Rexel USA CEO Discusses Future Strategies With tED Magazine

Rexel USA President and CEO Roger Little spoke with tED magazine about his first six months into his tenure. He discussed the time he has spent on the road visiting as many Rexel locations and talking with as many Rexel employees as possible.

With that, Little is focusing on the future through digital and technical tools, training, sustainability efforts, and electrification opportunities.

Little recently talked with tED magazine Publisher Scott Costa about those topics.

Costa: With that comes tools you will need to remain tech-driven. We’re talking about digital tools, we’re talking about AI, and we’re talking about some automation tools. And it feels like every time you find something related to those topics, whether it’s digital or whatever, it becomes a situation where something new is created that’s better than the one you bought yesterday. What is Rexel’s commitment to digital and tech, and how are you working with digital and AI to make you more valued and relevant to customers?

Little: We have the benefit of having many countries and regions around the world within the Rexel group that have tried the same activity and found a really good tool for adding value. Or maybe we found a tool that didn’t work, and we could learn from that as well. It’s up to me to go to the team and find some of those best-in-class tools.

We’ve got some tools here in the U.S., but broadly across the group, we’ve got more tools, including AI tools, at our disposal. Internally, we’re listing opportunities or problems and seeing if someone in our global organization has a tool and solution to help them, and in many cases, they found a solution. I’ve had the benefit of being on the global executive team for about eight years now, so I’ve heard a lot of these challenges and I’ve seen how we tackle the challenges.

We visited various regions around the world, and as I find an opportunity here in the U.S., it’s like, “OK I’ve seen that issue.” Another country had the same issue, and this is how they solved it. Let’s convene a meeting, see where they’re at, and to your point, is there a tool that they chose, or maybe an even better tool, digital or otherwise, to create a solution and move forward?

There are regular conferences and internal meetings for all of us. I’m talking about between the nine regions of the U.S. and international, whether it’s Canada or France. But there are regular tech-related marriages of the mind, for lack of a better term, amongst Rexel people to ask, “What are you doing that solved this problem?”

Again, we’re talking about using digital tools, AI and things like that. We are deeply committed to that. Rexel is committed to sharing best practices across the group. We created several best practice teams, and I happen to lead two of them. Other executive committee members lead them as well, and from an executive sponsorship standpoint, we have started to do that. Our CIO and head of digital has spent a great deal of time traveling the world sharing some of those best practices as well. So, we do spend far more time than we used to, and probably far more time than some of our peers, sharing those best practices across the group.

Costa:  Let’s talk about early June when Rexel came out with what it called the Strategic Road Map. A piece of that, which I am finding more and more fascinating, is sustainability. Ten years ago, people were like, “Yeah, OK, whatever.” But now it seems like there’s such a deep-rooted commitment to sustainability. Where are you at in terms of making sure that you’re comfortable with the Rexel commitment? Maybe equally important, are you comfortable that you’re partnering with companies that are also as committed as you are to sustainability?

Little: That’s something we’ve actually spent the last two years really focused on here in North America. Honestly, it started much earlier in Europe. Probably to no one’s surprise, Europe has been much more sustainability-focused for several years. The good thing is, that head start gave us a really reduced learning curve here in North America, so both Canada and the U.S., through our supplier relations groups, worked with a lot of our top 100 vendors and got a better understanding of where they were in their ESG journeys. Obviously, many of those vendors are also European-based or have a strong European presence, so there was good alignment in that top 100.

From the internal side, I would say there was real reluctance in the beginning in North America, probably for just lack of pure understanding of really what it was about. We heard about Scope 1, Scope 2, and Scope 3 emissions, and now we’re talking about Scope 4, so it was a matter of education and learning of the meaning of these standards.  We created affirmative internal content to help our associates understand what this means for Rexel and to them.  I can say there was great interest, much greater interest than I personally thought we would see, in the ESG story and the journey that Rexel wanted to go on. That gave us great excitement around the thinking that this is real, this is something we can move on.

