Instant Message: Q&A with Crescent Electric Supply’s Marty Burbridge

For the latest profile in our “Instant Message” series, spoke with Marty Burbridge, president and CEO of Crescent Electric Supply Company. During our interview, Burbridge stressed the importance of a good leadership team and gave some great advice on how those just entering the industry can make a name for themselves. He also talked about one of the biggest issues facing the industry today–recruiting top talent. Read more of Burbridge’s thoughts in the Q&A featured below.

Q: Describe your leadership style.

A: I’ve always been a hands-on guy, but I’ve learned over
the years that what really takes you to the next level is delegation. I think
it’s important that your leaders set the direction and have the intuition and
the ability to understand strategically where your business is positioned and
where you want to take it. It is absolutely critical that you learn to delegate
and empower others to contribute to the direction of the organization, not just
to the execution of a plan. So, I would say my style is a blend of hands-on and

Q: What or who inspires you as a leader?

A: I had a hard time picking just one person, but what
inspires me is when you see success in an organization—success that is really
based on the organization as a whole, instead of just the leader’s own,
individual footprint. Leaders who are able to build teams—teams that are so
strong that it is difficult to point to one individual as the focal point…that
is what inspires me.

Q: What keeps you up at night?

A: The shrinking profitability in the industry is definitely
the most pressing issue keeping me up at night. We’re getting pressure from
every nook and cranny. Whether it’s general contractors pushing risk and terms
down on us, or whether it’s contraction of margin by additional channels—there
are a lot of issues with shrinking profitability. Second to that, I would say
the dearth of talent in the industry. Trying to find and recruit people into
the industry and finding an audience that understands that this industry does
have a lot to offer is a challenge.

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

A: Even though there are industrial distribution programs
that can put you on a fast track to the industry, you can come into this
industry with a high school education, a two-year degree, a four-year degree—there
are so many opportunities available and those opportunities are not just in the
industry itself, but also through many of the organizations inside the industry
that have their own training programs. My advice is to take advantage of the
plethora of education. Become well-rounded with product, sales, operational,
financial, and HR skills. If you do that, the upside is unlimited. Because we
have a lack of talent coming into the industry, you can really differentiate
yourself quickly by taking advantage of additional educational opportunities.

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

A: It’s okay to make mistakes
or fail…just make sure that you learn from those experiences. The man that I
considered to be my mentor in the industry never said “I told you so.” He
allowed me to make some mistakes and to learn from them. If you’re not making
mistakes, you’re probably not trying.

Q: What’s the most
shocking thing you’ve ever heard in a job interview?

A: I heard someone say in an interview, “I doubt I’m what
you are looking for.” I’ve never heard anything really bizarre, but I have been
amazed a number of times at how ill-prepared someone was coming into an

Q: What would you consider your biggest success?

A: Early on it would have been a large order or a turnaround
of an underperforming location. But I’d say, looking at an entire 34-year
career, the biggest success for me has been the ability to assemble an
outstanding leadership team. The team has tremendous succession capabilities
and has us well-positioned for the future.

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

A: I think early on in my management career I was always
trying to salvage everyone. I thought that everyone had great potential and I
would try to pull that out of them. I realized after a while that there are
some people who just aren’t invested and aren’t going to buy in to the mission.
I wasted a lot of time and money and hurt the balance of the team by trying to
save those kinds of people. I learned that there must be commitment and a way
to measure it in order to invest in people who are not performing.

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

A: I don’t really know. It’s all I’ve ever really done or
wanted to. I have found tremendous opportunity in this industry and I’ve
enjoyed it. I wake up every day feeling challenged and wanting to continue. I
don’t know that I’ve ever really thought about doing anything else. I’m not
gifted enough to be an athlete and wouldn’t dare try to run a winery.

Q: Where do you see the industry going in the next 5 years?

A: I think there will be another round of accelerated consolidation
in both distribution and manufacturing. I think there is going to have to be some
sorting out of channels for some of the adjacent markets—alternative energy and
things like that. And, I’m very hopeful that we as an industry will create a
greater awareness of the wholesaling industry—what a great industry this is and
the opportunities that are in it. I think we’ll find a way to better brand our
industry than we have in the past.

Q: Your company recently joined IMARK. What made a big
company like Crescent choose to join a marketing group?

A: The fact that we are the largest member doesn’t
necessarily mean there isn’t something we can learn from the IMARK group. We
believe the networking opportunities will be invaluable.


Marty Burbridge joined Crescent in 1978 in Davenport, Iowa. Prior to joining Crescent, he spent several years with Tri-City-Electric, an electrical contractor, as the principal purchasing contact and project scheduler for the 250-employee firm. It was at Tri-City that he became familiar with Crescent.

Marty started his career with Crescent in inside sales. He spent six months there and then went on to spend seven years in outside sales. Next he took on branch management assignments in Northern Iowa/Southern Minnesota and Missouri over a period of five years. In each assignment he was responsible for five locations.

In late 1990 Marty was promoted to the position of vice president/general manager and relocated to the general office in East Dubuque, Ill. In this role, he worked extensively on branch performance issues and recruiting. Marty also became the primary source for vendor relations and negotiations.

In January of 1997 Marty was promoted to executive vice president/general manager and elected to the board of directors of Crescent Electric Supply. Marty was named president and CEO of Crescent in May of 2008.

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