Distributor Sales Specialist, Eaton
By Joe Nowlan
When Jeff Richards was accepted to Texas A&M, he was considering the college’s engineering program. His older brother who had majored in industrial distribution at A&M suggested Richards consider a similar major.
The more Richards learned about industrial distribution, the more attractive it sounded.
“I talked with the faculty. They told me more about the degree…. [T]he breadth of opportunities it provided in sales or operations really drove me to it,” Richards said. “And the 100% job placement that [industrial distribution] boasted about really helped too.”
While still in college, Richards worked part-time for a local electrical distributor, Elliott Electric Supply. Between his studies at A&M and various internships, Richards knew he made the right career choice. After graduation, he accepted an offer from the Eaton Corporation, attracted to the company’s training program.
“I realized coming out of college just how much I still needed to learn. And that’s what drove me to the [Eaton] program,” Richards said. “And hearing about the training opportunities during the interview process is what did it for me.”
Eaton’s Leadership Development Program for Technical Sales sent Richards to California where he initially focused on residential and light commercial sales.
“It was a year-long program, a year-long commitment. I trained on how to quote jobs, how to price out jobs, and project management,” he explained. “What drove me to it was to be able to just learn. The commitment from Eaton in the program is just tremendous.”
While a native Texan, Richards enjoyed the contrast of living and working on the west coast.
“I lived out there for a year. It was kind of a culture shock. But I loved it out there,” Richards said.
Richards’ is now a distributor sales specialist in Austin. His Eaton territory covers about 200,000 square miles from Amarillo in the North Texas Panhandle, to as far south as Brownsville, “where I have one distributor who is about four blocks from Mexico,” he said.
Richards calls on more than 70 distributors in his region. In 2013, he drove more than 60,000 miles for his job.
“I’m a road warrior for sure.  was my first year in this role, so to get out and meet the distributors, I put in a lot of windshield time,” he laughed. “Last week I did 1,500 miles. It wears on you.”
He tries to make his “windshield time” as productive as he can and appreciates having satellite radio.
“Satellite radio is great. I’ll also take phone calls. I might be on the road and be on the phone with a distributor for an hour and figure out how to do something,” he said.
Richards lives in the Austin, Texas, area with his wife Alexandra. She is finishing medical school and awaiting word of where her medical residency will be.
Richards is also an avid runner.
“I just do it to mostly stay in shape. I raced in high school and college, doing 5K and 10K races,” he said. “Being on the road all the time, sitting down every day, I need to get up and do something. It also helps managing stress.”
Q. What advice would you have for other young professionals in the electrical industry?
A. You can never ask too many questions. I wish I had asked more questions during my internships in the beginning. It is something I do all the time now. But you can never ask too many questions. That would be number one.
I guess another one would be to find a mentor. There are two guys that I work with who have 35-plus years of experience, both of them. It is always good to find a mentor. It is always easy for a young person to latch on to the other young people in the office. It is a little harder to latch onto somebody more seasoned. So I would tell them to find a mentor, whether in distribution or manufacturing. There is so much you can learn from those people. That is something that helped me so much in my younger career.
Q. You’re one of the youngest people to be recognized this year. Do you ever run into difficulty commanding respect in the company? If so, how do you manage that?
A. I kind of go into it with the fact that those who are 40 years or older may think that I’m just this young guy and may not know anything. So I don’t go into it as if I know it all.… I know I’m a younger guy. I know that there’s going to be a backlash. And when there is not, great. But when there is, I try to handle it as best I can. Usually, I try to be as understanding as possible with those people.… I am in the next generation of these people coming up and they want to work with me most of the time.
Most of the backlash I got, I tried to act like I don’t know everything. And as I said before, ask a ton of questions. Try not to act like I know it all. Most people are readily acceptable of that. But other times—you just can’t change some people. But those people are in the minority. Most people are very helpful.
Joe Nowlan is a Boston-based freelance writer/editor and author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Tagged with tED