Representor Fall 2019 - Feature Story

Rising stars in the electronics industry

by Neda Simeonova, Editor, The Representor

Unemployment in the U.S. is at an all-time low, dropping down to 3.5 percent in September 2019 from 3.7 percent in the previous month. In fact, the last time the rate was this low was in December 1969, when it was also 3.5 percent. Over the month, the number of unemployed persons decreased by 275,000 to 5.8 million, and total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 136,000 in September, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Yet, young professions continue to report issues with employment, professional growth and job satisfaction. They struggle to engage and align passion with career path or find balance between career and personal life. These challenges typically result in frequent position and company changes. This is echoed in a recent Gallup report which reveals that 21 percent of millennials say they have changed jobs within the past year, which is more than three times the number of non-millennials who report the same. According to Gallup, the millennial employment turnover costs the U.S. economy $30.5 billion annually.

On the flip side, young professionals also bring a breadth of knowledge and unique technical skillset that are key to company growth. They are not simply technology users; they are technology assimilators. Young professionals live through virtual social circles and interactions. “From facilitating communication across distances to utilizing new digital solutions in the workplace, the opportunities provided by technology are endless, and it’s the young adults of the millennial generation that know this and are positioned to harness its full potential,” said Gabriel De Diego Zori, HR planning and strategy director at Madrid-based Telefónica.

By the end of 2020, young professionals will make up 46 percent of the workforce, according to a study by the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flager Business School. While there may be some large differences between the newest group of young professionals and the previous generations of workers, it is key for companies and managers to learn how to understand these differences and work styles, and nurture their strengths in order to help propel the next generation of leaders.

To gain a better insight into how young professionals in the electronics industry have turned challenges into opportunities and ensured continued success, we interviewed two Rising Stars — Bryan Teen, President of Tech Marketing, and Kara Prentoski, OEM Account Manager at Brainard-Nielsen Marketing Inc. Teen and Prentoski shared some key challenges they encountered as they embarked on their career journey in the electronics industry and steps they have taken to establish a successful career. Here is what they had to say:

Bryan Teen, President
Tech Marketing

Please provide a little background about yourself.

My name is Bryan Teen, and I am the President at Tech Marketing. We are a manufacturers’ representative firm based in Raleigh, N.C., that covers the Carolinas and Dixie states. I received my CPMR certification this year which was a great experience. I currently serve on the Carolinas ERA BOD, and volunteer on the 2020 ERA Conference Committee. I have been married for five years, and I have a two-and-a-half-year-old son named Walter. He has some big shoes to fill though, as I am sure all of you reading this can attest to the fact that you’ve never met a Walter you didn’t like! I am a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill and have learned several leadership skills from my experience becoming an Eagle Scout.

How long have you worked in the electronics industry?

Our company was founded in 1995, and I have been on board since 2005 after graduating college. I started out as inside sales before moving to Charlotte to become an account manager and working remote. I eventually moved back to Raleigh to take on a sales manager role, before being promoted to VP of sales. I have now taken over the company as president, and I am in the process of purchasing the company.

What made you choose this industry as your current career path?

Like a lot of other younger reps in the electronics industry, my father Patrick started Tech Marketing almost 25 years ago. Although I originally was considering going to law school, by the time I graduated I was ready to get a job. After careful discussion with my dad, we both decided to give it a shot. My dad and I are very similar and can be passionate in our views, so it was important that no matter what, we would never let business negatively affect our relationship. Almost 15 years later, I am happy to say that we are probably closer than we have ever been. I am very appreciative that he gave me an opportunity 15 years ago, and that he believes in me enough to allow me to buy the company he started and continue our success into the future.

As a young professional what are some of the main challenges you encountered as you embarked on your career journey in the industry?

When I started in 2005, I was 23 and to me, I felt I was the youngest person in the entire industry. I am sure that was not the truth, but that is how it felt at the time. My memory may be tainted by this feeling, but I don’t recall the influx of young professionals that we have now. Early on, I remember looking at my colleagues and feeling overwhelmed that they had these 25+ year relationships with customers and colleagues in the industry. It was likely more difficult to develop friendships with customers who were married with kids as we were in different places in our lives. Being older now, I realize that was likely not the case. It did motivate me at the time as I felt I had to work a little harder to make up for my lack of experience. Obviously, there was also a learning curve on the different technologies, personalities and functions of the sales process. I also did not have the experience of living through the history of our industry that were shared experiences for others.

What are some steps that you have taken to overcome these challenges and to ensure that you can establish and nurture a successful career?

