Nancy Collat Goedecke has relished every opportunity to make a difference in her community and her company; for this and more, she is NAED’s 2012 Women in Industry Trailblazer Award winner.
Story by Victoria Fraza Kickham
Listen, act, get involved. These are some of the words that come to mind when summing up Nancy Collat Goedecke’s leadership style. Known throughout her company, her industry, and her community as a compassionate, accomplished, and more than capable leader, Goedecke is the recipient of NAED’s 2012 Women in Industry Trailblazer Award—an honor that comes as no surprise to her family, friends, and colleagues.
Goedecke is chair and CEO of Mayer Electric Supply, the 82-year-old Birmingham, Alabama-headquartered electrical distributorship founded by her grandfather and grown into an industry leader by her father and mentor, Charles Collat. Although Goedecke never planned to take the helm of the still-family-owned business, it’s a role she’s filled with grace and determination—and a natural progression of her more than 30-year career with the company, say those closest to her.
“We never said it would be great if Nancy could take over and run the company, said Collat, who now serves as Mayer Electric’s chairman emeritus. “She has just evolved into the role. And it’s been very gratifying to see how she has taken over.
Collat and others are quick to reference Goedecke’s commitment to making her company and her community better places and her ability to lead by example.
“I’m very proud of all she’s done over the years, continued Collat, pointing to his daughter’s philanthropic pursuits as well as her business career. “This award is one of many. Nancy has led every organization she’s ever been a part of, and she’s left every organization she’s ever been a part of better than when she started.
Goedecke’s colleagues, associatess, and peers agree. They say she balances family, business, and community in a way that inspires others to do the same. An active member of many Birmingham-area nonprofit groups and a leader in her business community through NAED, Goedecke is always willing to lend a helping hand, as one Mayer Electric associate explained, to improve her company, her community, and her industry.
A sense of responsibility
Like most third-generation company leaders, Goedecke grew up in the business. Her family’s deep-rooted sense of responsibility as business owners was impressed upon her and her siblings from a very young age, and each one of them has worked for the company at some point in their careers. Although Collat and his wife Patsy never pushed their children to get actively involved in the company, they made it clear that running a business is no easy task and that inheriting one comes with great responsibility.
The transition to the third generation began more than 20 years ago when the Collats hired a family business consultant to help them determine the best path for the company and the family. A few years into the process, Goedecke, her three siblings, and their spouses decided that they wanted to maintain their family’s legacy and continue to run Mayer Electric as a family-owned company. The group, known as the “Next Generation, meets four times a year with family business consultant Dr. Craig Aronoff of Kennesaw State University to keep their plan on track. The family is also thinking about the fourth generation of leadership, as the Next Generation group’s children recently started meeting with an advisor to consider their possible involvement in the business.
As part of the succession plan, the family decided that the company president needed to be the best person to run the business—regardless of whether he or she was a family member. The family connection would be maintained by ensuring that a blood Collat served as board chair. After years of planning, the team determined that Goedecke would take over as chair in 2008, the same year longtime Mayer Electric associate Wes Smith took over as president.
“We always understood that the business was bigger than any one of us, Goedecke said. “My father always uses the fable of the goose that laid the golden egg when discussing the importance of running a family-owned business. It’s our job to keep the goose healthy. To do that, we need the best person to run it.
Goedecke’s history with Mayer Electric—including her roles in sales, in operations, and as vice chair of the board—was a key factor in determining that she would be the Collat family member to oversee the company in its third generation. She maintains a close working relationship with Smith, who started as a part-time associate in Mayer Electric’s Montgomery, Ala., branch 23 years ago and worked his way up through the organization. The two share a commitment to the company and the community that guides and informs every decision they make.
“I really believe in our values and our goals, explained Goedecke. “Our values are integrity, hard work, ethical behavior, concern for people, and continued quality improvement. And our goals tie into who we are—we want to dramatically grow the business, maximize earnings, be the best company to work for, be a good partner to our suppliers, exceed our customers’ expectations, be a low-cost provider, and be good corporate citizens. Those are our goals and it’s what guides us. It’s what guides me.