We created targets that have been in place for two years, and we’re working towards them. They’re audited by a global group, an external group, so there is a lot of measurement. There’s a lot of action planning, and it does really take it down to the lowest common denominator. For Rexel, every branch and every delivery vehicle is monitored. It’s certainly a great amount of data required to make this happen. There are some tools that we required, and it’s been interesting to see our journey. But I would say, as a veteran of the industry, it’s much better received than I thought it was going to be.

I wasn’t sure how we would accept it. Obviously, there’s not a number in sustainability or anything like that, but in terms of goals and setting things that you’re trying to do in the sustainability world, if you’re talking with North America or when you’re talking about Rexel USA branches, the next six months is a part of our continued conversation. Yes, we want to do business, and yes, we want to sell things, and we get all of that. But also a part of conversations is in terms of, “Don’t forget that by 2030, we need to be at this point.” Sustainability is an ongoing conversation that you’re having as you’re laying out these strategies over six-month periods of time because you can’t be successful without, in our case, in the U.S., 483 branches being part of it. I can’t just do this at a distribution center or 12 distribution centers and be successful. I need to do it across the entire network.

We absolutely have to make sure that we walk the walk and talk the talk. Energy efficient solutions, including lighting and HVAC, all of the products that we participate in from a sales standpoint, we also need to use. It seems easy to say, but when you have that many locations across the U.S. or across North America where we are approaching 650 locations, that’s a really big issue to make sure each one of those locations is participating and we’ve also got the right lighting in the warehouses. We must ensure our operations locations have set back thermostats and have air curtains on all the small and large garage doors that are open for hours each day. It’s a real challenge.

Costa: I think it was interesting as you laid out the Strategic Road Map that one of the things you talked about was having engaged associates with strong expertise. Combined with a strong customer focus, this gets me into a little of what your commitment is to make sure that the people who work at Rexel are really taking care of their customers and the priority of being knowledgeable, of being trained, and knowing about the latest products, especially in terms of electrification.

Little: As new products are coming out and new opportunities are being created, having well-trained staff at every level who are customer-facing and a great representation of Rexel and our products is essential. Training development is probably our number one priority internally. Obviously, recruitment and retention of associates is a huge topic these days, I think for the entire industry. We heard that at the NAED National Meeting.

What we find is once you attract the right people, you have to retain them. Along with retaining them, we also have to make them well-educated so they fully understand the products and the space that we’re operating in. If you think of the catalogs of vast material, which are now virtual catalogs, but if you think even back in the day when folks used to publish physical catalogs, they were all three and four inches thick. They’ve become five inches thick, and we have many more of them. It’s a really daunting task.

We work closely with our supplier partners, and I think some of them have done a great job taking care of training and development. COVID forced people to really look at how they did that on a virtual basis, but I think the best of our vendor partners have realized there’s a balance between virtual and physical training. We’ve started to send large groups of our associates back into training sessions or have trainers come out from our supplier partners into our regions and train people.

We get our teams together in a central location, bringing 30 to 40 of our associates together with a trainer or two from a key vendor partner. They go through what is new, what is the latest and greatest, what is the most energy-efficient, and what is the most productive. As we rewire North America in so many different ways, with Rexel certainly playing a role, there is a lot of training going on as you’re strategizing.

There are a lot of dollars at stake, and certainly a lot of opportunities, and a lot of folks are saying we are not where we need to be in terms of electrification. So, yes, we are focused on electrification, the grid, and the traditional side of electrification that we’re used to hearing about. New pieces have really exploded with solar and EV in the last few years, and that’s been a very dynamic and unsettled world. It goes on a great run and then seems to abruptly halt, maybe correct itself from a pricing standpoint or a dollars per watt or watts per inch standpoint. There’s a constant recalibration on the EV side.

Our supplier partners were focused on the EV space, and some pulled out of the space temporarily in North America, and now they’ve come back. There’s Level 1, Level 2, there’s different levels of Level 2, and you’ve got Level 3 EV chargers, so there are a lot of changes for our staff to keep up with. We’ve had to do a lot of training, but then also have people that are truly specialized in this space, whether it be PV or EV. It’s a combination of specialized folks, but then also training our general associates to make sure they understand enough to help the customer through their challenges and understanding of where they’re going and what they need so that we can get their order right.


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