Catching Up with the 30 Under 35: James Smith

We’re catching up with our previous “30 Under 35” winners to see where they are now and how their perspective has changed since being named one of the rising stars of the electrical industry.

Today, we talk with James Smith, a 2014 honoree.

James Smith

What is your current position?

Senior Sales Rep, Sylvania.

What has been the reaction from co-workers and people in the industry to your “30 Under 35” award?

It’s been overwhelmingly positive and supportive. Everyone I talked to was so excited and proud for me, and for that, I was very humbled. So many people sent me their copies of that 30 under 35 tED magazine issue; I had stacks of them in my office! It was also great to hear words of congratulations from former co-workers and customers that I hadn’t heard from in a while.

What advice would you give young professionals about electrical distribution?

Take chances. With all the new technology and changes in the industry, there are many new opportunities for young people to do new, exciting things here, just as long as they keep an open mind to those opportunities. This isn’t their father’s electrical distribution industry. I would also tell young professionals to take lots of notes. Find successful people in your industry, and take notes on what helps them be successful… How do they structure their day? How do they deal with customers?
What books are they reading, professional organizations are they part of, etc.

What recruiting advice would you give companies when it comes to hiring great, young talent?

Cast a wider net. It’s easy and convenient to use the same recruiting methods that have always been used, but companies need to get creative to find talent that may have otherwise been overlooked. For example, consider HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges & Universities). There are many parts of the country, including mine, that are hotbeds for brilliant HBCU talent.
Also, show young recruits that they’ll be entering an industry that is becoming more exciting, data driven, and technology-focused every day. Since most millennials aren’t frightened by change, many will jump at a chance to put their fingerprint on something that is growing and evolving with them.

How important was your mentoring (and reverse mentoring) when it comes to furthering your career?

Mentoring was, and still is, very important to me. I have a great deal of people at my company, and even outside the business, that have helped guide me in a positive direction. I’ve been fortunate to have mentors who have opened doors for me and weren’t afraid to give me constructive criticism. No matter how long we’ve been in our jobs, or in this industry, we should always be trying to gain wisdom from those in places where we eventually want to get to. 

What advice would you give to company leaders (c-suite) about working with millennials?

I would advise company leaders to give millennials unique experiences that challenge them. Many people have a perception of millennials as coddled, but with the proper motivation, millennials can be an incredibly effective, influential part of your work force. And as long as it doesn’t interfere with their co-workers or the general company culture, companies should allow millennials the freedom to express themselves and let their creativity shine on the job.

What do you see in the future of electrical distribution when it comes to technology and business practices?

As I mentioned before, the industry is definitely getting more data-driven and mobile/app-driven every day. From a lighting perspective, it’s exciting to see the way that LEDs have changed the game as well. But in the end, it comes down to making your customer’s experience as easy as possible. Factors like putting information at your customers’ fingertips, and making it easy for them to try, buy, and even return products – is all paramount. I think the companies that win in the future will be the ones that best use technology to further enhance the customer experience.


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