They come from a variety of roles across a range of different distribution sectors. Some have a strong family background in distribution, while others are new to the market and entered it by happenstance. But what all 10 of MDM’s Future Leader Award winners have in common is a drive to improve distribution for all its stakeholders — employees, executive leadership, customers, manufacturers and vendors.
Another common denominator? They are all evangelists for advances in digital technology that they say will make it happen. The following profiles showcase how no matter what forms of disruption distribution will certainly face in the foreseeable future, the industry is in good hands.
As Government Sales & Operations Director for Lawson Products, Christina Nielsen, 35, is at the helm of a team of both outside sales and inside operations professionals running all public sector business for Lawson in North America. Known to her colleagues as an exceptional leader, within her first two years in the role, she turned public-sector sales into the fastest growing segment in the company, growing at a rate of 33% since 2018, according to colleague and nominator Kate Walden, director of corporate communications.
But that’s not all. Nielsen and her team have more than doubled Lawson’s portfolio of state contracts across the country. “Christina launched a truly innovative program that focuses on selling to state, local and educational institutions,” says Walden. “With a laser focus on the customer’s point of view and providing our sales force with a proven approach to being successful in the public space, the program is designed to substantially grow our sales team members’ business with local cities, counties and schools.”
There are two portions to the public sector business managed by Nielsen’s team, military and state, local and education. Although Nielsen’s program launched in March of this year, just as COVID-19 shutdowns where ramping up, the program only saw two months of slow sales. The past four months saw substantial year-over-year growth, as much as 19%. “Christina’s vision, hands-on approach and innovation has been integral to Lawson’s success and will continue to be for years to come,” says Walden.
Nielsen came into her current role through a background in marketing, with no formal experience in sales or sales operations. But her desire to understand all aspects of the business led her to accept the position. “When I came into this role, I focused on understanding the people on my team and where their strengths lie. Once I figured that out, and how to put people together, it was more than anything about getting out of the way. Because they are very talented,” she says.
Although 10 people report to Nielsen, there are 900 salespeople in the company. She is focused on amplifying the public sector sales practices that have worked within her group across all of Lawson. “The No. 1 reason for our success in the public sector is not relying on the 10 experts to be the only doers and generators of sales, but amplifying their knowledge through sales education programs, through enabling the other 900 salespeople with marketing tools so they could show that knowledge and bring that credibility to the customer,” she says. “Leadership is about giving others the knowledge, confidence, and direction to be successful. I couldn’t be prouder of how this program has been embraced and grown by our sales team.”
Nielsen intends to take the company-wide education effort to the next level in 2021. “It’s going to be focused on continuing the momentum,” she says.
Known as an IT evangelist at his company, Core & Main, Bryant Argall, 31, has been a game changer for the water, sewer and fire protection distributor. In just two years, the field operations program manager has increased Core & Main’s adoption of digital estimating software by 1,000% while also changing the way the company’s workforce thinks, according to colleague and nominator Carrie Busbee, senior director of information technology.
Argall initiated a team of regional digital champions within the company, traveling throughout the country to personally visit more than 275 Core & Main branches in 2018 and 2019 to promote the take-off software and provide employee training. Argall personally traveled Mondays through Thursdays most every week.
He pushed for the in-person rollout rather than doing it virtually. “Most of our associates are seasoned, they’re more tenured. And they’re not going to want to sit and watch a video on this. So I said I will travel because I know the return on investment is going to be exponentially higher doing that,” he says. “And it turned out to be true.”
“They identified blind spots in our adoption goals, improved their training, and developed product enhancements and a leadership network that has enabled Core & Main to integrate digital take-off with our proprietary bidding platform,” adds Busbee.
The efficiencies that have resulted from Argall’s efforts enabled Core & Main to bid twice the number of bids in the last 12 months than in the same rolling 12 months the prior year, she added.
Argall is now expanding his role, leading the IT product owners for Core & Main’s customer portal and data and analytic platforms. In addition, he is helping teams define the key performance indicators that help to measure success for every technical release. “Bryant’s team spirit and gentle demeanor serve him well as he facilitates cross functional camaraderie, including building partnerships with our communications and learning teams to drive adoption across our geographically dispersed workforce of 3,500 associates,” says Busbee. “Bryant isn’t afraid of trial and error. He goes above and beyond in everything he does. He is a successful leader because he’s a successful friend and partner. He is our secret sauce and will continue to influence a wider audience each year as he embraces more opportunities to further our technology journey.”
