Green Associate; Inline Electric Supply
By Joe Nowlan
When Max Payne graduated from the University of Florida in 2009, he moved to Birmingham, Ala., and had two particular internships of interest to choose from.
“I could have worked for a national coffee company in sales and management, or I could go to work for a lighting agent,” Max said. “My in-laws are electrical engineers as my wife would be in a few short years. So I guess I ended up going that route because it was basically similar to the 'family business.'”
After that internship concluded, he worked full time at the lighting company (Gewin Tucker & Associates) for about a year and a half. He loved the challenges and the almost constant innovations in the lighting industry.
In 2011, a new manager of the Birmingham branch of Inline Electric Supply called and offered Max a position.
“He asked if I would be willing to come on board with Inline Electric. I made the jump to being an electrical distributor and haven't looked back since,” Max said.
The ongoing changes and innovations in lighting are something that still impresses him.
“It's really been an amazing time to be in this industry, especially when it comes to lighting,” Max said. “It's been fun because [for example] we have fixtures that I will use for a particular design. But in six months, when it's time to ship, there will then be a new generation of that same fixture at higher lumens with less watts. There was another fixture that I was using for a good bit of my projects. In the space of four years, they've had seven different versions of it—each one achieving a higher efficacy than the last.”
He sometimes jokes that he's almost too involved in lighting.
“About 95% of what I do is either lighting or general project management, price quotations and the like. So it's gotten to the point now, as much as I hate to admit it, lighting is all I know,” he laughed.
Inline became an employee-owned company (ESOP) a few years ago, something Max explained is a great advantage.
“If anyone's company is discussing becoming an ESOP, you have to embrace it,” he said. “We became an ESOP about three years ago and it's been an incredible thing for our current employees, for employee retention, and for attracting the talent of the future.”
Max and his wife Hannah have a three year old daughter, Max, a one year old son named Ryker, and Everest, their second son, due in February.
With a young family and busy work schedule, Max laughs when asked if he enjoys any hobbies.
“Right now, I really don't! In this industry I often feel I need to take up golf but there was a line I heard in a documentary once: 'I can either play golf or I can watch my children grow up.' And that really feels true,” he said. “I'd love to play but to be good at it I'd have to dedicate so much time I feel like I'd really lose out with my kids. So I guess my hobby right now is changing diapers and corralling kids.”
Q. What advice do you have for other young professionals in the electrical industry?
A. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Even if you get an answer that you don't like, don't be afraid to ask the next question. There's been a lot of stuff that I wanted to change. Why were we doing it this way? Why don't we do it another way?
Sometimes things are done for a reason that you didn't really expect. But because you are only three years in the industry, while talking to someone with 20 years in the industry, you fail to see the big picture. If you let yourself get frustrated or feel like every time you come up with something they shoot it down—you're really not going to go anywhere.
You have to be willing to take rejection not only from customers, because that is a given, but from within your office when it comes to proposing new ideas. Because if you only get one out of three, you are then making the company better. Shoot, even getting one out of ten is forward progress. You have to be that person who is constantly striving to improve yourself, as much as the company, to reach those levels that we millennials strive for.
Q. It wasn't that long ago that you were a “new kid” in the industry. What similarities—and what differences—do you see in the “new kids” who are just now joining the electrical industry in your company?
A. The biggest thing that I am seeing, ever since I started here five years ago, is that there is less of a drive to work your way up. We are running into issues where people who are in their twenties view starting in the warehouse or counter as beneath them. Too many expect to jump right into outside sales.
Once you get into this industry you start to realize the importance of the support rolls.
Perhaps more central is the experience you get in the back, the counter, or even outside sales. I jumped from one inside sales position to another, and it has handicapped me in some ways. So much of what I know is related only to my area of expertise, in my case, lighting. Yet the other inside guys who worked their way up may not necessarily have my knowledge in design, fixtures, and the like, but miscellaneous material, they outclass me by leaps and bounds.
That experience is really invaluable, and I feel as if my generation—the Millennials—are often too ready to discount the value of that experience. A company needs experts, yes, but they also need those individuals whose width, not depth, of knowledge let's them adapt to what their customer needs.
Joe Nowlan is a Boston-based freelance writer/editor and author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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