July 8, 2022
Privately held distributors often stifle growth by confining information to the C-suite. John Cain, president of Wiseway Supply, a plumbing and electrical supplier based out of the Greater Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky area, is passionate about sharing intelligence with folks inside his organization and out. Jason chats with John about transparency as a precursor to innovation, the value of external perspectives, and punching above the company’s weight class.
“It's kind of neat to be a shepherd or steward of the family business,” says John of his role at the 50-year-old company. “One of the neatest parts about coming in when it was really small (in 1988) is I got to learn the business top-to-bottom. I joke that I was involved in how many paperclips to buy.” Jokes aside, now that he’s at the helm, John does miss the interactions of those early days. “As we've grown, I've got further away from product knowledge, and I hate that [but] it's just a byproduct of growth.”
John can thank his outside experience for Wiseway’s success. After college, he opted for a stint with Proctor & Gamble rather than a job in the family biz. That opportunity informed his willingness to consider perspectives beyond Wiseway’s walls. For example, while the company is proud of its track record for promoting from within, outside hires are essential. Their DNA sparks creativity that ignites the entire organization.
Everyone within Wiseway contributes to the game plan; nothing is hidden. There’s a taboo around sharing financial information with staff members, but John believes that when l employees know how the money gets made, they take ownership of the bottom line. “[Branch managers] get the whole P and L,” he explains. “They see everything from top to bottom instead of the blind being asked to blindly lead the company.”
Beyond the internal summits and outside talent searches, John says serving on NAED’s board put him into contact with other executives who generously provided their wise counsel. “I think ultimately it was a learning thing for me. I've always wanted to be in groups of people that I wanted to be like.”
That’s transparency in action.
“If I had come to Wise way having only grown-up at Wiseway and followed what my dad did and what he taught everybody, I wouldn't really have anything extra to add. I might have come at stuff from a different perspective, but I'd only know what he knew.”
“At Wiseway, we very much try to promote from within; that's important to us, but notexclusively.”
“When you come into a family business, it's your family, you know? There's a certain set of expectations, and they're not always fair, but they're still there.”
“Wiseway’s not a lifestyle company. I'm not taking any more out of the company than I was 15 years ago, but I own a lot more inventory and accounts receivable. It's a non-top investment.”
“We've spent a lot of time and effort trying to turn our leaders in our company into business people.”
“The larger the companies are, generally, the more willing they are to share too. They don't mind sharing with the smaller companies.”
“Even if it's something’s a project I just put my name on and said, Hey, it's done, I know everything could be done better. And that drives that pursuit of better and helps us a lot with customer service and innovation.”
Distribution Talk is produced by The Distribution Team, a consulting services firm dedicated to helping wholesale distribution clients remove barriers to profitability, generate wealth and achieve personal goals.
This episode was edited & mixed by The Creative Impostor Studios.