I learned a lot from my dad early in my career. Becoming active in our local ERA chapter was one of the best ways to overcome these shortcomings. Traveling and going on sales calls with more experienced colleagues was also a benefit. Bob Ball and Bob Kirkland spent time with me and took me on many of their sales calls early on. Going on buddy calls with distributor partners taught me a lot and helped develop relationships. I still have fond memories of being brand new to the industry, and the kindness that fellow BOD members Penny Hoglund and Buzz Reynolds showed me. It may not have seemed significant to them, but it meant a lot to me at the time. I would read any book that was recommended to me and was always sure to circle back with that person after completing. I also can’t recommend the CPMR program enough, especially if you are a rep owner or plan on becoming a rep owner. Attending EDS and national sales meetings was also a great way to meet other reps from across the country. Those relationships have proven to be extremely valuable.

As you developed in your career, what were some training tools that you found beneficial to your professional growth?

In addition to what was mentioned previously, I find in-person training at supplier sites to be very beneficial. It is an investment for both companies, but I feel the training and experience are invaluable. Unfortunately, I don’t think enough of our suppliers do this on a consistent basis. The more knowledgeable a salesperson is on the product, the more comfortable they are selling it to their customers. Attending the ERA Conference has also proven to be extremely valuable. Not just for the networking opportunities, but the Breakout Sessions and General Sessions always provide great information and new ideas that you can take back to your company.

What are some other industry networking events that you have attended that would be beneficial to other young professionals in the industry?

The local ERA provides great opportunities for networking. I try to attend as many meetings, breakfasts and other events that I can. Any time a supplier has a national sales meeting is also a great way to network with reps from other parts of the country, which is also true for EDS and the ERA Conference. I enjoyed networking with other reps at CPMR as most of them were not from the electronics industry. It is always interesting to talk to reps who sell completely different products and call on an entirely different customer base. Even though there are those differences, you find that we all share a lot of the same experiences and issues.

Do you think that there is enough young talent entering the electronics industry and what could make this field more attractive to future professionals?

I am encouraged to see the influx of young talent into our industry over the last 15 years. I see it at our customers, with the suppliers we represent, as well as our distributor partners. I am a little concerned though about the manufacturers’ rep world. I find this interesting as there are many aspects of being a rep that would be attractive to recruiting young people. Working remote from home, flexible hours, getting out of the office, use of new technology and building relationships, all would seem to be what younger professionals are looking for in a job. The fact that you are remote in the territory may be a drawback, as I have read that a lot of the younger generation appreciates the feeling of working on a team more than as an individual. This can be overcome though, but it is important to make sure someone that is remote doesn’t feel like they are on an island by themselves. I think we can do a better job cheerleading and advocating being a rep in the electronics industry. I don’t see reps in other industries having as much of an issue with getting young talent, but of course this is only anecdotal evidence. It would be interesting to see if there is any data on the mean age of food service, electrical, lighting, etc. Also, as rep companies get older, it may look intimidating or not as appealing to a younger person. It is also important to make sure we compensate young talent when they are found, and not fall into the trap that someone with only one-year experience shouldn’t make a certain amount of money.

How do you see your profession and the industry evolve 10 to 20 years from now?

I believe there will always be a need for the manufacturers’ rep model. There is a unique role we fill, and there are unique qualities we can bring that a manufacturer can’t get from direct or distributor sales alone. With that said, I don’t think our line card and customer base will look the same 10-20 years from now. As more business goes offshore and becomes harder to track, I could see a push for higher ASP products that stay in our market becoming a push. I think it will become more and more important for reps to have employees who can speak other languages. I have already thought about the possibility of hiring someone who can speak Spanish and Mandarin to help assist us when communicating with certain customers or suppliers. I see more offshore companies looking to reps to help them break into the market. There are more companies today with no presence in the U.S. that need the local rep to bring them that customer knowledge.

Professionally, what keeps you up at night?

Like most (if not all) of my colleagues, there are many things that can keep me up at night. The human brain has a “funny” way of working. What I mean by that is that our brains love to remind us things we need to do when there is literally nothing we can do about it. To borrow an analogy from one of my favorite books, how many times do we walk by “D” batteries in the store, but our brain only reminds us that the flashlight batteries are dead the moment we open the drawer and go to grab it because the power is out? It sure would have been nice if our brain reminded us that we needed batteries one of the dozen times we passed them on a shelf in a grocery store. The same is true for me when it comes to work. As I lay down to go to sleep my brain loves to remind me of that phone call I forgot to return, or that email I ran out of time to respond to. Over the past 10 years, I feel like we are all required to wear more and more hats. I am biased on this, but I see this being especially true in the rep world, in which we tend to be smaller companies that don’t have the day-to-day need to have dedicated departments like larger companies do. As most rep owners can attest to, we find ourselves heading up the HR duties, website design, hiring and training, payroll, and often even still carrying a bag. Those professional responsibilities are enough to keep anyone up, but add on family and personal responsibilities, and it is easy to see how there is not enough time in the day. My biggest concern that seems to run through my mind at night is the fear that I am doing all of these jobs poorly. There can be a lot of pressure put on a rep, especially a second-generation rep owner. At the end of day, I don’t want to let my dad down, and I don’t want to let my sales team down. I want to do a good job for my suppliers, and most importantly, for my customers. I hate when something is out of my control, and there is nothing I can do about it. Good or bad, I take a lot of what I do to heart, and it can affect me when a supplier is late on a delivery that may put a customer line down. I find it helpful to remind myself that we have one trip on this earth, and as we near the end of it we aren’t going to regret that sales order we missed out on, or the line interview that didn’t go well. We are going to regret not spending more time with our family and friends.

