Building Diversity: Time to Invest in a Shovel & Some Fish!

At a recent electronics industry conference, I saw many of the top leaders of the manufacturers, distributors, and manufacturers' rep companies in attendance. As I looked around the room, it struck me that the profile of most of the attendees was a shared one: “Male over 50.” There were almost no women or non-Caucasian attendees and very few young folks. And yet, we call ourselves a global and forward-thinking industry. You could not have verified that claim by looking around that room!

You may have heard the adage: “We have all drunk from wells that we did not dig.” Well, guess what? It's our turn to take time and start digging!

Many of us got our start in this great industry in an entry-level job – perhaps as a local branch product manager, an inside sales person or a ROW field sales person – hired right out of school as part of some sort of formal or hands-on training program. We were told that if we worked hard then better accounts, higher sales/commissions, a bigger job, and more would come our way. At the same time, someone in our organization became our mentor and took time to guide us, to nurture/motivate us, and to help us transition into perhaps the senior position that we hold today, perhaps even having taken our former mentor's job!

We certainly enjoyed drinking from the wells that were dug by those that came before us, so now it is our turn to dig new wells for those that are coming behind us.

I understand that it's a daunting task. All we hear is how we “need to do more with less,” how “all of the business is moving to Asia,” how “profit margins in distribution continue to fall,” how “rep commissions continue to be cut,” and how manufacturing is “never returning to the U.S.A.”

If these voices of doom are right, how can we afford to make any investments in the future of our individual companies? The truth is: we cannot afford NOT TO!

Our own companies need to sustain themselves by continuously stocking the pond with new fish in order to help the organization thrive and prosper. As today's leaders, we have a sacred trust to be a mentor [not a tor-mentor] to those in our organizations who will eventually take our jobs and become tomorrow's leaders.

It's not going to happen by magic. It is up to you as the senior leader to continue to identify, hire, train and, especially, motivate your fellow team members, to show them a career-path like we were shown, and to then be confident that the company will continue to prosper under their leadership.

Where do you find new fish? Look around – electronics are everywhere! What young person would not want to design-in/sell electronics? Are you even looking? Do not sacrifice your organization's long-term sustainability for short-term profit and loss benefits. The best investment you can make is in your own people and in your own company.

Ask yourself how do you want your company to be perceived? Whether you know it or not, your organization has already been labeled by your suppliers and/or industry-partners as one that has strong succession-plans and ready for the future or one that will atrophy and die when the existing managers retire.

So, time to start shoveling and to go out and get some new fish to restock your company's pond while you dig new wells for those that come behind. If you're your legacy will be that you did not have the vision or compassion to ensure that your company lives on after you move on. And who wants that to be our legacy?

Let's start digging… Time is a-wasting! There are many folks and families that are counting on you.

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