5 Questions with Wes Smith, president, Mayer

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

Our 89 years of being a family-owned business that strives every day to do good and be better for our customers, our associates, our suppliers, and our communities.  Every one of our associates is allowed to do community service and participate in their communities. One of our values at Mayer is community service, and we measure it and give ourselves feedback.  And we all participate.

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

The process we use to hire people identifies those who share our values.  Our people are innately self-motivated to work together as a team. Our job, as leaders, is to give them the tools and the resources they need to be a success. Happy people create success, and we give our associates the tools and resources they need for success.   

Motivation is such an important thing. From a leadership perspective, we have to be open and honest with our people. We take our management team, we break up into three teams and we visit each Mayer location. We try to do it in the first quarter, but we have more locations now, so we visit every location as quickly as possible. By the end of May, we will be eyeball to eyeball with all of our people. We will talk about goals. Obviously, with other things being equal, we are going to be competitive. But the other thing is our associates know somebody cares about them, and management will come and see them. We will have conversations and our associates can look me in the eye.

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

We take calculated risks every day.  I am not sure I could rank one over the other on any given day. We look to mitigate risk through a good gut feel, emotionally intelligent decision making, and data.

We are an industry in transformation. You have to keep the core business healthy. But you also have to create a business within a business. The risky side is there is no guarantee of success, and you have to be willing to fail. We created a branch process, where a branch can submit a plan, and if it is submitted well, and it fits our core strategy, we will fund that experiment for a period of time. It will mature into a viable business model, or it will fail. If it fails, we will examine it and ask ourselves what we learned from it.

We also invest in software or take calculated risks every day. Those jobs are risky, so we will look at the risk and how it’s relative to the importance of the customer.  When I say we are taking risks every day, it’s a whole continuum of making decisions around strategy.


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

Honesty and integrity. You cannot be a leader without the trust that comes through the consistent application of these values.

Real leaders do the right thing when no one is looking. What more do you ask of your leaders every day? There is nothing worse to me, or  more demotivating, then having an expectation of a leader, and that leader doesn’t perform with honesty. Own up to yourself. No one may ever see it.  But, employees are going to see you for who you are. And to me, I have the choice to make decisions every day, and I have to look everyone in the eye and they have to trust me with that decision.

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

Becoming a technology driven industry. Everything we sell, how we sell it, and who we sell it to, is being driven through the application of Moore’s law to this industry.

Good leaders have a good gut feel. They are intuition driven. We have had a lot of success being intuition driven. But intuition driven by data is powerful. Everything we sell is connected or in a system. If you want to sell boxes, you are driving your company into single digits. You must change your culture to be a technology driven. I want to see the data. Come into my office with an idea, but make sure that it is data driven. 

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Wes Smith

Wes Smith

James W. (Wes) Smith currently serves as President of Mayer Electric Supply. A Mayer associate since 1987, he knows the inner-workings of the company. Wes began as a warehouse associate and moved into internal auditing and then to quality assurance. He became Mayer’s first CIO in 2000, then Executive Vice President & COO in 2005, before his current appointment as President in 2008. In addition to being a part of Mayer's Board of Directors and Leadership Team, Wes also serves on a number of industry boards and councils, including the National Association of Electrical Distributors (NAED), IMARK; the Industry Data Exchange Association (IDEA); IM Supply; NAED Education and Research Foundation; Various Manufacturer Distributor Advisory Councils. Wes was awarded the UAB Excellence in Business Top 25 Award in 2018 and the Distinguished Distributor Service Award by the National Association of Electrical Distributors in 2014. He has served as a Board member of the University of Alabama at Birmingham's National Alumni Society for nine years and as President in 2015. Wes led the recent Athletics Assessment Task Force for UAB, resulting in the return of football to UAB. In 2006 Wes was named The Outstanding Alumnus of the UAB School of Business and as the Volunteer of the Year in 2015.