Owner, Zerion Group
President, Phocas US
By Joe Nowlan
Growing up in Ponca City, Oklahoma, Tony King and his two brothers learned the value of a dollar at a young age.
“My parents started really early with us,” King said. “I had my first checking account when I was in the fourth grade.”
All three King brothers worked as bag boys at a Ponca City golf course.
“For me and my brothers, going to work at 15 as a bag boy all the way through high school was natural for us,” he explained. “If we wanted to do anything fun, we had to pay for it.”
While attending Oklahoma Baptist University, King’s uncle, who lived in Florida, invited him to stay for the summer.
“He knew some of the Hughes Supply executives. He told me he would talk to the executives and see if they could get me an internship. So I jumped all over that opportunity,” he explained.
The internship gave King a unique look at how the large distributor operated. When Hughes invited him back the following summer, he worked in its electrical division, managing dead and excess stock.
At Hughes, King was working for Tom Gilchrist. Toward the end of King’s second internship, Hughes purchased Eclipse Software.
“They were just starting the process of deciding how they would roll it out,” King said. “One of the managers [Jack Whitwan] of that roll out saw me sitting by [Gilchrist’s] desk, and basically said, ‘Hey, you want to come and do this when you graduate?’ And I said, ‘Yeah!'”
So much for the lengthy interview processes.
“That’s how they hired me,” King laughed. “Never had an actual interview or anything.”
It is an irony not lost on King, because today he’ll occasionally interview prospective employees for his business.
“My interviews are really unstructured,” King said. “One of things I try to do whenever I am interviewing people is—I don’t try to sell anybody on a job… I want to know the person who is going to work for me, get to know them as far as what makes them tick and what drives them.”
The Jack Whitwan who hired King at Hughes would soon join forces with King and others to start Zerion Group in 2005.
“We service customers and distributors that are running on Eclipse… We don’t sell any software,” explained King.
These days King is also president of Phocas US, makers of business intelligence software. Many of the clients Zerion and Phocas work with are in the electrical industries.
“We work with a lot [at Zerion]. From the Eclipse standpoint, a lot of the Eclipse customers are in electrical,” he said. “Probably 30 or 40% of them.
King and his wife, Kelly, have three sons—Spencer, Carson, Nolan—all under the age of six. The family is active in its local church and in several charities.
“I’m a Christian and just want to give back and try to pay it forward as best I can,” he said. “I’ve always felt compelled whenever anybody asked for contributions or donations to try to make sure to be generous.”
Q. What advice do you have for other young professionals in the electrical industry?
A. It can depend on a lot of different things. One thing is just to work hard. A lot of people these days—especially the X and Y generations—are so consumed with the technology and interviews and other stuff that’s around. But when it comes down to it, you just need to work hard. Work hard and don’t pay a lot of attention to what other people are doing around you. Just do the best you can and it will come out alright.
Nobody owes you anything. What have you done? Nobody owes me anything. What have I done? You need to work hard and stop yapping about the next person and make it happen. Just make it happen for yourself and don’t be worried about everybody else.
Q. What is one of the biggest challenges of running your department, or company in your case, in today’s economic climate—improving though it may be?
A. Mine is [making] decisions… I think just trying not to disappoint people is the biggest challenge out there right now. Because you want as much work as you can get and you will latch on to whatever you can get your hands on. But trying to make sure that you do not disappoint people along the way is really hard right now.
People are in a spot now where, [if] they do feel disappointed, they will go somewhere else. The economy has settled in a little bit, enough to give people some backbone. That can help in many cases but, on the other hand, it can hurt too, because you don’t want to make a bad decision.
And yet it is really important to be patient. Be patient and don’t rush to judgment… I try to make sure I understand both sides before I rush into decisions.
Joe Nowlan is a Boston-based freelance writer/editor and author. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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