills was in the company’s projects department working on price quotes when the recession hit (2007-2008).
“When the layoffs began, I stayed and we dropped from eight people down to three,” he said. “I was there for five years. It was a real feet-in-the-fire deal…working 12-hour days, just trying to keep up with the pace from being so short-staffed. It was a great learning experience.”
In 2011 Wills was surprised to get a call from a recruiter from Rexel. Figuring that he had little to lose by going for the interview, Wills met with a Rexel manager.
“I liked what he had to say. They had some great plans for me, which sounded awesome. So I took the job,” he explained. “I was the project house lead. I was quoting and managing the gear, as well as leading the team.”
His boss wanted to build an energy center in San Diego. He asked Wills to lead the project.
“I said sure, not really realizing what I was getting involved with,” he laughed.
Upon completion, Rexel’s Energy Center displayed more than 100 lighting fixtures from various manufacturers.
“The idea is that you can give yourself a guided tour throughout the building and all of it is controlled by an iPad, an iPhone, or wall controls.… [When] customers came in, we could get a feel for what they wanted and go in that direction with the tour,” Wills explained.
The Energy Center is also used for training. It’s been such a success in San Diego, Wills said, that Rexel is hoping to establish similar energy centers at other locations.
“The CEO of Rexel Paris came to the United States and made a point to come and visit the Energy Center. And that went over very well,” he explained.
Wills and the wife he met in San Diego (Courtney) have two children, Crosby, age three, and one-year-old Marit. They now live in Loomis, Calif. (in the Sacramento area).
His hobbies include soccer, which he plays when his schedule permits.
“Yeah, I’m still holding onto my youth,” he laughed. “I’ve been a goalkeeper since I was 10 years old…. I still get out there and have a little fun. I like to play at least once a week.”
Q. What advice would you have for other young professionals in the electrical industry?
A. The biggest thing I would say is to learn everything. Don’t let anybody tell you that you’re “just doing quotes” so don’t do anything else. If you can cross-train yourself to learn as much of the industry as possible, then you will be invaluable. And it will be very important for your career-building to know it all.
I appreciate the double facet of distribution, where it is blue collar with a lot of intelligence. I had no problem getting dirty, working in the warehouse doing shipping and receiving, doing the counter. But then there is also a lot of smarts behind it where you have to be smart enough on spreadsheets [for example]. You have to be able to manage a computer. The idea of working on something in a branch and then going out in the field and actually seeing it come into existence is really a cool idea. I like being part of something that actually has value as opposed to just working on numbers on a page.
Q. What do you think is the biggest opportunity within the electrical industry?
A. For me, I would say it is energy, especially being on the West Coast. It is an ever-evolving area in terms of lighting, solar, and getting more bang for your buck. There is no set way of doing it. If you can figure out a better way to create a better value for your customer, that will go a long way. As it changes, you need to adapt and change. Otherwise, you will be left in the dust.
One thing we always talk about here, especially on the lighting side, is nobody makes catalogs anymore. Everything is just a handout or an electronic version. Because by the time they print it and it is mailed to you, it’s already obsolete. So if you are not adapting on the fly, you’re going to have a real problem.
Joe Nowlan is a Boston-based freelance writer/editor and author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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