Argall leads Core & Main’s Innovation Committee, a group of 10 associates from around the country who work together to improve the company’s technology capabilities. It’s helped with the rollout of a new mobile application that has played a critical role in giving outside salespeople information they need without having to be in close contact with others.
“We’ve changed the mindset of our associates to be more open to technology, more with the times,” says Argall, “and we have a lot more in the hopper.”
Matt Miller’s outstanding work ethic, ability to collaborate and build relationships, and focus on results has consistently expanded his positive impact on IEWC, Inc.’s business in the decade that he has been with the electrical wire and cable distributor. Promoted to a regional sales manager in 2016, his natural leadership skills and in-depth knowledge of customers, industry and account management best-practices spurred his Southwest U.S. sales team to explosive growth during his tenure, says colleague and nominator David Burleton.
Beyond sales results and his personal accomplishments, Miller also developed and empowered his team, with three sales personnel earning President’s Club awards and two of his team members being promoted to regional sales managers themselves, added Burleton.
Last summer, Miller took on new challenges and responsibilities as a member of IEWC’s newly created Commercial Excellence team. This small group was tasked with a mission to “be catalysts of change to advance our customers’ and suppliers’ experience and create profitable growth through quality, speed, and consistency in our approach and processes,” according to the company.
As commercial operations manager, Miller has been an active leader in several innovations. These include:
- leadership of the creation of a virtual “sales playbook,”
- re-imagining of IEWC’s pricing strategy as part of developing a new Configure Price Quote (CPQ) system within IEWC’s CRM,
- deploying a new business intelligence software resource focused on total Cost to Serve/P&L based analysis,
- the roll-out of artificial-intelligence-based engines that proactively arm IEWC sales personnel with recovery opportunities and product expansion opportunities with current customers.
“Matt has the respect and trust of an entire sales organization as he applies his intelligence, experience and passion to advancing IEWC through commercial excellence,” says Burleton. “And at age 37, Matt’s best years for IEWC and its customers still lie ahead!”
The two projects Miller is in charge of currently include developing a financial analytics tool to create P&L-style statements for each salesperson, territory, office, region and division, and using artificial intelligence to put sales-enhancing information at each salesperson’s finger tips. The next focus, Miller says, is to better integrate the quoting process to drive user interaction into Salesforce. “We’re really trying to drive an omni-channel approach to our customer,” says Miller.
In the immediate future, Miller will run the integration of a company that IEWC just acquired. “It requires every single thing I’ve learned, from sales process, DC operations process, just working with people, learning what makes a business tick, how people go to market because it’s a whole new division,” he says. “…I’m looking forward to the integration process.”
J & L Building Materials, headquartered in Frazer, Pennsylvania, achieved third-generation status when Emma Moretzsohn, 33, joined the family business. After two years at an employer-branding business helping companies understand how they can attract, recruit and retain the right talent, she brought that knowledge and skillset to J & L as executive vice president.
“As one of her first initiatives, [she] spent the better part of a year meeting with every employee to understand their career objectives and to ensure J & L had the right people in the right positions,” says nominator Bob Rumer of American Wholesale.
One outcome of Moretzsohn’s organizational development work was the creation of a new management structure, positioning the company for a more targeted market strategy and greater cost effectiveness.
“I’m proud of putting together this new management team that is now leading the company. They were all internal candidates that stepped up into these roles, people that have been here in a lot of cases for a long time, that are now taking on a bigger leadership role,” says Moretzsohn. “Transitioning between generations is notoriously hard and I think everyone has taken it in stride and really done a wonderful job … balancing the experience and wisdom of a lot of our managers that have been here for a very long time with fresh ideas from the next generation of leaders.”
Realizing J & L’s systems limitations, Moretzsohn also took the company to a new ERP system and led the project team that designed, trained and successfully implemented the company’s new management software after gaining insights from employees about what type of system would work best for them. “As if that wasn’t enough, she then tackled a major company rebranding initiative creating a new logo, website, marketing materials, and social media presence,” adds Rumer.
When COVID-19 hit, Moretzsohn acted quickly and decisively to implement policies and procedures that are continuing to keep employees and customers safe. “Today, everyone is safe and J & L has regained all ground lost in the early days of the crisis,” says Rumer. “Experience is important, but Emma has demonstrated that with the right family background, a strong sense of commitment, and a willingness to tackle the tough jobs, our new generation of leaders is up for any challenge.”