Kara Prentoski, OEM Account Manager
Brainard-Nielsen Marketing Inc.

Please provide a little background about yourself.

I was born and raised in Northwest Indiana (DeMotte), which is little over an hour outside of Chicago. I am a first-generation college graduate and studied engineering at Purdue and Valparaiso University. I graduated in 2010 with a B.S. in Civil Engineering. Growing up, my parents would frequently take us to Chicago which is where I began to have a love and appreciation for architecture and why I wanted to study civil engineering. I also have a huge passion for cars (and anything with an engine that moves fast!) and, as a child, was always in the garage with my dad when he was working on our cars, dirt bikes and four-wheelers. All these interests combined is what really drove me to take my first position out of college in sales for a company manufacturing pressure, temperature, flow and level instrumentation (sensors, gauges, etc.). I now reside in the west suburbs of Chicago and, in my free time, enjoy traveling, golf, attending sporting events, shopping, and spending time with family and friends.

How long have you worked in the electronics industry?

I have worked in the electronics industry for 12 years. I began with a sales engineering internship at Dwyer Instruments after my freshman year of college in 2007 and then ultimately went to work for them full time in 2010.

What made you choose this industry as your current career path?

I had two internships during my college career. My first was with Dwyer Instruments and then I had a civil/structural engineering internship for a consulting engineering firm that did work for steel mills and refineries. Having experience in technical sales and then in design engineering were both wonderful, but I ultimately enjoyed being on the sales side of engineering much more. In the world of technical sales, you’re dealing with different customers and new applications daily. Working for the structural engineering firm, I was doing close to the same thing daily and ultimately it just didn’t provide me much enjoyment. I really love the process of watching a concept become an actual product and assisting engineers during the design process.

As a young professional what are some of the main challenges you encountered as you embarked on your career journey in the industry?

When I first started my career at Dwyer, I was taking technical support phone calls on the products in order to learn them inside and out. I had a few customers whom I could tell were wary about me supporting them because of my young age and would doubt my knowledge, but I just kept working harder and harder and making myself more and more knowledgeable about the products so that they quickly learned I could help them. Ultimately, I have been blessed and haven’t had an immense amount of challenges outside of not having the years and years of experience that most of my colleagues do in the rep industry.

What are some steps that you have taken to overcome these challenges and to ensure that you can establish and nurture a successful career?

I have always enjoyed networking and being around people with more experience than me that I could learn from. I have worked hard to build strong relationships with my colleagues and customers whom I’ve seen gain success so that I could learn their ways and ultimately try to grow by mirroring their methods.

As you developed in your career, what were some training tools that you found beneficial to your professional growth?

I have taken numerous sales training courses throughout my sales career, but the two that have helped me grow the most in my career as a manufacturers’ representative are CSP and CPMR. My employer, Brainard-Nielsen Marketing (BNM) has encouraged, sponsored, and supported my attendance at both. I have one more year of classes left until I am a CPMR graduate!

What are some industry networking events that you have attended that would be beneficial to other young professionals in the industry?

BNM is an avid supporter of ERA so I attend the ERA Conference annually and do my best to make it to my local ERA chapter’s events. I enjoy attending the ERA Conference because it provides the opportunity to learn from various experts and share best practices in sales and marketing. In addition to that, it’s been a great forum to network with my peers from across the nation and meet other young professionals in my field.

Do you think that there is enough young talent entering the electronics industry and what could make this field more attractive to future professionals?

When I worked directly for manufacturers, prior to joining a manufacturers’ rep firm, I did see more young professionals working alongside me. I don’t think it’s about the field being attractive or not, but I don’t believe many young sales professionals know that going to market with a manufacturers’ rep firm exists if they’ve never been around this type of sales process. I think schools and associations could do a better job of marketing this to young professionals.

How do you see your profession and the industry evolve 10 to 20 years from now?

The demand for smart sensors and electronic devices will continue to rise as IoT becomes more widespread. This will continue to open doors of new opportunity to electro-mechanical-based rep firms. From a sales standpoint, many manufacturers are considering implementing (or have already implemented) a B2B2C (business-to-business-to-consumer) model. The growth of e-commerce has made this a topic and something that many manufacturers are seeing a need to participate in by having online stores.

Professionally, what keeps you up at night?

The above, B2B2C, topic is what currently keeps me up at night! In B2B sales, you never want to be driven out of your role by the internet/B2C sales. I’m trusting that those manufacturers who implement this will be mindful and work out a process that supports both B2B and B2C sales platforms!

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