Purchasing Agent; Cincinnati Belt & Transmission Co.
By Joe Nowlan
Sam Sparks was an economics major at Michigan's Hillsdale College and had his eye on a career in finance. A college internship at Wiseway Supply didn't change his mind. But it did get him thinking.
"The internship mostly centered on doing product returns for the summer," Sam explained. "Through that, I got to learn a little bit about product but also a lot about processes and relationships with the manufacturers."
The internship opened Sam's eyes to some extent about electrical distribution. He admits now to knowing next to nothing about how electrical distribution worked.
"I was looking for finance internships until I came across this opportunity with Wiseway," he said. "So when I got in, it was a little bit of culture shock. It was very different than what I had expected."
After graduating from college, he applied to a few jobs, including one in the Cincinnati area, but not at Wiseway. Yet his relationship with Wiseway was solid enough that he used them for a reference.
"I interviewed with a firm and they called my boss from my internship at Wiseway for a reference," Sam explained. "He then called me and said 'Why not come in and talk with us as we're looking to add another buyer to the team?'"
Sam decided to take the offer and give the industry a try. Nonetheless, he admits he was a bit uncertain and apprehensive when he started at Wiseway's Florence, Kentucky, headquarters.
"I remember when I actually got hired I was very nervous going into it because I knew very little about products and contractor needs," he said. "How am I going to know what to buy?"
Sam soon found he was able to adapt thanks to his education as well as supportive co-workers who were eager to help the new hire.
Like many in this "30 Under 35" series, Sam also found that the learning curve rarely slowed down, especially in the lighting end of things.
"The sales team always has to keep up with the new technologies," he said. " As a Purchasing Agent, you have to make sure you're carrying only so much inventory so that the next best thing doesn't come out and make the previous model obsolete."
At the start of 2017, Sam moved to Cincinnati Belt & Transmission Co. (CBT) where he is a purchasing agent.
"My responsibilities at CBT include purchasing and inventory management between our three Southern Ohio locations, mostly for the mechanical and electrical business units," he explained.
Sam grew up in Cincinnati and currently lives in Northern Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati.
A single guy, he tries to follow a disciplined exercise regimen, his Wiseway schedule permitting.
His workout regimen includes combination of strength training and running. "I'm not a huge fan of running but it's good for the body," he laughed.
Q. What advice do you have for other young professionals in the electrical industry?
A. I think my main piece of advice is to find a mentor within your company. There are so many tenured individuals with so much knowledge within this industry. You have so much to learn and they are such a resource to be tapped into. There is no replacement for experience and product knowledge. It is so important that you delve into all the nuances of the products and build strong relationships.
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 take a very collaborative approach to everything. I don't really view myself as a traditional manager. I like to think of myself as just part of the team who is there to support those who do the day-to-day work, to answer questions and be available for them whenever they need me. I know a lot of people and managers who like to stick themselves in their offices and not be available to people. But I have a very open-door policy and love to empower people with training and listen to new ideas. The best way to motivate is to show that you are part of the team and that you are working right beside somebody.
Joe Nowlan is a Boston-based freelance writer/editor and author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.