Moretzsohn appreciates the ability to make an immediate impact at J&L. “It’s a place where you can share ideas, where you can try new things,” she says. “We tend to be a leader in launching new products, things of that nature, just because we are big enough to be influential but small enough to pivot at any point.”
She is optimistic about the outlook for 2021, with plans for some exciting launches that will further modernize J&L’s technology, such as an upcoming customer portal that will allow them to place orders through J&L’s system on their own.
Mike Powers’ passion and leadership is contagious, says nominator Scott Frymire, SVP of marketing at Unilog. With a strong marketing and e-commerce background, Powers, 39, took his former company, Hill & Markes, from very low e-commerce adoption to having close to 30% of its revenue flow through its digital branch before he left to join Alaska Rubber Group earlier this year as director of e-commerce and digital marketing.
Powers joined Alaska Rubber at the height of the first wave of the pandemic, at the end of March. He came onboard to manage their digital branch. Although COVID-19 has posed obstacles — Powers is based in New York while most of the company is in Alaska — things got off to a quick start and their new e-commerce platform is still on track for a January 2021 launch.
It is Powers’ job to make sure key stakeholders in the business will be familiar with the new e-commerce platform. “What makes me passionate about this is that in distribution, e-commerce or digital transformation is very new to some of these organizations. And so I’m passionate about making the impact in a business that is taking on a new, completely different strategy,” he says.
Frymire calls Powers a “great team builder with a knack for hiring talented, passionate employees. He regularly speaks at trade shows, user group meetings, with analysts, and at other conferences on the topics of e-commerce, digital transformation, marketing, social media, customer acquisition and customer loyalty.”
Among Powers’ accomplishments is a program that he built to monetize his company’s e-commerce site by partnering with manufacturers on featured brand pages.
Powers says he is also motivated by sharing his experiences in digitalization with other practitioners to help them on their digital journey. As far as internal training at Alaska Rubber, he will be hosting regular webcasts each week once the new site launches and an onboarding specialist will be partnered with each sales rep to walk customers through registering, creating a hopping list, and more.
“Looking back on 2020, COVID has allowed our organization to be comfortable with technology. I have a lot of opportunity to meet [digitally] with many customers, manufacturers and vendors, where maybe a year ago, two years ago, it would have had to be face to face,” says Powers. “I think technology is not only going to allow me to build relationships with our vendors but it’s also going to allow me to really try to get as much customer adoption with our website as possible.”
He’s particularly excited about introducing a product configurator on Alaska Rubber’s website that will allow customers to configure assemblies, as well as an upcoming mobile app that will allow for photo scanning, barcode scanning and geolocating capabilities. “When you’re talking about the Alaska pipeline, man, it’s going to be really, really powerful for our customers to be out in the field to be able to place an order with Alaska Rubber Group.”
Adam Becker began his career at Palmer Johnson Power Systems in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, without a background in industrial distribution, but the 32-year-old has made — and continues to make — a mark on the family-owned distributor of heavy-duty, off-highway parts and equipment.
After a few years excelling in sales, Becker was promoted to product support manager (which he called an inside sales manager role), where he managed a group of inside salespeople. He then rose to director of inside sales, a position he held for five years during which he also joined the company’s leadership team.
In January of this year, Palmer Johnson spun off its engineering group and made a strategic acquisition, becoming a family-owned business of three standalone companies. With that change came some personnel moves, and Becker again changed roles, rising to VP of operations for Palmer Johnson Power Systems.
Becker now oversees customer service, product support, marketing, IT, and warehouse and inventory planning. Throughout his tenure at Palmer Johnson, he has been a key driver of modernization, including the implementation of the Salesforce CRM system as part of the company’s goal to become more customer-centric.
Though Becker found it sometimes difficult to assert his voice as a younger member of the leadership team, he took a measured approach to bring his ideas to the team and showing their benefits as Palmer Johnson transformed itself into a more modern company.
“I never claimed to be an expert with our products or markets; all of that takes a long time to learn,” Becker says. “Kudos to all of our tenured people who possess that knowledge; ultimately, that’s what makes us successful. But — and this is just my nature — I’m always looking to make things better, and I’m not afraid of change. I also have a knack for getting along with people, which can make things a little bit easier, especially when change is coming. If you have a good rapport with people and build their trust by showing them that you ultimately have their best interest in mind and the company’s best interests in mind, you can win them over.”
