By Scott Costa, Publisher, tED magazine
A few weeks ago, I was reminded about a line from the movie “Apollo 13.” In the scene, the astronauts are in space and don’t have what they need to make a safe return to earth. That’s when NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz (played by Ed Harris) says, “I don’t care what anything was designed to do. I care about what it can do.”
And that brings me to the Famous Bandera Sisters. That’s what their boss calls them. He has a good reason.
Nancy Bandera did administration work at Northmoor Country Club just outside of Chicago. Her younger sister Liz worked as a waitress in the restaurant at the club. If you looked at their resumes, you wouldn’t hire them for any position in electrical distribution. But Jim Anixter of A-Z Industries didn’t look at their resumes. If he did, he would see that they didn’t have any experience in the industry. And they didn’t have college degrees. Anixter doesn’t have one, either. So he followed his gut.
“I met Liz and Nancy and I see them as extremely smart and extremely loyal,” Anixter told me. After seeing their work at the club, Jim hired Liz to work as part of his sales team. It was a surprise decision at his company, where his three sons all are part owners.
“My kids said, ‘You hired the waitress?'” Jim remembers. “But she did so good, two years later, we hired her sister. I’ve been in business since I was 20 years old, and in all the years these are two of the best people I have hired.”
It wasn’t easy. Liz knew nothing about selling wire. She had to learn everything, including working in the warehouse. “I had mentors,” Liz Bandera says. “They taught me about orders, how shipping works. I was learning how they cut the wire. Later they would teach me about the products. They would teach me about selling, how to sell what we have to offer. Three months in, I started opening my own accounts.”
Liz also says she was ready for the challenge. “I work very hard. I feel like when I started here I was clueless about everything, but I was willing to learn,” she says. “They would teach me. At first I was shy, but later I started to catch on to it. My first year was hard. You have no idea.”
When work was hard, Liz had help. The culture at A-Z Industries really helped with that. While the company takes what it does very seriously, it also allows its employees to grow their careers. “We do on-the-job training, and they learned,” Anixter told me. “They asked questions, and they get answers. And they are not afraid to ask the questions.”
“Jim comes over to the administrative side all the time,” Nancy says. “He will bring up conversations and make it a fun environment. My co-workers are amazing. I am extremely fortunate to work around the women who are here. Plus, being family owned and run, they have your best interest at heart all the time.”
Anixter also says he is getting something extra from the Bandera sisters. They speak fluent Spanish. Any work that is being done in South Florida, Arizona or Puerto Rico is being helped by the fact that both women can speak Spanish. “I’m telling you, in this day and age, it is absolutely essential that you have employees who can speak both languages,” Anixter says.
Liz is about to celebrate her 5th anniversary at A-Z Industries. She says her social skills are helping her build relationships with customers. Those same skills also helped to train her sister in an administrative role at the company. Nancy was going to work in sales, too. But when the administrative department saw how capable she is, they wouldn’t let her go. “I didn’t have any experience, but they taught me,” Nancy says. “I’ve been trained in sales and in administration. They took the time to polish the diamond in the rough.”
The Famous Bandera Sisters, which is what Jim Anixter calls them, are not the only diamonds in the rough Jim Anixter has found. He recently pulled a worker out of his warehouse to work in sales, because he knows the logistics of getting wire to distributors. “We are grooming Liz right now to run a branch,” Anixter says. “She wants to be a branch manager, Nancy wants to move up the line on the administrative side. And they are both going to do it.”
Recruitment and retention remains the key issue that is slowing progress for a number of NAED member companies. There are obvious, traditional ways to find your next employee. We see your recruiting efforts, and we see a number of companies that are looking only at industry veterans for their next job opening. But maybe that next great employee is right in front of you, and you haven’t quite noticed him yet. Maybe with a little training and some mentoring, you can make a waitress or administrative assistant “the two best people you ever hired.”
Liz points out that many companies are looking for 10-year veterans in the industry to fill their open positions. That was never going to happen for her. “How are people supposed to get experience if you aren’t willing to train them?” Liz asks. “I know how to work in a team. You are never on your own here. I just want to build relationships with people in the business. I make it personal.”
NAED is helping its members find employees in a number of ways, including hiring Allison Olden as the association’s Talent Recruitment and Retention Specialist. Olden says while traditional ways of hiring new employees is still possible, you still have to be un-traditional at times.
“We can’t be passing up great people,” Olden says. “There is a lot of competition out there, and not only in this industry.” Olden adds that your next young employee is looking to see your social media presence and some non-traditional ways to learn about your openings, including meet-ups and an open house to learn about your company. She also says if you are looking for the perfect match for your company, look for people who have an established track record at their current job, because that shows dedication. And, “you can teach your employees about electrical products. You can’t teach passion,” Olden says.
The Bandera sisters may not have been designed to be in electrical distribution. Jim Anixter says the culture in at his company has allowed people like Liz and Nancy Banderas to not only become successful, but also remain successful. He hired them by not looking at the traditional design. He saw what the sisters can do, and now Liz and Nancy have success that can only be described as out of this world.
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