Representor Spring 2021 - Someone You Should Know

Someone You Should Know: Tim Kilfoil

Tim Kilfoil
JF Kilfoil Company

With so many ERA members, it is not easy to get to know every rep, manufacturer and distributor in the business.“Someone You Should Know” is The Representor department that gives readers the chance to learn about fellow ERA members, including how their time is spent both in and out of the office.

Meet Tim Kilfoil, president of JF Kilfoil Company, a third-generation manufacturers’ representative agency based in Cincinnati.

The Representor asked Tim a few questions about his time in the electronics rep business and his experiences with ERA. Here is what he had to say.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a degree in marketing. After getting married, my wife and I moved to Cleveland for six years where two of our three children were born. We have been back in Cincinnati since 2001 where we have raised our children, the youngest of which will be entering college this fall.

What are some things you enjoy outside of the workplace?

I have always been involved in activities outdoors and I have many hobbies. Hunting, fly fishing, maple syrup making, swimming/biking/running, gardening, being on someone else’s boat. Most of all, I love being around my kids, but I feel like that’s a one-way street.

How long have you been an ERA member and how long in the rep business?

As an organization, we have been an ERA member for several decades. Thanks to the hard work of the people running the organization today, the value to our company and all of the ERA member companies is evident. Admittedly, our years of active engagement with ERA do not match the years of our membership. However, we are continuing to increase participation and plan active engagement with the group moving forward.

How did you become interested in being a rep in the electronics industry?

In 1994, I was working in a start-up. We were working out of this guy’s basement, putting in tons of computer time developing 2D and 3D models of science-based artwork for a large publishing company in New York. We weren’t making any money, and I wanted to get married. I remember getting back from work one day as my father was in the midst of his worst week in the rep business. While it should have scared me into doing something else, I felt duty was calling me to enter the family business. I haven’t looked back.

What have you found to be most rewarding about the rep business?

Initially, I would have said, The Win. We all enjoy The Win. It feels good, it helps the business. But your question is “most rewarding.” So, I have two answers. First, I think it is helping my salespeople gain the knowledge, tools and the experience to become better at their work, with the result being growth in their success. Honestly, I think any manager would say this. That feeling is at the kernel of what rewarding means to me. The second would be helping my customers succeed by getting what they want, most competitively, on time and knowing that I made that happen. Unfortunately, I have been known to do this in the complete and absolute absence of compensation which, while dumb, is nevertheless rewarding in a “not rewarded” kind of way. (Is this being recorded?) This sentiment is actually captured in our JF Kilfoil Company “Why” message: We are passionate advocates for improving our customers’ competitive advantage. Perhaps we should have said something in there about getting paid.

Briefly describe your rep firm.

JF Kilfoil Company is a third-generation manufacturers’ representative with offices in Cincinnati; Detroit; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Cleveland; Indianapolis; and Pittsburgh. We consider ourselves a component representative, though we have always been very active in printed circuit board products, as well as custom-mechanical and electro-mechanical products. We have resources dedicated to our distribution channel partners and always consider them in our process development and product acquisition strategies.

What recent innovations, best practices and/or changes has your firm made?

We have recently completed implementation of Dynamics as our CRM tool; we have installed EOS as our methodology for running the day-to-day operations of the business; we have embarked on a marketing strategy which will provide a larger digital presence than the moves we have made in the past; we have recently adopted a strategy for the addition of engineering resources and other service offerings which we intend to add as a part of the business; and we have adopted several assessment tools for new hires which have helped us put together a great team of great people. In addition, we have a few things we are working on which we believe may be tools that will be helpful to us in the future. These need more development, but we are always trying to maintain a position among the newest entrants to the design engineering community. Last, we have tried to become the standard bearer in transparency to our team. We recognize that change, while constant and good, can be the source of friction, discontent and doubt. In our desire to put new tools and processes in place, this has resulted in necessary changes. Change management is personality management, and we have worked hard to involve our team in the 1-, 3-, 5- and 10-year plans so there are no questions regarding the direction we intend to go and how we intend to get there.

What have you learned and/or what contacts have you made through ERA that have had the greatest positive impacts on you and/or your business?

I sincerely enjoy getting to know the other representative companies across the country, whether it’s the owners, the key employees or the managers. Understanding what they do, what they see, what they think about the future is all very interesting to me. Sooner or later, we will all face some sort of obstacle or stumbling block. Getting to know these other companies and owners nearly always gives me some helpful perspective or reference I have not encountered or considered in the past. The wisdom is in the experience, of course. However, having a shared encounter from colleagues who are similar in so many respects to our business has helped us get over and through challenges we have faced from time to time. This, in fact, is another reason why ERA is so vital to the longevity of what we do as representatives.

Are you active on social media? Do you follow ERA? Have ERA updates via social media been helpful to you?

Yes, I use social media, but really only for purposes of work. I have never had interest in “social” social-media, only “business” social-media. I do have great interest in chasing our customers, however, and finding where it is that they gather, search for information, seek out experts and try to gain knowledge online. There is interesting information on where the younger engineers are going, and this is where we want to be. Consequently, I follow ERA and I enjoy the information, papers, and support that ERA has provided through LinkedIn, as well as through the ERA website.

What is one interesting fact that people may not know about you?

I skipped my college graduation in 1994 to fly to New York to pitch a proposal to the board of directors of John Wiley & Sons publishing on converting their traditional textbook publishing model over to desktop publishing on a Macintosh using Adobe Photoshop. They knew slightly less about digital publishing than I did — which worked out well for me. We left with a deal on Biology I and Earth Sciences. My first real win! (See question 4 above for how the story ends!)