People

tED’s 30 Under 35: Meet Van Meter’s Heather McDonald

By Joe
Nowlan

In April, the editors of tED magazine sent out a call for
the industry’s “rising stars”—electrical professionals 34 years old or younger
who have the initiative, drive, integrity, and creativity to move the industry
forward in the decades to come. The call drew nominations from all segments of
the industry—distributors, suppliers, rep firms, software/services providers,
and VARs. Here on tedmag.com, we will post a new, full interview with one of
these impressive young people weekly; coverage of all of the honorees can be
found in the July 2012 issue
of tED
. Watch for information about our next “30 Under 35” competition  in
early 2013.


While
growing up and helping out with chores on her family’s Iowa farm, Heather
McDonald did not envision the day she’d be carefully studying the price of
copper and other commodities in the electrical industry.

But McDonald
has travelled just such a path and today is the commodity manager at Van Meter
Inc., an employee-owned electrical distributor.

McDonald
grew up on a farm in Monticello, Iowa, and attended community college in Cedar
Rapids. She entered the electrical industry without any actual electrical
background, she admits. In fact, it was a next-door neighbor, who first
mentioned “electrical” to her. But she was intrigued.

So McDonald
started in 2003 at an electrical sales rep based in Nebraska. From there she
went to work for United Copper Industries, a manufacturer where she was quite
happy and, she recalled, had no interest in leaving. But she had heard good
things about Van Meter being a great place to work. Turned out, Van Meter had
its eyes on her, too.

“Van Meter
called and explained how they were starting to build their commodities team,”
she explained. “In meeting with all of their people, I saw how they genuinely
cared. I heard them say frequently, ‘We want you to make sure that this is the
right decision for you and your family.’ They really wanted this to be the
right fit for me.”

The company’s
innovative Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) also impressed her and, in
January 2010, she came on board.

McDonald,
32, has been part of Van Meter’s added emphasis on commodities, something that
has resulted in growth both for the company as well as its customers.

“We focus on
managing the assets of our commodities. It is basic economics: buy low, sell
high, while managing our overall inventory on a day-to-day basis,” McDonald
explained. “So we make sure we have the right inventory in place, working with
our manufacturers every day.”

Sometimes
the managing part can mean knowing when to say “no” to a possible commodity
purchase.

“An order
could cost us X amount of dollars…But when we talk about managing the
assets of our commodities department, we are really talking about how much an
order costs us to do,” she explained. “We constantly watch the markets and try
to time the [commodity] buys correctly.”

Day-to-day
challenges such as this are what McDonald enjoys about the electrical
industry—an industry that she enthusiastically recommends as a career for young
graduates.

“One of the
hardest parts of this industry is attracting and retaining great talent. But the
electrical industry has unlimited possibilities. They can literally walk in the
door and do many different things,” she said.

McDonald and
her family—husband, Luke, and eight-month-old daughter, Carly—spend a lot of
time in outdoor activities: kayaking, camping, and biking.

Heather
recently graduated from Leadership for Five Seasons—a Cedar Rapids Chamber of
Commerce program that gives young professionals opportunities to provide
community leadership and give back to their towns and cities.

Heather is also
a boot camp fitness instructor and recently completed her first triathlon. And
she has recently taken on yet another activity—learning how to use her newest
purchase, a bow and arrow.

“Outside of
work, I’m definitely still a tomboy,” she laughed.

Joe Nowlan is a Boston-based freelance writer/editor and
author. He can be reached at jcnowlan@msn.com.

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