Last November, Jayne Millard stepped down from her position as CEO at Turtle & Hughes, the Linden, New Jersey-based electrical distributor that her great-grandmother and mother before her had led.
While Millard might have handed the company’s reins over to Kathleen Shanahan, who became the first non-family CEO in the company’s almost 100-year history, that move in no way lessened the impact Millard has had — and continues to have — on the distribution industry.
Her legacy is legendary, which is why she is one of the winners of MDM’s 2021 Women in Distribution awards. And she fully expects that legacy to live on under Turtle & Hughes’ new CEO.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with the direction we’re heading as a leadership team and as a company,” Millard told MDM. “Kathleen’s done a phenomenal job of building the culture and growing the business in new directions.”
Millard grew up in a company that long celebrated and promoted women to the C-suite, but she is seeing a broader shift in how distribution has become more welcoming to women. That begins, she said, with established executives taking on the task of grooming the next generation.
“I think we’re seeing a shift in many industries that are traditionally majority male,” she said. “Leadership comes from a long-term commitment to growing leaders within the ranks, so just as important as having women CEOs is having young women engaged and interested in our industry. I think that’s a lot easier now because the distribution industry has worked hard to be more inclusive. We’re not there yet but we’ve certainly recognized the issue and have created a target for building engagement among younger women who otherwise would have just taken a pass on this industry.”
Millard, like the other Women in Distribution winners, said she is committed to being that person for up-and-coming female distribution leaders. As someone who had a career opportunity that many of her peers didn’t, she is especially focused on identifying the rising stars and being a providing that needed mentorship.
“As I’ve always said, I’m a poster child for nepotism,” Millard said with a laugh. “I had a leg up early in my career, so I look at the problem through a different lens, which is, ‘What are we doing to sponsor young women in our organization to become leaders?’ Everyone needs to be mentored. A lot of these young women have all the skills and talent they need, they just need to be exposed to the challenge, and sometimes getting exposed requires being sponsored by your boss.”
‘Innovator and dedicated leader’
Those who nominated Millard for the Women in Distribution Award lavished praise on the longtime distribution leader.
“Turtle and Hughes is one of the largest electrical distributors and family businesses in the country,” noted Julia Klein, chairwoman and CEO of C.H. Briggs. “Jayne is a fourth-generation owner and one of the few mother/daughter company transfers that I know of. She has led the company through many business cycles and into new markets, and her team helped rebuild the Freedom Tower in NYC after 9/11.”
Added Jessica Miller in her nomination of Millard: “Jayne has always stood out as an innovator and a dedicated leader in the industry. In fact, she was recently recognized and inducted into the Women’s Business Enterprise Hall of Fame (WBEHF). When it comes to the industrial and electrical distribution industries, her knowledge is unmatched. Jayne has been an active member of the National Association of Electrical Distributors (NAED) for three years. She continues to drive her company forward, staying competitive in the changing marketplace with fantastic innovations. She has also championed great causes for advancing women in the industry. Thanks to her efforts, 30% of the workforce at Turtle & Hughes are women, which is well above any other business in the industry. Jayne Millard is the epitome of what your award represents.”
Millard is indeed the epitome of what the Women in Distribution Award represents. And she is looking to grow the industry not only for women but anyone who wants to make a difference in distribution. She knows that wholesale distribution and particularly the electrical space provide rewarding professional and growth opportunities.
“My first word of advice — whether it’s to a man or a woman — is you have to be ready to work hard and embrace a complicated business because distribution is not easy,” she said. “Working hard and having patience and commitment to excellence are key. To women, I would strongly urge them to seek out mentors, find the trailblazers in your organization. Don’t underestimate how much people are willing to help and how much people want to help you in your career. You just have to be persistent, and you have to reach out and you have to have faith, and stick with a company that’s got a great culture — a culture committed to diversity, inclusion, growth and creativity.”
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