Blog #5: 2013 LEAD Conference Panel Discussion


This is the much anticipated panel discussion for the people at the 2013 LEAD Conference.  They are encouraged to ask any question of our expert panel.  We will blog the questions and answers are they come in.

 Our panel is from left to right, Scott Lawhead, 2004 LEAD Chair from the Hite company, Maureen (Mo) Barsima, 2014-2015 NEAD Chair from BJ Electric Supply, Inc, Sandy Rosecrans, 2013-2014 NAED Chair, City Electric Company, and Charles Collat, 2001 LEAD Chair, Mayer Electric Supply.


First question:  What are the benefits of coming to LEAD?  Charles talked about the people he didn’t know at the first event he attended, who are now repeat customers for him.  Scott talked about the chance to get families together, since wives, husbands, and children are invited.

Next question:  Where do you see the industry going in the future?  Charles talks about the need to be on top of technology.  From I-pads to 3-D printers. Charles believes we must embrace technology and share it with our suppliers.  Mo talked about changing products and ways to make our customers more efficient.  She sees distributors becoming more about their services in addition to the products.  Mo asks how can we be better service providers?  We need to mean more to contractors than just people who sell them products.

Third question:  How do we charge for the services we offer?  Mo talked about some competitors who are giving away those services.  Here’s what to think about:  Just be bold and say this is not free.  We used to not do this, but this is not free.  You have to have that one on one conversation with your customers.  They know what is going on.  They know it is a two way street. The contractors is not being ripped off, this is what is fair and cost effective.  Sandy added that she is doing customer advisory councils with contractors, and during the meeting she did talk about the bottom line.  Scott is taking a different spin.  They store and deliver and stage, but it is difficult to get them to pay more.  Hite’s take is let’s think about it another way, and put a system in place that contractors want to pay more because they manage it better. Hite can justify the labor savings by adding that value. Charles added that it has to be a partnership between supplier and contractor.  Adding services is a part of the Mayer business model.  Adding value seems to be the key thought on this.

Next question:  Staffing and recruiting new employees.  What is the biggest challenge?  Scott started by talking about the career track goal designed around promoting the industry to the college grad. Sandy added that they recruit from colleges, but there is something to be said for knowing someone within the industry.  Recommendations come from current employees who know someone already at City Electric Company. She adds that someone may have gotten them the job, but it is up to the employee to keep that job. Charles talked about a strategy at Mayer that is called filling the funnel.  They ask current employees to be a part of their community so they can recognize potential new employees. Mo added that we are all billboards for our companies.  We can tap into the education section of NAED and get better at what we do.  There needs to be a culture of growth, and you are investing in yourself.

Fifth question: Do you have one key habit that has helped you develop your leadership skills that you can offer to the group?  Charles says there are two things, listening. To be a leader you have to listen to others ideas, typically by asking layered questions.  The other is using humor.  Smile and relax.  Mo added that she says thank you, and she says it in front of other people.  And she added being able to laugh a lot is important.  Once you find the right people, you want to emit a culture of happiness, so compliments are important.  Scott also said he likes to spend time outside of work with his employees, to show them that he cares about them.  Sandy said celebrating the successes is important, and offering training to employees shows you want them to grow.

Sixth question:  What do you do within your own organization to recognize and encourage leadership?  Scott mentioned that The Hite Company has a employee leadership group that empowers employees to make decisions.  Charles said the teamwork is built around natural teams.  They meet once a month, and each person on the team shares something, even if it is in their personal life.  They want people to feel like they can speak up in a meeting. On a larger scale, they have a circle of excellence, where employees can nominate peers to highlight their great work. Mo mentioned that you need to have employees contribute to the decision making.  Sandy mentioned that when one of their employees finished his CEP through NAED, Sandy asked him to recruit five more people within the company to get them to earn their CEP’s.  Sandy believes sometimes you get more buy-in from others when employees lead initiatives.

Next question:  What advice do you have for how to work with family in the workforce?  Charlie started by saying communication is important, and his family has been meeting for 20 years about succession planning.  They meet three times a year, and never miss a meeting. They depend on each other to make the right decisions.  Scott added that there is a pretty high percentage of family owned businesses in the industry.  Succession is also important to the Hite Company. Communication between the family is important. Hite has a family council that meets regularly. Charles also says it is difficult to be a family run business because you have to plan around family events, but you have to make that commitment to running the company the right way. Mo offered that she is not a part of the family that started BJ Electric, but she is treated like a family member.  She is there for their successes and their tragedies.

Eighth question:  What advice would you offer to drive a successful sales strategy across a large area of the country?  Scott started by saying The Hite Company is addressing that situation right now.  The Hite Company decided on a restructure to have sales reps work differently with sales managers on issues that cover many territories.  But it needs to be communicated that there is one sales strategy to be followed.  Charles also said there needs to be a clear strategy from the top, and get the local folks involved in that sales strategy.  Sandy added that you need to constantly analyze the success of sales strategies.  Mo also said use an intelligence tool to help you develop new plans for the future. Plus, she makes sure her sales staff is focused on specific customers. 

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