Sarah Finlayson isn’t the typical second-generation distribution business owner. She didn’t grow up sweeping the warehouse as a kid. She wasn’t a sales and marketing intern in high school.
Her parents, who had long been small-business owners, didn’t buy a distributorship, E&W Tool and Supply, until Finlayson was in college. And after graduating from Notre Dame, Finlayson spent a few years working in “corporate America” — finance, strategy, M&A, product development — before deciding to join her parents in the family business.
About a year into working with her folks, they decided to retire, and Finlayson acquired the business from them, now rebranded as Riverhawk Industrial Supply. She quickly began deploying the business skills she honed during her undergraduate studies and her MBA pursuit at Harvard University with a simple but challenging goal: modernize the company.
First, however, she had to learn the ins and outs of the distribution world.
“The industry was foreign to me,” she said. “I still consider myself a rookie in the industry, but I am used to thinking about strategy and business more generally. I liked the idea of being able to own the full P&L, make my own decisions and have more of an entrepreneurial mindset than think corporate America ever allowed me to have.”
That entrepreneurial mindset has paid off, which is a key reason she was named one of MDM’s 2021 Women in Distribution award winners. Finlayson has taken her business savvy and brought it to the company, including new tools designed to help customers and new ideas that led the company to set new revenue records three years in a row.
When nominating Finlayson, Craig Martin explained some of those value-added solutions for customers. He noted that she has “developed a great new solution for bringing value around supply chain called ToolGuard, an app-based tool management system that delivers a solution around managing tools at the job site or any facility. She also developed a value-added solution called 3-n-1, a total supply chain management solution for construction and industrial maintenance companies.”
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