Stephen Gallagher, a principal of Synergy Electrical Sales Inc., Fairless Hills, Pa., is NEMRA chairman for 2007-2008. Gallagher is the third chairman from his company and the fifth chairman from the Delaware Valley Chapter in NEMRA's 38-year history. In an interview with Electrical Marketing, Gallagher talked about goals for NEMRA during his term.

Q: WHAT ARE YOUR IMMEDIATE GOALS FOR NEMRA AS CHAIRMAN?

A: As the chairman-elect coming in before NEMRA's 2007 Annual conference in New Orleans, I had many meetings, probably more than most chairmen-elect coming into NEMRA, based on the fact that Hank Bergson (NEMRA president) wants to retire and we need to find a president and CEO for our organization. Of course, Hank is the voice of NEMRA, and he's the advocate for our organization. That's going to be a big chore and a big job. I think that's NEMRA's biggest immediate challenge. We've had several meetings and put together a search committee that's already met twice. Interested professionals should forward a resume and letter of interest with salary requirements to Tom O'Connor, Farmington Consulting Group 406 Farmington Ave., Farmington, Conn. 16032.

Q: WHEN YOU SAY HANK BERGSON, WHAT DOES THAT BRING TO MIND? WHAT KIND OF PERSON ARE YOU LOOKING FOR TO FILL THE POSITION?

A: When I think of Hank Bergson, all you have to do is give him a couple minutes and he is going to tell you why you have to go to independent manufacturers' reps. He is NEMRA. When you look at him, that's what you see. He can give you a couple minutes or a couple hours on what a rep is and what NEMRA does for you and why an electrical manufacturer should go to a rep. He's been doing it for so long; he's very good at it. The kind of person we're looking for has to have a working knowledge of our industry. I'd like to see someone who has very good leadership skills, also organizational skills, somebody who can work with the board of directors and share the vision and the strategy of what the board wants to do, because obviously the president adheres to the strategic plan of the board of directors.

Hopefully, he will have some background on what a rep does and what a rep is. Maybe he's not from the electrical industry, maybe he's from a different industry, but he knows what a rep is and how a rep goes to market, so he's an advocate for the rep.

Q: ARE YOU LOOKING FOR SOMEONE WITH MANUFACTURING EXPERIENCE OR ASSOCIATION EXPERIENCE?

A: We're going to evaluate every single resume. We would obviously love to have somebody come out of the industry who understands the industry — somebody with a working knowledge of the association and the electrical industry. That would be utopia.

Is it somebody who has been running an organization of 10,000 people? We had 1,600 people in New Orleans. Are we looking at someone who has experience running a large association, has a lot of skills, but not necessarily a working knowledge of our industry? Sure, we have to look at somebody like that. We need to look at everybody carefully, and we have to do this very thoroughly as an organization.

Hank has been the leader of our organization for many years. They are pretty big shoes to fill. However, as they like to say, change is good. Maybe it is time for a change for NEMRA. Maybe we'll find a person who has a whole different idea on how to grow our organization or strengthen our organization. We don't know. That person might come out of nowhere and be the greatest thing we've had since Hank Bergson.

Q: WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR OTHER GOALS?

A: I want to keep a very strong NEMRA Manufacturers Group (NMG). Over the past years, we have just had such great people on our NMG committee. Those people have done a superb job for us. That's worth the admission to NEMRA to anyone who's out there. It's a great opportunity for us to reach out and get the manufacturer's attention because they are the manufacturers. They see some of the problems that we have and they also see some of the problems that they have trying to communicate with us. Keeping a strong NMG is an immediate goal for me.

We need to find ways to keep our revenue stream strong, too. Obviously, through mergers and acquisitions, sometimes that tends to drop off because you just don't have as many members. That's an important goal as we go forward. Our communication has always been lacking as to what we do for members. It's always been a problem for us. It pains me when members ask, “Well, what does NEMRA do for me?” There are a lot of things that NEMRA does for its members. A lot of times it is our own fault as an organization for not communicating that.

In an intense couple of days last fall, we had a strategy meeting and identified the top five weaknesses, top five strengths and opportunities and threats. We came up with our three strategic goals, which were to drive communications of NEMRA's value and relevance, to not only the reps but the industry; to significantly increase our revenue; and to initiate the succession plan for Hank's replacement.

Q: DO YOU HAVE OTHER IMMEDIATE GOALS FOR NEMRA?

A: I am committed to increasing NEMRA's ability to award college scholarships through the NEMRA Educational Scholarship Foundation. I challenged the CPMRs on my board of directors to come up with $100 each to build a named scholarship fund. If successful, with 100 percent NEMRA/CPMR member participation, we will be able to create a $25,000 endowment and award an additional named scholarship in time for next year's conference.

Q: THE CERTIFIED SALES PROFESSIONAL (CSP) PROGRAM SEEMED TO BE AN IMMEDIATE HIT. TO WHAT DO YOU ATTRIBUTE THAT?

