5 Questions with Rock Kuchenmeister, General Manager, K/E Electric Supply Corp

1. In terms of your company, what are you most proud of?

There are a lot of things we do for the community. Most importantly, we provide quality jobs to some fantastic people, working together to build our local community.

R Kuchenmeister (002)The key to building a community with the employees is making the employees feel like they are part of the community. They need to feel engaged with the community. Some of engagement is having them recognize that the products we sell are a part of the building process for businesses and facilities they use like schools, malls, stadiums, and hospitals. We also donate our time and money to local charities that directly affect the employees. Lastly, we hold company events like family picnics, Christmas parties, and weekend trips to build the internal community and culture. We want people at all levels of the company engaging with one another. The families of the company get to interact with each other; friendships are created, collaboration is encouraged, and some of our best ideas organically evolve in those interactions.

In the interview process we talk about our culture. We want to make sure that the potential employee is a good fit for us and we are a good fit for them. The fit is more important than talent or experience.


2. How do you keep the people that work with you (your employees) properly motivated?

The most important thing we do is engage them regularly. We work hard and play hard, but we also listen to each other. 

I am a very “anti-meeting” leader. Meetings are necessary at times, but the real work is done outside those meetings. The key is having executive leadership and management engaged and open with free dialogue. The way to do that is by walking your facilities. Set up shop at the coffee pot or water cooler and be available. Ask the employees (at all levels of the company) how their day is going. Ask them about their job. Find out what is important to them and have ongoing conversations about those topics with them. If they have families, know them. If they have hobbies, find out about them. These interactions are not about filling up data on your CRM. This is about really getting to know your staff.  K/E Electric Supply has about 75 employees. I could name every employee, nearly every spouse or significant other, and most of the kid’s names too. I could tell you about them, their tendencies, and what they like to do outside of work.

In return, these interactions give the employees opportunities to ask you questions about why we do things and provide opportunities to supply you with creative solutions to ongoing issues. They feel like they are part of the process and are more engaged with the company. Ultimately, they care more about K/E Electric Supply.


3. What is the biggest risk you have ever taken?

Personally, it was accepting the job. I was hired in as a receptionist after I finished my bachelor’s degree in early 2002 during a deep recession in Detroit. After 17 years, I am the General Manager of K/E Electric Supply.

When I was hired, I was a recent college graduate and recently engaged to my wife. Although we were in a recession, a talented young man with a degree in Computer Science still had opportunities. I took a job that paid just over minimum wage for 40 hours a week. My wife and I were saving for a house and a wedding. Many people questioned my decision. With my wife’s support, hard work, and discipline, opportunities became available for me to move around the company.

I tell my story to many recently hired employees and during some performance reviews. If I didn’t take the path I took, I wouldn’t be the leader I am today. Sometimes the path you take isn’t the path you planned to take. If you work hard and be patient for the right opportunities, you can still arrive in a place you want to be.


4. What is the one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?

Balance is the most important characteristic. Finding a balance in life and work, finding a balance between two sides in a situation, and finding balance in how you lead is challenging, but vital.

It is always important to have balance. Balance does not mean equal though. Every employee doesn’t deserve a raise every year. Some employees work harder than others and deserved to be paid more for their performance. Some employees deserve training opportunities or a more flexible schedule when an issue arises in their life. As a manager, you need to make those tough decisions.

The balance is also personal. As a leader, where are you needed most? Is a department having critical issues? Have you been spending enough time with your customers? Are you caught up on your paperwork? Have you been spending enough time building towards your goals or investing in your long-term vision? Is your health good? Are you spending enough time with your family and friends? There are only so many minutes in the day. Balancing your time in the right areas makes you a pro-active leader rather than a reactive leader


5. What is the biggest challenge facing our supply chain?

We are in an ever-growing state of change. The ability to evolve ones business and oneself couldn’t be more important in today’s environment.

You can’t be afraid to take a risk. You have to believe in your ability and your team’s ability to succeed. Failure is just an opportunity to learn. A carefully calculated risk is exciting for your team and for your business. If you do nothing, you are stationary. Going through the motions means you are likely falling behind. If you do something, at least you are moving. Even if you are moving in the wrong direction, with that energy, you can pivot easier in the right direction.

One of Newton’s laws of motion states, “Every object persists in its state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed on it.” In the business world, the inertia of the team can change direction only if the necessary force exists to change the direction of the team. The necessary force is good leadership.

Do I or anyone at K/E Electric Supply have a magic formula to stay ahead of change? Simply no, but we try. We are putting energy into it and believe that our energy will give us opportunities down the road.


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