In his nomination of Becker, Palmer Johnson President Craig Swenson — who outlined the many initiatives that Becker helped develop or led — said this about the company’s rising star: “Adam has advanced quickly within our organization over the last eight years and has brought many fresh and innovative ideas that have helped us along the way. Not only that, but he is also always willing to dig in and do the hard work to bring those ideas from concept to implementation.”
Adam Woodrey, 37, credits his grandfather — a mechanic in World War II who later spent a career in manufacturing — for his fascination with all things industrial. Woodrey followed suit in a way, landing a job at one of the larger industrial distributors, Wolseley Industrial, right out of college.
Woodrey’s introduction to the industrial marketplace was a familiar one. He pulled orders in a warehouse and learned the differences between, for example, a gate valve and a knife gate valve.
He turned his interest in learning everything about the industrial world into a successful career at Wolseley, later moving on to Swagelok and then joining Troy, Ohio-based manufacturer ARC Abrasives Inc. three years ago.
During that time, not only did Woodrey take pride in serving the markets in which his grandfather had worked, but he also learned the business inside and out. And his time spent at a distributor was especially critical for fully understanding how the channel flows.
“I was on the distribution side of the business for a long, long time,” he says. “I cut my teeth there. That’s helped me now that I’m on the manufacturing side. ARC doesn’t sell direct; we sell 100% through distribution, so it’s been helpful to understand what’s important to the distributor and how that impacts the end-user.”
Woodrey has found numerous ways to impact ARC, a 60-year-old, second-generation, family-owned manufacturer. He has been working tirelessly to help the company stand out in the marketplace with the adoption of CRM, ERP, outbound marketing and lead generation program. He started as director of marketing before being moved to product management, then business development and now national accounts Fastenal team in addition to his role as executive director of marketing and communications.
“I wear a couple of different hats and get the opportunity to work with a wide variety of people in very different business units,” Woodrey says. “But it all rolls up toward impacting this company, and that’s what makes it fun.”
Woodrey has found numerous ways to impact not only his own company but also the industry, serving as a member of the Industrial Supply Association’s Emerging Leaders Committee.
Anthony Stayman, ARC’s CEO and owner, had high praise for Woodrey in his nomination form, saying: “Adam firmly believes once you have established someone’s motivation, you can work alongside them to create something amazing. Adam is a disruptor. He believes in challenging the status quo. Hearing, ‘That’s the way we’ve always done it,’ is like nails on a chalkboard to Adam. Asking ‘what if?’ is music to his ears.”
One of many threads uniting this crop of Future Leaders is that their contributions to their respective companies became more apparent — and more critical — against the backdrop of COVID-19. Any distributor or manufacturer that wanted to adapt to the rapidly changing marketplace would need some fresh, new ideas from their next generation of executives.
That was especially true at Forney Industries, a Fort Collins, Colorado-based, family-owned, 88-year-old metalworking products distributor.
Dane Anderson officially joined Forney in 2016, but the 28-year-old says that as a fourth-generation family member of the company, he’s been a Forney employee all of his life. And Anderson, now the company’s vice president of operations and business administration, is a big reason that Forney has navigated the pandemic as well as it has.
Anderson began his Forney career in sales before moving to VP of operations and serving on the executive team, where he is showcasing his talents alongside his father, President and CEO Steve Anderson, as well as David Eckert, the VP of industrial markets and director of field sales for the Central U.S.
During the last eight months, Eckert said in his nomination, Anderson was charged with keeping employees and facilities safe, maintaining supply chain lead times, adding second shifts in the distribution centers, overseeing a substantial increase in both small package and LTL shipments, identifying new bottlenecks, introducing new products such as masks and shields that require new packaging and assembly operations, and evaluating new automation capabilities.
Anderson happily took on these tall tasks. “The only thing that we want to stay stagnant at Forney is our customers’ perception of us; we think our customers love us,” he says. “This year, I’ve been tasked with completely overhauling our warehouses. Archaic is the wrong word, but our processes are very old and they need to be updated. I’m tasked with taking our current pick process and fully automating it. They’re bringing out the checkbook and saying to me, ‘We’re putting a lot in your hands, but you need to make us more efficient.’
Anderson, who spent a year working for a different company before joining his dad at Forney, initially worked in sales for two years before moving into operations. He’s now helping the company move into e-commerce to better compete with the Amazons of the world.
“We are trying to flip the mold and change how we distribute our product,” he says. “And I think it’s been a really fun challenge.”
