Niall Curran, GM of Wesco, joins the 3rd episode of our Switched On podcast to reveal his thoughts about the impact of COVID, how the company got to where it is today and about his own journey from a teen, who worked a summer job at Wesco, to sitting in the general manager's chair and directing the organization through its second 50 years.
Who Are Wesco?
Wesco started out 49 years ago, in 1972, focusing on serving electrical contractors in the Drogheda area but within a year moved into a new headquarters building and today serves retail and commercial clients all over the country. It is still 100 percent Irish-owned, and currently has four branch offices, in Drogheda, Navan, Newbridge, and Naas.
Through its retail operation, The Light House, Wesco serves in-person and online customers all over the country but also does a significant amount of wholesale selling and industrial supply for the construction industry.
The company's scope of work includes not only domestic wholesaling but also selling to industrial, security, and commercial customers all over Ireland. It's a fact of life for many wholesale companies that much of what they do is invisible to the public. Once clients begin working with Wesco, however, they're often surprised to discover wide range of things the company does.
Right now, for example, Niall noted that there are several rather large projects in the works, like a data center, residential buildings, and more. What many clients are pleased to learn is that Wesco offers a comprehensive line of products, supplies, and operates in virtually every field of the electrical sector of the economy. Plus, Wesco has long prided itself on its level of personal service, competitive pricing, and a very high level of experience.
Keep reading to know more, or you can click here to jump straight into the 3rd episode.
The Downside Of Great Staff
One of the company's legendary strengths is its incredibly experienced staff, many of whom have been with the organization for several decades. Niall pointed out that this kind of uniquely experienced team is both a blessing and a challenge. The advantage is obvious, but for a new GM, the challenge is replacing such highly trained and knowledgeable professionals when they retire within a few years of each other..
Niall sees one of his main duties as bringing on new talent and training current team members so that the company's breadth of expertise can continue to remain at the top of the electrical supply industry.
Right now, Wesco employs about as many people as its age in years, 50. Niall's double-challenge is to not only integrating and growing new talent to replace natural retirement cycles but to also add staff in order to grow beyond the current staff of 50.
From Summer Job To GM
Niall's personal interaction with Wesco goes back to his youth, when at 13 he worked a summer job there while his father was General Manager, later to become Managing Director. He continued working part-time and during summers through college. After earning a degree in electrical engineering at DCU and a master's degree, he joined Intel as a quality control specialist.
Even though he spent just a couple years with the chip maker, Niall learned some key lessons as a process engineer overseeing the early manufacturing phase of computer chips. Namely, he discovered that even a tiny mistake early on can turn into a quite large problem later on. Focusing on "getting things right the first time" is more than a clever saying for Niall, it's a priceless business lesson he learned as a young engineer.
Amid lots of uncertainty about the future of Intel in Ireland, Niall moved onto a new position which he would hold for more than a decade, with Fegime Ireland (FI), the nation's largest independent group of electrical wholesalers. At FI, Niall's career flourished as he gained an international understanding about
how the global electrical industry worked, and how the European way of doing things is not always akin to the Irish way.
According to Niall, there are some subtle but essential points to consider, like the fact that many clients in the UK tend to be more brand-loyal or even wholesaler-loyal. That's not the case in Ireland, where customers are always looking to get better service and a better deal if it's available, and don't blindly continue to purchase the same brands from the same sellers year after year after year.
Niall left FI after 12 years and returned to the company where it all began for him as a 13-year-old boy on a summer stint, Wesco. His father was retiring and the company was going through a lot of turnover, looking for new talent. They wanted Niall's expertise and he happened to be available to move into the position.
The Greatest Challenge
He did a lot of soul-searching about some of the personal dilemmas he might face, primarily the perception that he'd won the position simply because of his name, but those doubts were fully dashed as soon as he assumed his role as GM. Coincidentally, after only a few months on the job, the COVID pandemic hit, presenting Wesco, its new GM, and every other company in Ireland with a unique set of challenges.
Getting through COVID was a learning experience that Niall says made the company stronger today than it was one year ago. Business lagged for a month or so in early 2020, but as an essential industry, Wesco slowly worked its way back to a busy schedule by the end of last year. Now, the question is how to deal with the uptick in business yet still maintain most of the pandemic precautions and restrictions.
Some of the changes the horizon for Wesco, according to Niall, include several incremental moves, like a new emphasis on marketing, particularly becoming more e-commerce friendly in an age when merchants are being forced to adapt to digital marketing or lose out on new customers.
For Niall Curran, he's going about his new role as Wesco's GM with diligence, and paying attention to not trying to fix what isn't broken. That principle, along with an experimental attitude based on incremental changes, serves Wesco well. Niall is determined to continue "mitigating risk" by expanding the company's client base through new marketing efforts, and focusing on customer service as a bedrock of future success.
Hear the Interview
Listen to our full interview with John by searching ‘Switched On Demesne Electrical’ in your podcast player or just click this link
Episode 3 of our new Switched On series of podcasts is available to listen to right now!