Charles Curtis, 34

Charles Curtis
34
Manager, Project Business, Mars Electric

By Joe Nowlan

When Charles Curtis graduated with a degree in communications from Cleveland State University in 2005, he started posting resumes to various websites like any new graduate.
"I figured that a communications degree was broad enough that I could use that in whatever career I found myself," Charles explained.

While exploring what careers were available to him, a friend mentioned Mars Electric.

"They were looking for people. It was really a coincidence I stumbled upon the company," he said.

Potential for growth was among the criteria Charles was seeking when looking at companies. Even as a new graduate, he was savvy enough to want something that was more of a long-term career than a job for just a year or two.

"I researched [Mars Electric] before I applied," he said. "I saw that they were family-owned and were very loyal to their employees. And they were fair about giving opportunities for advancement. It is the kind of company where you come in and work hard to improve yourself, and there is opportunity for growth."

Charles started in the Mars Electric lighting center in 2005. Most of the customers he worked with were in the residential end, he explained.

"We did some commercial business but it was a lot of selling light fixtures more to residences and new construction homes and so forth," he said. "It was less business lighting and more focused on the residential market."

He enjoyed the lighting products lines and the constant learning curve, including strengthening his sales skills.

"Before the lighting center, I had never sold anything in this industry.  I came in extremely green and had to learn quickly. The lines that we sold there required having some knowledge about the product, being able to talk to the customers and explain why they should choose this over something they could purchase for maybe less money but that would not be of the same quality," he explained.

Charles completed the NAED's branch manager training and was promoted to branch manager of one of Mars' smaller branches. Within a year, he was transferred to a larger branch. He has instituted several improvements including reducing shipping errors.

"We instituted a system of double-checking one another on larger orders. We would just have somebody spot check and confirm that it was correct," he explained. "If you treat everyone with respect and explain to them that their role is critical to what we are doing and to our success – they then will take a little more pride in their work knowing that they can make such a big difference."

Charles' current role is as manager of project business.

"I came to realize that it is less about the product or even about the pricing," he said. "It is about what else we can do for the customer to make sure that they have what they need, when they need it."

He was born and raised in Mayfield Heights, Ohio and currently lives in Willoughby, about 25 minutes northeast of Cleveland. Charles and his wife, Jill, have two sons—Daniel (9) and Noah (3). Their first daughter is due in early 2017.

Q. What advice would you have for other young professionals in the electrical industry? 

A. Gain as much knowledge as you can. And be open to listening to it. So many people will ask questions and either not listen or fail to apply and use that information. When I started there was an absolute wealth of knowledge in this company. My ego wasn't such that I thought I knew it all. I knew that I didn't. So I asked questions and wrote down answers. I did research myself. The more educated you are both with the product, the industry, our customers – the better you can communicate with them and the faster you will see that you gain their trust and can relate to them. And all that will help you advance.

I have not come across a single person here who has not responded well to a sincere request for guidance or help or advice. I found that people here want to help and they respond very well to somebody coming up and asking for help or guidance from them. That's left an impression with me and that is something that I have tried to pass on to people just coming into this industry now.

Q. What has changed the most in the industry in the past five years?

A. The level of competition. What I mean by that is that everybody sells the same product for the most part. So it's going to be a question of what extra services you can provide. We have always been a company that's prided ourselves on that. But more and more, other people are starting to follow similar trends and offer additional services; offering the same services or more and more services for less money. It really seems that the electrical contractors have figured this out and are expecting more and more value-added services with the lower and tighter profit margin.

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Joe Nowlan is a Boston-based freelance writer/editor and author. He can be reached at jcnowlan@msn.com.