Jessica Yurgaitis is rightfully proud of her family’s business heritage that dates back to 1916 when her great-grandfather founded Industrial Supply in Salt Lake City. Today, Industrial Supply is among the largest industrial suppliers in the Intermountain West.
Yurgaitis also takes pride in the fact that both her grandmother and great-grandmother played active roles in the running the business.
“When my great-grandfather passed away in 1963, he actually left the business to my great-grandmother,” says Yurgaitis, who is senior vice president of product management and marketing at Industrial Supply. “She ran it from kind of an owner standpoint until she passed away in the ’80s. She was instrumental because she made some really big decisions that have really propelled us. She decided to move our property to where we are today and invested in some new warehouse space and land. She did some really bold things for a woman.
“When she passed away, she actually left the business to her three daughters. One of those daughters was my grandmother, and her two sisters. One of those sisters is still alive. She’s 97 and she’s our majority shareholder.”
Yurgaitis says her great-grandmother and grandmother weren’t always hands on with the business, but they maintained the vision of her great-grandfather.
Yurgaitis worked part time at Industrial Supply in the warehouse and other jobs when she was in college just to collect a paycheck until she embarked on her post-college career.
“When I finished college, I had zero desire to go work for the family business. I was going to go back and get my master’s degree,” she says. “I took a job in purchasing just to earn some money before I started a master’s program. But since I started as a full-time employee back in 1999, I’ve worked in our receiving department. I’ve run our counter and I’ve been in sales for a time.
“Where I really fit the best is with our supplier management and our supplier portfolio. It’s sort of that business planning along with alignment with our supplier partners, and then how it correlates to our marketing and advertising programs that we have.”
A name for herself
When Yurgaitis went full-time at Industrial Supply, her father, Phil Thompson III, was the CEO. For about two years, Yurgaitis used her maiden name of Thompson until she got married.
“Everybody associated me with being Phil’s daughter and it was really uncomfortable because I wanted to feel like I was doing things on my own and not because I was Phil’s daughter,” she says. “When I got married the first time, I changed my name, and this was just a few years into my career.
“I never told anybody I was Phil’s daughter. There were people that were surprised years later to realize that I was related to him.”
When Yurgaitis married a second time eight years ago, she briefly considered going back to her maiden name.
“I deliberately decided I didn’t want to go back to Thompson because I didn’t want that for me again,” she says. “I wanted to make sure that there was some space between me and my career and also being part of the family that owns and manages our business. So I changed my name again, basically.”
While most everyone struggles to balance their work and family lives, Yurgaitis has a bit more on her plate. Her husband works for a manufacturer and lives in Connecticut while three of their four kids have special needs.
“We all have the work/life balance issues, but we have the extra layer with our special needs kids and our long-distance marriage,” she says. “They give me something to work for and more passion for what I do.”
Yurgaitis cites her father, who is now chairman of the board for Industrial Supply, as her primary mentor along with General Industrial Tool & Supply CEO Kathleen Durbin. Durbin was instrumental in founding the Industrial Supply Association’s successful Women Industrial Supply Executives (W.I.S.E.) in 2011.
“She really took me by the hand,” Yurgaitis says of Durbin. “When I first started going to industry conventions, she nudged me to participate, volunteer and to get involved. I would say she’s been one of the most impactful people for my enjoyment of being in the industry. I don’t think that she even knows what she’s done for me, but I’ve tried to tell her several times.
“I think in the 22 years I’ve been in the industry I’ve already seen a lot of changes. I see more and more women earning higher positions. I do think it’s changing.”
Build a Network
Through programs such as W.I.S.E., Yurgaitis says women in distribution, manufacturing and independent reps can meet with each other at industry conferences and other events.
During one of their first times dining out since the pandemic, Yurgaitis and her husband recently broke bread in Utah with Vallen Distribution’s Joyce Lansdale and her husband. It was at that dinner that the two friends learned that both of them had been nominated for Modern Distribution Management’s Women in Distribution Awards. Yurgaitis says she is friends with several other women who won MDM’s Distribution Awards.
“Joyce happens to be one of my closest friends, and she works for a competitor, and that’s OK,” Yurgaitis says. “The challenge for women is, it’s not a very sexy industry, and it doesn’t have a lot of appeal for people who are in college. My advice is give it a chance. You’ll realize that there’s some wonderful people and a lot of growth opportunity in distribution.
“Do your best to meet people and to network. Enjoy your space and not to try to think there’s something better out there. Because you’re never going to meet people as good as the people in the industrial distribution world. It has taken a while for me to learn that, but I really believe that there are some amazing, wonderful, salt of the earth people that do what I do.”
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