Operations Manager, Dickman Supply Company
By Joe Nowlan
Another example of how it never hurts to ask: Between his junior and senior years at the University of Dayton, Neal Schafer was looking for an internship.
“I knew the vice president of sales and marketing [at Dickman Supply] and just asked him if there was anything available,” Schafer explained. “He told me he had some projects…some marketing, research and sales type of projects.”
Schafer has been there ever since, seven years now.
Like many rookies in distribution, Schafer started in the warehouse. Shortly thereafter, he became part of the company’s Green Energy Supply group.
“We consulted with customers anywhere from maintenance managers to business owners on what type of energy-efficient measures they could do to help reduce their costs in their business,” said Schafer. “We went out and actually performed the [energy] audits and made the proposals. We took care of all the paperwork processing for them to ensure that they got their tax incentives and utility rebates.”
About three years ago, Schafer was offered the chance to join Dickman Supply’s trainee development program and learn how to operate and manage a branch. This meant going back to the warehouse.
“Basically, I went back to the beginning and I learned the business from the ground up. I knew a lot about lighting and a little bit about everything else,” he said. “But to really allow me to learn the business as a whole, I went into that training program and just saw how a branch actually operates and how things flow through.”
Schafer saw it as a necessary step to really get to know how distribution works. It ended up being both a learning experience and an eye opener.
“I guess the culture shock was seeing how much really goes on in a distributorship that I never knew anything about,” he said. “But in turn, that really excited me and I developed a passion for this business—to learn about all the different things and all the opportunities that are available to you if you take the time and work hard and really want to learn the business.”
His current title is operations-account manager at Dickman Supply’s Marysville, Ohio, branch.
“There are a lot of different hats that I wear,” Schafer said. “There’s a lot of commercial construction taking place in the Northwest corner of Columbus. We have a lot of industrial base with the Honda facilities here.”
It’s in an area of Ohio not far from where Schafer grew up.
“I was born and raised in Midwestern Ohio, in a small town—Russia [pronounced “Roosh-ee”],” he laughed. “I went to college at Dayton and upon graduation, I moved back home.”
Schafer spends his spare time with his girlfriend. He also golfs, fishes and is a runner, having recently completed his first half marathon.
“[Dickman Supply] has been a good fit,” Schafer said. “It has provided a lot of opportunities for me to learn and grow…. When I started in the business, I didn’t know a circuit breaker from fuses, really. It’s fun to get in and learn all the different things that are available.”
Q. What advice would you have for other young professionals in the electrical industry?
A. I would say work hard, stay positive and go after any opportunities that are available. There are so many different things that you can do and learn in this business, if you just work hard and go after it. For me, a key has been that every day I try to bring my passion and enthusiasm and a positive attitude and just do the best job that I can possibly do every day for my company and my customers.
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 wouldn’t say a lot. My work ethic and treating people the way they want to be treated – I feel like that allows me to build relationships with people. Respecting them and what they bring and what they offer to the company. [Also] finding mentors and things like that to lean on and ask questions. A lot of industry veterans love to teach somebody who is willing to learn. The industry veterans are so full of knowledge. I learn more from them every day than what you’d ever imagine. Just build that relationship and give them the respect that they have earned over years and years of their time in the industry. Ask questions and be willing to learn and do whatever is asked of you, whatever it takes to get the job done.
Joe Nowlan is a Boston-based freelance writer/editor and author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Tagged with tED