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 Tyler Thompson, a 2013 honoree.
What is your current position?
Continuous Improvement Specialist at Van Meter, Inc. Our team is responsible for promoting our company’s value of progress by giving our employee owners the tools they need to make improvements within their work every day and facilitating change within the organization.
What has been the reaction from co-workers and people in the industry to your “30 Under 35” award?
Extremely positive and supportive. It provided me with a great opportunity to see just how lucky I am to work with so many awesome people. The number of genuine notes of congratulations was both rewarding and humbling.
What advice would you give young professionals about electrical distribution?
Two things: take every opportunity to learn, and create your own identity. There are a lot of details and nuances about this industry. Take any opportunity you can to dive in and learn them, why they’re important, and how you can leverage that knowledge for success. Beyond those details and nuances, there are just as many successful leaders, sales people, and operations employees to learn from along the way. Each of them has a style that works for them and their company. My advice is that you only take parts from what makes them great and apply it to your own strengths and your company’s needs to create an identity that fits you.
What recruiting advice would you give companies when it comes to hiring great, young talent?
Get out and have the conversations with the talent you’re trying to recruit and be persistent! Many of the most young, talented, colleagues I’m lucky to work with at Van Meter took some convincing to jump to an industry that doesn’t always look fun and flashy at face value.
Talk about the opportunities they’ll have to make a significant difference, and deliver on it. Right or wrong, the days of “put in your time and it’ll pay off down the road” are collapsing around us. If you’re willing to take a risk on new talent’s ideas and enthusiasm, they’ll run through walls to make great things happen for your company. If you don’t see value in their insight, albeit sometimes naïve, you’ve already lost your recruiting battle to someone who does.
How important was your mentoring (and reverse mentoring) when it comes to furthering your career?
Learning from those who have “been there” was critical to any successes I’ve had in my short career. Often times it can be uncomfortable to reach out to others for help in areas you’re insecure in or unsure about, but overcoming that fear of vulnerability is very liberating. I’m not sure if it’s a generational issue with millennials, but there’s an expectation many of us put on ourselves to be competent in a short period of time to the extent that we may even “fake it.” In other words, learning how to receive mentoring has been an ongoing process for me personally, but it has made all of the difference as I improve.
What advice would you give to company leaders (c-suite) about working with Millennials?
There are many things that leaders at Van Meter have done that make this question very easy for me to answer. The four that stick out are; challenge us, encourage us to fail, give us real feedback, and above all, feed our enthusiasm.
Do you have a nagging business issue that you or your leadership team has struggled with? Bring a young influencing leader along for the ride and bring them right into the trenches with you on the issue. Some of their involvement may seem administrative to you, but it could be one of the most engaging experiences they’ve had to learn doing something that’s important to you.
Failure scares us, we need help with that. After all, we’re that darn generation that got a trophy for everything, right? Often times our own concern for perfection is our worst enemy, we stick to bad ideas for too long and don’t move on from failures quickly enough. Help us embrace failure as a part of learning and guide us in a new direction.
As scared as we can be of failure, shoot us straight. Feedback is a gift and while we may not always receive constructive feedback well at first, we’re forever grateful when we internalize it and realize our opportunities to hone our skills and our style.
Van Meter has many great leaders that embrace ideas and excite employee owners about the future, but two of our company leaders have an absolute gift in their ability to support and feed enthusiasm; Lura McBride, our Chief Operating Officer, and Mike Gassmann, our Chief Growth Officer. I’m sure many leaders in our industry are willing to listen to any ideas or feedback from all employees, but Lura and Mike’s gift is hard to articulate until you’ve experienced it. Many times you leave a conversation believing in your soul that your idea is about to revolutionize the world as we know it. Now I don’t know about everyone else’s ideas, but I can tell you that some of mine have been BAD… but they let me figure that out on my own, support what we learn, and encourage my next endeavor.
What do you see in the future of electrical distribution when it comes to technology and business practices?
It’s not recent news that there are a few big players that are changing the game in retail distribution. Ordering what you need is getting easier by the day. As electrical distributors who offer more to the experience than just ordering from an online catalog and shipping a box to an address, the Amazons of the world aren’t interested in competing with the value we add to our core customers, it would cost them too much, at least it does right now. It’s going to be a challenge to keep it that way.
My biggest concern is that the financial risks and potential failures we’ll have to endure to stay ahead of the curve will be hard for the old school mindset—concerned with short term ROI—to digest.
Our value is our people and the experience they give each customer that’s individualized to them and what their business needs to succeed. Figuring out how to reach more customers without hiring more people through technology and innovation will be a key to success and growth in the future.
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