A: I think this is one of our biggest challenges as we go forward. In my speech at the opening session of the 2007 NEMRA Annual Conference, I used two words — quality and partnership. Every manufacturer and every representative desires a quality partnership with each other so that we can both achieve the greatest return on our investments. That being said, a lot of this quality comes with compensation. In order for a rep to continue to give good quality service to a manufacturer, we need to have excellent incentive compensation programs to ensure the ability to attract top reps, focus their attention and achieve top performance goals for their manufacturer partners.

That's part of the reason why I think you have seen the Certified Sales Professional program take off. All reps want to make sure that they have the top quality people answering their phones, driving their cars, making their sales calls, picking their orders in their warehouses, whatever it might be. Reps will continue to put money into their organizations, provided that they can, and that's what we're all striving for. We're striving to be the best we possibly can be for our manufacturers, and obviously our manufacturers are looking for us to be the best we possibly can be every single day that we are out there representing their line. I think that's the reason the Certified Sales Professional has taken off. Couple that with the fact that the NAED distributors are part of CSP. That strengthens the partnership between the manufacturers' representative and the distributor in bringing products to market. It's been a big hit, similar to what CPMR has been and continues to be.

Q: THE DELAWARE VALLEY CHAPTER OF NEMRA HAS BEEN A VERY ACTIVE CHAPTER AND HAS PRODUCED A LOT OF ASSOCIATION CHAIRMEN. WHAT DO YOU ATTRIBUTE THIS TO?

A: We have several second-generation rep agencies in our chapter. We meet four times a year. We try to have educational courses and that type of thing. So the chapter still remains a very viable opportunity for us to meet. But I think a lot of it has to do with our older membership being very active, and the younger people they brought in to transition all stay active in it. We have several guys in the chapter who started their own businesses and agencies — they all are part of the chapter and they all participate.

Not all of us are part of networking groups. We're friendly competitors and it's not uncommon for different agents in our chapter to call each other and say, “What do you do here,” and “What do you do there?” and “How do you do this?” and “How do you do that?” It's really a nice group of people to get together. We really do get along with each other. We've never had stealing employees, all those kind of problems. We look forward to going to the meeting, shooting the you-know-what.”

We know that a strong, active chapter is a key ingredient in our success as individual rep members and in maintaining a strong national NEMRA.

Q: WE UNDERSTAND YOUR REP AGENCY MERGED A FEW YEARS BACK. HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO MERGE?

A: That's kind of a funny little story. We were always very comfortable with the Lows — Ray Low and his sons Larry and Craig. Whenever we got together at NEMRA meetings, we always seemed to get along. In 2001, a large manufacturer wanted to make a change in our marketplace. As Jacobson and Rodger Associates we were more industrial/OEM, and the LMC Group was more commercial construction. We knew that we didn't have the horsepower (to enter a new market) and they didn't know if they had the horsepower to go after it either, although they were larger than we were.

But for some reason or another, we were talking and we said, “You know, if we both go after this line together, maybe we'll merge if we get the line.” So we all got together and gave probably one of the best presentations that we ever gave to a prospective manufacturer. The good-news/bad-news was that we really liked each other so much, and got along so well, that we thought, “Hey let's just merge anyway, no matter what happens.” The bad news is we didn't get the line.

Even though we didn't get the line, there was such a good feel — obviously you can tell from the name we chose, “Synergy,” there was a good synergistic feeling about the whole thing.

Q: DO YOU HAVE ANY CLOSING COMMENTS?

A: It's important that the membership know they can contact any of us — myself, any of the board members and the NEMRA staff. Pick up the phone and call anyone. Get involved, utilize the resources. We have tons of white papers and good things that give you outlines on how to deal with rep industry issues. Please, just pick up the phone and call. NEMRA's there for its membership. It's a phone call away. If you have an idea, please pick up the phone. Call us with your ideas, your concerns. That's why we're here.

Who is Stephen J. Gallagher?

At work

Gallagher started in the electrical industry in 1977 with a small electrical distributor in New Jersey. Three years later, he met Pete Jacobson who, along with Larry Rodger Jr., offered him a job as an inside salesman with their growing business. He became a partner with the firm in 1992. In 2001 Jacobson and Rodger Associates merged with LMC Associates to form Synergy Electrical Sales, with six outside salespeople and a total of 23 employees.

At home

A New Jersey resident, Gallagher and Maryellen, his wife of 27 years, have two college-age children — son Sean and daughter Katie.

Industry accomplishments

Gallagher completed his CPMR certification in 1994 and was the 2001 recipient of the Electrical Wholesaling GEM Rising Star Award.

Volunteer activities

Over the years, Gallagher has been an active supporter of the National Electrical Manufacturers Representatives Association (NEMRA), having served the Delaware Valley Chapter as secretary-treasurer, vice president and chapter president. He also was a participant at board of governors meetings, served as Eastern regional vice president and spent time on NEMRA's executive board. Gallagher is the third chairman from his company, succeeding Ray Low, who served in 1985, and Larry Rodger (1991), and the fifth chairman from the Delaware Valley Chapter of NEMRA.