Aaron "Cole" Norton
Western U.S. Solar Sales Manager, Rexel USA
By Joe Nowlan
When Cole Norton was attending the University of North Florida, he was thinking ahead to a career choice. He was hoping to find "a global company that gave me the opportunity to move to just about anywhere," he explained, looking back to those days.
While in college Cole was a member of its Transportation and Logistics Society, and he held the position of club president prior to graduation. His predecessor was a close friend (Toby Robin) who started at Rexel upon graduation. Robin had good things to say about the company, something Cole kept in mind.
"Rexel came to my campus to recruit and participate in job fair activities. I targeted [Rexel] primarily because I loved the idea of working for a global company that gave me the opportunity to move to just about anywhere," Cole explained. "It's how I got to move from Florida to California. There wasn't really any other opportunity on my job list that would allow me to do that."
Upon graduating with a bachelor's degree in business with a major in logistics, Cole trained for two years In Rexel's in the distribution services and leadership program (DSLP).
"You basically do a little bit of every major facet of the business during the two years. Different types of sales, different areas—inside sales and outside sales," he explained. "And I also did a fair amount of operations training."
During his time in the DSLP, Cole lived in Dallas during his an inside sales role in lighting, and then moved to Indianapolis for more training in the export compliance process.
"The whole leadership program is trying to give a basic understanding of everything we do," he explained.
Today, Cole works in San Diego as Rexel's solar sales manager for the western United States.
"California is definitely the biggest solar market in the United States. Energy is very expensive in California," he said. "The Northeast—New York, Massachusetts and all of New England is by far the second-largest market. As you start to see the total cost to install solar come down, and energy costs continue to rise, it is simply matter of time before is going to make sense financially for everybody."
Cole is now mentoring some Rexel employees—while not long ago, he was the one being mentored.
"I have had some phenomenal mentors. Most notably was a man named John Gerber who was my manager and mentor for my first years in the industry," he said. "It is a little scary to jump into that mentor position, but I just did what I did best and treat people with respect and lead by example."
Cole and his wife Madison like to hit the many beaches in the San Diego area when they have some free time. And hope to do more travelling later this year.
"We didn't really get to travel very much for the first few years we were living here because we were both working really hard," he explained. "So we are doing a lot of traveling especially this year when we will go to Europe for the first time."
Q. What advice do you have for other young professionals in the electrical industry?
A. Try everything. Don't shy away from any opportunity. Spend the early years figuring out where your interests lie and then jump in headfirst. Be passionate about everything you do. In the beginning, especially when you are young, you have this window of time where you can reach out to a lot of people in the organization. [You can show people that] you are learning and you are interested. I think once you're in for a while, maybe some of those doors close. But in the beginning you really have this golden opportunity to reach out to people and network in a way that is unique.
Never shy away from anything. Try everything because you never know what you are going to like. And once you figure out what that is, absolutely throw yourself in headfirst. Don't be afraid to fail and give it everything you've got. Do your best to be passionate about what you do.
Q. What motivational approach/tactic has been most effective for you in your career? That is, effective both for you individually and, if applicable, for those employees whom you manage?
A. I am very competitive. I am very self-motivated. I'm always kind of thinking two years out about what I want to do, whether it is a certain amount of sales I want to hit or a job I want to get. I am my own worst critic. I am never easy on myself. I always am striving to be better and to learn more. And I think to a certain extent that comes across to the folks that I am managing, but very, very subtly. I think for the most part. I lead by example and I expect a lot out of folks. I am certainly not afraid to approach somebody and give him or her some critical feedback.
But so far, through trial and error, everything seems to be moving pretty well. I couldn't be happier with our team. Everyone works extremely hard. Everybody adds value. I may just be lucky in that I inherited a great team. So far I think the leading by example thing has worked very well. Treat everybody with respect and be sensitive to an individual's way of thinking and way of working.
Joe Nowlan is a Boston-based freelance writer/editor and author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.