From teacher to business leader
Goedecke started her career as an elementary school teacher. She studied psychology and elementary education at Newcomb College of Tulane University and taught school for a year before getting married and relocating from Birmingham to Michigan for her husband’s job. The couple knew the move would be temporary, and Goedecke says she didn’t want to sink her heart and soul into teaching only to be uprooted; she turned instead to distribution.
Shortly after moving to Grand Rapids, Mich., she interviewed with a local electrical distribution company. She was hired right away, and within 18 months her husband, Glenn, joined the company as an outside sales representative. The couple stayed in Grand Rapids for three years but then moved to Tampa, Fla., when positions opened at a Mayer Electric branch there.
“It was a way into the family company without being under my father and the corporate office, Goedecke explained, noting that the opportunity allowed her to learn even more about sales, the industry, and branch operations. Goedecke worked in inside sales until the birth of her first son and then continued in telemarketing and customer service. The family eventually moved back to Birmingham, where Goedecke joined Mayer Electric’s Next Generation group, serving as its first team leader.
Those early experiences cemented Goedecke’s interest in the family business and the industry and set her on a path to growing not only as a businessperson but also as a leader in her community. Goedecke has a long list of civic and corporate roles and responsibilities, serving on the board of directors of several Birmingham businesses and nonprofit organizations, including the American Red Cross, BB&T Bank, the Birmingham Jewish Federation, and the Birmingham Business Alliance. She also serves on NAED’s Government Affairs Policy Committee and its South Central Regional Council, in addition to being active in NAED’s Women in Industry group. Some of her recent honors include a Girl Scout Women of Distinction Award and a Junior League Shining Star Award.
Goedecke’s community and industry involvement reflects her family’s commitment to “giving back. As Goedecke explains it, she was lucky to be born into a successful and well-run family business. But to those much is given, much is expected, she said. Using her father’s example as a community leader, she remains committed to ensuring Mayer Electric’s role as a good corporate citizen in each and every community it serves.
“I think it’s very important for businesses to be involved in their communities, Goedecke explained. “If we as businesses don’t give back and help those that help people, then who will? It’s our communities that enable us to make money, [so we’ve got to] give some of that back. You need to make a statement about what’s important to you. This is one way we do that.
The Collat family and Mayer Electric Supply make annual financial contributions to educational, medical, and civic organizations throughout the Southeast. In addition, Mayer Electric funds an endowed chair in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Industrial Distribution school (named in honor of company founder Ben S. Weil). The company also funds endowed chairs in neurosurgery and neurology at UAB’s School of Medicine.
Balancing family, business, and community
Goedecke admits she would not be able to commit to the many charitable and industry-focused groups she works with if it weren’t for the team of executives and associates around her running Mayer Electric’s day-to-day operations. But those executives and associates point to her example as something they hope to emulate. To that end, the company gives each associate 12 hours a year to perform community service.
“Nancy comes from a legacy of community service, so it’s part of our culture, explained Smith. “If you lead by example, others in your organization realize how important it is to the owners, so it becomes ingrained in the culture.
Smith also credits Goedecke with successfully steering the company through one of the worst economic periods in the industry’s history.
Throughout the difficult times of the past few years, Mayer Electric has remained healthy and positioned for growth, he said. The firm’s associate base has remained steady as well. When faced with making budget cuts—especially in 2009-2010—Goedecke and her management team implemented company-wide furloughs that included every associate in the company—from top to bottom. When the company exceeded its profit goals at the end of 2010, the family gave it back to associates in the form of bonuses—to the tune of what they’d lost during their two-week furloughs.
“That’s what family businesses can do, said Goedecke. “You talk about endearing your associates to you—our people were much more willing to endure the pain knowing that we would be fair.
Friends, family, and business associates say such actions exemplify Goedecke’s commitment to her company and her associates, and they carry over into every other aspect of her role as a leader.
“Nancy is a leader in our industry, our community, and our company, said Smith. “I don’t know what more you could ask for in the recipient of a trailblazer award.
Kickham has 18 years’ experience in journalism, including 14 years with “Industrial Distribution magazine. Reach her at email@example.com.Tagged with tED