People

2018 30 Under 35 Profile: Mike Szablewski

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Mike Szablewski, 29

Mike Szablewski
29
Director of Warehouse Operations; Standard Electric Supply, Milwaukee

 

Mike Szablewski was working for a Wisconsin-based distributor of paper, plastic and janitorial products before he heard anything about the electrical industry.

But after a while in that job, he reached a point where he was getting a bit restless and was looking for more advancement.

“I saw that the warehouse manager position was available at Standard Electric’s Milwaukee location. I came to find out that they were using the same ERP system as the company that I was coming from,” Mike said. “So I think that gave me a competitive advantage to come into the industry initially.”

So given Mike’s previous warehouse background, once he started at Standard Electric he hit the ground running, right? Not so fast, he laughed.

“I remember this vividly. I’m coming into the electrical industry but little did I know we are pretty unique in terms of the way we handle our parts and what we’re willing to do for our customers in terms of value-added service,” he explained.

While Mike came to Standard Electric with his distribution and warehouse background, he added, the electrical industry was a whole new world in many ways.

“The intricacy of the parts and packaging and the number of pieces in the box,” Mike said, citing an example. “Whereas now I’m dealing with all these electrical parts and components that vary in size and quantity and have very long SKUs that are only separated by one numeric or alpha character. The number of ways we add value to existing parts for customers had almost felt overwhelming at first.”

While Mike’s knowledge of a specific product line may be more general than what’s required for a Standard Electric salesperson, he and his colleagues still need a good general grasp of what each item can do and what customer base it is sold to.

“We have great internal resources to learn from in regards to knowing the different parts and how they work,” Mike said. “But I tend to focus more on the process and quality side of operations and really try to revamp those areas to become more efficient or more effective. We want to be able to add additional value for customers across the board.”

Mike and his wife, Ellie, have two dogs and two cats.

“Ellie’s an animal lover and I am too,” Mike said. “She grew up with a quite a few animals. And the dogs and cats are definitely attention seekers, especially the dogs. We do a lot with them together.”

Mike himself is a life-long fisherman and takes advantage of the many lakes in Wisconsin whenever he can.

“My dad started taking me fishing when I was four or five years old and I just love to get out in the boat,” he explained. “No expectations, but at the same time just anticipating that at any moment something big might happen for you. I like the adventure and being able to go to new places and isolated areas. That’s really my peace and quiet time away.”

 

Q. What advice do you have for other young professionals in the electrical industry?

A. I guess I would break this into two different segments here. One, you need to be ambitious. And starting out, even if you’re not the most talented or knowledgeable in the industry, if your ambition exceeds your talent and gives you the opportunity to display your skill set and work ethic—that can earn you opportunities.

Also find somebody that is knowledgeable in the industry. Standard Electric has several associates that have been working for this company more years than I’ve been alive. And at times, life is all about who you know. I think that, on top of a great culture, if you’re able to find one or two people in different areas of the company that are great mentors and can sort of dangle the carrot for you to chase and continue to grow and be more knowledgeable—then those are the types of people that you want to surround yourself with.

 

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. Yeah, when it happened initially, at the first distributorship that I worked at, it was sort of anticipated. But at the time I wasn’t sure how I would deal with it. Looking back and after coming here to Standard Electric and going through the same thing—you learn what works and what doesn’t work over the course of years of experience.

So when I made the transition here to Standard Electric, the best thing that I felt that I could do in order to earn respect was to roll up my sleeves and work side by side with the people to show them that I was interested in the work they were doing and that I’m not going to ask them to do anything that I’m not willing to do myself.

But that doesn’t necessarily win people over right then and there. That’s something that takes time. And listening is also one of the key attributes. There’s listening to what those who have experience have to say and trying to be as empathetic as possible and support the people that you’re working for. That is my role. You know, people come to me with questions all day long and I am here to support them and provide solutions.

 

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Joe Nowlan  is a Boston-based freelance writer/editor and author. He can be reached at jcnowlan@msn.com.

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