In his nomination of Anderson, Eckert added: “The reality is, our business changed in a matter of days/weeks and the leadership provided by Dane was critical to realizing our growth during this challenging period. No doubt that Forney Industries is in good hands as move into its fourth generation.”
At 29, Dan Kurzyp has built an impressive career that began with business analyst and planning positions at both a distributor and manufacturer and led to his current role as senior demand planner at ADI Global, where he’s worked for the last two-and-a-half years.
Despite his depth and breadth of experience, Kurzyp understands that his young age can be an issue in decision-making processes alongside older, more tenured colleagues. Whenever he faces those challenges, he says he leans on a simple philosophy.
“My methodology, even before ADI, was ‘Lead by example and prove yourself,’” Kurzyp says. “I’m a firm believer of respecting your elders and respecting those that came before you, but also providing input and earning your way to the top through trust and actions.”
Mission accomplished for Kurzyp, who now handles demand planning for ADI, the Melville, New York-based wholesale distributor of security, AV and low-voltage products. There, according to his supervisor and Future Leader nominator, Eva Heller, the company’s NA vice president inventory and planning, Kurzyp has “led several cross-functional ‘kaizen’ [a concept referring to continuous improvement] events for the business, which have resulted in material business savings.”
When asked to provide a brief description of the nominee’s qualifications, such as “innovative practices they’ve brought to the company; groundbreaking ideas; committees they’ve established or taken to the next level; mastery of technology; exceptional ambition; resiliency during COVID-19, etc.,” Heller quipped, “all of the above.”
Kurzyp takes pride in being an “all of the above” contributor, and he traces his passion back to when he was pursuing his business degree and became fascinated with supply chain. He was drawn to the challenge of efficiently and sustainably moving goods from Point A to Point B. “I found that super interesting because it was about learning the nitty-gritty individual detail and how everything matters to the bottom line,” he says.
He built that passion at such companies as health care distributor Henry Schein and eyewear manufacturer Luxottica, and now he’s helping ADI Global improve its processes.
“I was able to come in and use my skills and my past experiences in the industry to say, ‘OK, here’s what we could do to make things better and more efficient,’” Kurzyp says. “It’s just nice to see what impact you make daily to actually save the company money and support customers.”
In her nomination of Kurzyp, Heller added: “Dan is not only the go-to guy on our team but has earned a high level of respect and recognition cross-functionally and with ADI’s leadership team.”
Companies in the distribution space have found a need to “transform” their businesses in 2020 due to the pandemic, and one of the nominees who exemplified this ideal is John Delligatti, director of digital strategy for Bristol, Pennsylvania-based SDI Inc.
Delligatti, who rose from sourcing associate to his current position at SDI — a “supply chain as-a-service provider” in the MRO channel, according to the company’s website — has brought an important area of focus to the company where he’s spent the last four years.
“I am passionate about data,” he says. “And that’s what I bring to the table.”
Delligatti, who started his career out of college as a purchasing agent for an optical supply company, has been busy this year leading a host of initiatives integral to ADI’s growth, according to Chrissy Murphy, sales operations specialist and the SDI colleague who nominated Delligatti as a Future Leader.
“John has risen from a sourcing associate to the director of digital strategy over the span of three years,” Murphy said in her nomination. “If there’s anyone at SDI who fits the description above, it’s him.
Thanks to his ambition, expertise in technology ranging from analytics to RPA combined with his business acumen, John has many transformational projects at SDI.”
Among those projects, Delligatti reinvented the sales process — “SDI no longer sends out RFQs with thousands of items on them, but instead uses clients’ data to tell them a story about themselves and how SDI can help,” Murphy says.
What’s more, he “built a database of items to do internal pricing searches based on manufacturing name/manufacturing part number,” something SDI previously could not do.
Delligatti also “led the development of a bot to contact suppliers based on data (PO date, due date, whether or not the supplier confirmed the order, etc.), ask them to confirm the order, and escalate the order to a procurement manager if the vendor is non-responsive.”
His ascension to MDM Future Leader is remarkable considering he began his college studies in environmental science. Thankfully for SDI and the industry, he switched to business management, and he has been able to deploy his talents and passion for data. His efforts should continue to transform the business moving forward.
“I got where I am by applying data to supply chain to solve problems,” he says. “At SDI, the automation space is rife with opportunity, especially for companies like us. I’d like to keep going, but we got to keep proving ourselves. I’m a keep-your-head-down-nose-to-the-grindstone guy. As long as we keep doing good work, everything will come naturally.”
MDM Senior Editor Eric Smith contributed to this report.