Sonepar USA

The old adage says the only constant in life is change. Change is also necessary for businesses to evolve and grow. Sonepar USA, a leading electrical supplies and services provider, embraced this fact of life recently when it welcomed a new leader into the role of president and COO this year. Tony Burr, a veteran of the European electrical wholesaling industry, began his post at Sonepar USA on Jan. 1, 2005.

Burr came onboard to drive the next phase of the business growth and strategic development by building on Sonepar USA's current strengths and continuing to look for growth opportunities throughout the United States, as well as building a stronger companywide communications strategy.

So far, his strategies have fallen into place without much resistance, he says. "We've started a good communication process. We've started holding more management meetings and building better synergy between the businesses. Other initiatives include a stronger IT strategy, which is a big job for us." Acquisitions are another initiative for Sonepar USA, which he expects to further the company's goal to gain market share. "Today, we have limited coverage in certain marketplaces, and we are looking at areas where we can expand in market sectors similar to ours," he says. "We want each branch to have its own autonomy and room to grow. Currently, we are strong down through the East Cost and Upper Midwest regions, with a smaller presence in the Northwest. We need to start building in other areas and develop new business opportunities."

Burr spent the majority of his career before Sonepar USA working in the UK and Ireland. His experience has included managing a business of $1.5 billion in sales, 350 branches and 5,000 people, while leading the acquisitions and establishment of a number of businesses both in the UK and around the world.

Goals and Challenges

Burr has several other long-term goals as the new president of the company. "I've come over here with the main goal of creating a more cohesive operating entity," he says. "I plan to gradually buy businesses and make them operate properly."

He says to grow far greater than the economy will also take organic growth. "We want to double the business in the next five years," he says. "Currently, Sonepar is one of the largest distributors in the world, and we want to retain our position as one of the leading distributors here in the states."

He says with a dynamic group of professionals, the company could make this goal a reality. "We have a fantastic team of people at Sonepar with a drive and passion for success," he says. "Our people are one of our greatest assets, and a major factor in the success of our business."

Training and development, however, are something Burr says the company is working to improve. "We haven't been as focused on training as we should be, so we're intensely looking into enhancing those programs," he says. "We're looking at ways to train people for future skills whether they're new to the industry or seasoned professionals."

"It's a challenge find the right people, but once they are part of our team, we see real results."

Challenges also stem from U.S. market idiosyncrasies. "This is a much different market than Europe – each state trades differently," he says. "They have different vendors and a different customer base. It's not a one-size-fits-all approach. We have to be careful."

That is why, Burr says, Sonepar USA keeps its branches decentralized. "We let them run their own businesses - we don't impose the will of the head office on each branch," he says. "We really believe in the entrepreneurial spirit in the marketplace. As a corporate organization, however, it is our duty to support each branch with business-wide initiatives to get best practices in place by helping them implement them."

The Future

Burr is realistic about the future challenges Sonepar will face – Sonepar USA's aggressive growth goals won't be easy, but they are attainable. "It's going to take a lot of hard work," he says. "But we've structured our HR department to seek out the most qualified individuals in the business who are prepared to take on these roles. If you have the right people in the right positions, the opportunities will present themselves." "We have a lot of ambition, which is half the battle," he continues. "I've seen our ambition at work first-hand and the interaction is fantastic. People here are so passionate about what they're doing. That's a great way to bring the business forward." Enthusiasm is really what keeps Sonepar USA going, Burr says, and it's what has him jazzed about being a part of its U.S. operations.

"The transition from the European to the U.S. market has presented many challenging and exciting new opportunities. These opportunities are part of the reasons I came here to the states," he says. "But it comes back to the people. If you don't have a good rapport with the people you work with, the outcome may be a negative work experience. I do enjoy coming to work and I've seen a great level of enthusiasm on behalf of the work force – I relish that.

"The key to our success is the people," he continues. "Having the right people in place could be the difference between success and failure. My experience with acquisitions has made me realize that businesses’ greatest assets are its people. But in order to retain these people, you must continue to support and motivate them or the business may fail. My goal is to develop a work force where opportunities are available to those who seek it. This will be one of my easier tasks, given the ambition and motivation already existent within Sonepar USA.

About Sonepar USA

Sonepar USA covers the East Coast, Midwest and Western regions of the United States. Its global resources allow Sonepar USA to maximize the best of what local electrical supply distributors have successfully developed during decades of serving customers. The result is a network of distributors that supply high-quality services and products.

Sonepar USA and Sonepar North America are members of the global Sonepar Group, the world's largest privately held electrical distributor.

The global Sonepar Group is the world leader in the distribution of electrical equipment. It specializes in cables, trunkings, fittings, HVAC and lighting. With operations in 30 countries across four continents, the group's 19,700 employees and 1,150 sales branches generate annual revenues of more than $7 billion euros. Sonepar is No. 1 in Europe and No. 7 in the United States.

Tony Burr became president and COO of Sonepar USA this year.

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