When you get talking with the winner of this year’s GEM Rising Star Award, Jeff Starkman of ElectroTech in Minneapolis, you realize his agency is on the cutting edge in a quite a few areas, and that the investments he and his management team have made in the agency’s operations separate ElectroTech from quite a few competitors throughout the Upper Midwest. They invested in a state-of-the-art computer system. They take market forecasting and CRM very seriously. They have a succession plan in place. And they travel with a customized bus to market their vendors’ product lines to thousands of accounts and potential customers at trade shows, counter days and job-sites.
But Starkman says so much of what makes ElectroTech tick comes down to hiring good people and making sure, as Jim Collins wrote in his business best seller, “Good to Great,” that he has the right people on the bus and is certain they are in the right seats. Starkman came to ElectroTech 22 years ago after getting a business degree from the University of Minnesota and a construction management degree from Mankato State University. He says industry mentors like his father, Jim Starkman, and Dick Thomas at ElectroTech, Gary Brusacorum, and reps in NEMRA and in the EERA utility reps group helped him learn this business. The lessons he learned helped him and his management team steer ElectroTech through several mergers that helped it grow substantially from its roots in the utility business into the commercial/industrial market. The company now services eight states in the Upper Midwest: Minnesota, the Dakotas, Montana, Wisconsin, Wyoming, upper Michigan and northern Illinois.
Starkman says he knows reps will face some big challenges in the future, as manufacturers will expect more from them and it will become more and more important for him and his team to differentiate ElectroTech from competitors in their many markets. He says finding new talent and continuing to refine the company’s succession plan will be key to the company’s future success. “The challenge we are all facing right now is attracting people into the business,” says Starkman. “We have hired four new people in the last year who have come to us on their own, either as customers or as people we have known for a long time. Part of that is reputation and part is that we have been looking for young go-getters that we can identify and go after.
“We try to think long-term on how we can seamlessly transition from one generation to the next without crippling the company financially, or without dropping an overly burdensome debt on the new people. End users, manufacturers and principals all have to feel secure. It’s a very proactive process.”
From everything we have heard about Jeff and his talents, he has the right package of skills to keep ElectroTech growing for years to come.