33 (32 at the time of nomination)
Pricing & Purchasing Manager, Werner Electric
By Joe Nowlan
Like many 30 Under 35 honorees, it was the electrical industry grapevine that first drew Ben Nitz’s attention to the industry.
He had just graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire with a degree in graphic design.
“I first heard about it from a friend of mine who was working with Werner [Electric] in its warehouse,” Nitz explained. “He mentioned that they were looking for some warehouse help. And I needed something to bring some money in.”
Nitz began working the second shift (2 p.m.–11 p.m.) in one of Werner’s warehouses. As is often the case, starting out in the warehouse proved to be a great learning experience.
“You learn a lot, handle and touch and feel the products that we are selling. It gives you a different viewpoint of what is involved and what makes the machine work, if you will,” he explained. “Looking back on that now, I would say that was some of the more valuable time I spent early in my career here at Werner—understanding the products and learning how we do business, how we go to market.”
He was soon promoted to the Werner wire team.
“I was actually the first wire cut team lead we had at that time,” he said. “We expanded our wire cutting capabilities to include color cables and needed to create a small team to handle the additional workload.”
While Nitz was learning more about wire and cable, that work also carried an occasional physical challenge as well.
“Some of the bigger cables… It’s like wrestling an Anaconda,” he laughed.
Nitz and his team also got the opportunity to visit some customer job sites and see firsthand how the products were used.
“We went and visited a few customer sites to see how they utilized that large cable and what it was connecting. That was a pretty neat experience,” he said. “It was eye-opening.”
After the wire team position, he became a second shift supervisor, before additional promotions to purchasing manager and then to his current title, purchasing and pricing manager.
“I would say my time as second shift supervisor is where I learned the most,” Nitz said. “That was my first time managing people and learning how to not just do the work but be a manager and be a leader, help support my team.”
By the way, he occasionally uses that graphic design bachelor’s degree at times.
“I don’t use it a ton… But there is kind of a marketing aspect to it in a way… I definitely use pieces of that marketing background in working with vendors or putting together a presentation,” he explained.
Nitz was born and raised in Neenah, Wisconsin, about 40 minutes south of Green Bay. He and his wife Crystal have three sons: Chase, six years old; Noah, four years old and Max, ten months old.
This fall, he will begin work toward his MBA degree at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh.
“I don’t have a business background as far as schooling goes so I’m really looking forward to going and achieving that MBA,” Nitz said.
Q. What advice would you have for other young professionals in the electrical industry?
A. My biggest piece of advice is stay hungry, keep learning and don’t be scared to ask to take on more and learn more. You own your career so go after it and take it, if you will. Don’t sit back and wait for a promotion to come or for someone to ask you to take on a new task. Go out and proactively seek that stuff out. And grow and learn.
Q. What has changed the most in the industry in the past five years?
A. I would say technology. It is not only what we are using as a distributor. It is how our manufacturers do business, how our customers do business. Everybody is more focused on becoming more efficient and using more technology. When I came into electrical distribution, I would say that was actually lagging pretty far behind from that perspective. A lot of stuff was done on paper. But now everything has advanced so much and we are starting to catch up with some of the other industries out there.
Joe Nowlan is a Boston-based freelance writer/editor and author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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