Instant Message: Q&A with Controller Services’ Mark O’Day

Mark O’Day, president of Controller Services & Sales Co., Inc. in Avon, Mass. gave his thoughts and insights for this month’s edition of our “Instant Message” series. O’Day opened up about the internal and external challenges distributors face today and touched on a topic that has been top of mind for many industry executives has spoken with over the last few months – an acquisition strategy. Read his thoughts on those topics and more in our Q&A featured below.

Q: Describe
your leadership style.

A: My leadership style is one of consensus building.  I also try
very hard to be a good listener.  Our people are the company’s eyes and ears so
it is very important to listen to their thoughts and take them seriously. Most
of the strong creative thinking at Controller Service has bubbled up from
within our team. Good leadership is harnessing the ideas and energies created
within the organization and steering them towards successful implementation. It
is also important to share success—both financially and in terms of positive

Q: What
or who inspires you as a leader?

A: Biographies are my favorite type of reading, so this generates a
long list of the usual suspects: Lincoln, Washington, etc. I was also inspired
by the leadership of President George W. Bush in the immediate aftermath of September
11, 2001. On a more personal level, I am inspired by a number of family members
who have overcome huge personal obstacles. I am inspired by my wife Susan. We
have been married for 32 years and she has been the exemplar of hard work and
love within our family. Finally, I am also inspired by the leadership shown by
my late father Bob O’Day who was president of Controller Service from 1951 to
2005. He truly set the bar for outstanding leadership.

Q: What
do you think is the biggest challenge facing the industry today?

A: There are major challenges that are both internal and external. Our
external challenges are largely driven by overall market growth.  If the market
slows, as it did in 2008-2009 and also did somewhat earlier this year, we have
to be very creative about driving sales and containing costs.  In addition to
market conditions, constantly evolving technology requires that we have
intelligent, technically adept people to help us provide solutions to our
customers. I am cautiously hopeful that the exodus of manufacturing from the
U.S. to the Far East has begun to recede.

Our internal challenges are to provide attractive benefits to
our people while remaining competitive in compensation. Health care costs are a
constant demon. The affects of Obama Care are not fully clear at this time. Technology
also creates internal demands. We must maintain our web order entry system, our
ERP system and high levels of employee training. 

Q: What
advice would you give to someone just starting out in the industry?

A: Keep your eye on technology—both external relating to customer
solutions and internal regarding company operations. Seek out any opportunities
for training. I would also suggest that a newcomer engage in extensive
networking within and outside of the industry. It is good to have many friends
in the industry…today’s competitor is frequently tomorrow’s customer or
supplier, so it is always best to be honest and ethical. Mutual respect steers
us to more satisfactory problem resolutions.

Q: What’s
the best advice someone has ever given you?

A: I have been blessed with excellent advice in all aspects of my
life. In business, I have had many mentors that all contributed excellent
pieces of wisdom and insight. They tend to all build on one another, so it is
difficult to point to any one thing as the “best.” 

Perhaps my grandfather’s advice to me when I was about 18 stands
the test of time.  He simply told me to watch how smart my father became in the
next ten years. True then, true now.  I have subsequently shared that advice
with my children.

Q: What
has changed the most since you first started your career?

A: Controller Service has evolved considerably since I started here
in 1982. Our business systems are now automated as we moved away from manual
systems in 1990. Our overall technological skill levels have soared in the last
15 years. We are not serving as many MRO customers now.  Many MRO customers
have either moved out of New England or have gone out of business altogether.
We are a much more OEM based supplier than ever before.  

Back “in the day,” distributors often offered ridiculously easy
credit terms as a means of competing. Those days seem to be behind us, which I
believe is a good thing and healthy for all of us.

While we only have about 40 employees, we have an in-house human
resources manager.  This is a major change from the past and is incredibly
important today. We have managers to watch our A/R and our inventory so why not
have a manager for our most important asset—our people. 

Having said all this, many of the fundamentals at work in the 70s
and 80s are still the same.  Solid customer service and attention to customers’
needs are as important now as ever.  Delivering answers and products properly
and promptly are still keys to success.

Q: What
would you consider your biggest success?

A: I take a tremendous amount of pride in playing a part in
bringing our third generation family business into the 21st century.
We compete successfully every day with multi-billion dollar conglomerates.  

Q: What
would you consider your biggest failure and what did you learn from it?

A: Our company has always relied on growing organically. We have
never made an acquisition. I have begun to ask myself why we have not pursued acquisitions
as a strategy to build our business. Organic growth is harder and harder to
attain in this economy in general and the New England economy in particular. The
pie sometimes seems to be getting smaller and obtaining a bigger piece will
take more imagination on my part.

Q: Finish
this sentence…”If I wasn’t in electrical industry, I’d be…”

A: The wise guy in me wants to say I’d be running a bar in the
Caribbean somewhere. The truth is that I would probably be in academics of some

Q: Where
do you see the industry going in the next 10 years?

Like many people, I see a future of continued consolidation. In
some ways, that makes things harder on medium sized distributors like
Controller Service. On the other hand, we are not constrained by large
corporate thinking so we are free to find special opportunities quickly. Value added services will continue to become more important areas of growth.
One thing is for certain…the quality and training of our people will be of
utmost importance.


Mark O’Day has worked at Controller Service & Sales Co. for 30 years and has been company president since 2005. The company is family owned and was founded by his grandfather in 1926. Mark and his brother Scott share management responsibilities at Controller Service. Mark has an AB from Brown University and an MBA from University of Chicago. He and his wife Susan live in Duxbury, Mass. with their three children, Victoria, Luke and Emily.

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