20 Questions with DeWight Wallace Johnstone Supply CEO

Originally published: 03.01.10 by Terry Tanker

Publisher Terry Tanker met with newly appointed Johnstone Supply CEO DeWight Wallace in San Diego at the Hilton Bayfront Hotel to discuss strategy, vision, execution, and management principles that will guide the company into the future.

1.   In a Google search, you come up right after Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic.
Did you know you were running in that circle?

That’s funny. I wonder how many clicks I got on my name to see who I play for.

2.  You have degrees in physics, math, and electrical engineering. Did you want to work
for NASA?

While in high school I asked my dad for career advice, and he told me that engineers made pretty good money. Based on this, I went into physics and math, and then on to electrical engineering. After I graduated, I went to work for Texas Instruments in their defense electronics group. We designed and built missiles for the U.S. government, so I guess it was sort of like NASA. 

3.   The next company you worked for was GM. Was the job similar?

No. I was program manager in GM’s advanced technology division. We built prototype systems on luxury vehicles, like Cadillac and Mercedes, and did benchmark performance testing in Europe.  

4.  You also worked for GE. Can you tell me a bit about that?

I worked in the marketing group within GE Capital and was eventually promoted to VP of marketing. GE is a terrific company, and I learned a lot while I was there.

5.   Are there significant differences between managing a distributorship and manufacturer?

Definitely. Running a successful manufacturing organization means producing quality products driven by the processes required to manufacture things repetitively within standard. You can leverage some of that for process improvement outside of manufacturing. We’re delivering services to our members, contractors, and our vendor partners. Johnstone is their go-between, so it’s all about improving processes to deliver better service.

6.   How did you become interested in the opportunity at Johnstone Supply?

I was contacted by an executive recruiter, and the more I learned, the more I liked. 

7.   What do you think you could bring to Johnstone Supply based on your background? 

It’s a successful company. They weren’t looking for someone to come in and save the company; they were looking for someone with a fresh perspective, new ideas, and strong leadership. They wanted someone to help set the strategy that will take the organization to the next level, and that’s what I think I can offer, and what I’m excited about.

8.   Where will you start?

With the strategic plan that I’m developing in conjunction with our members. There are great opportunities with e-commerce and geographic expansion within the U.S. I think we can leverage the power of the cooperative, and that’s what I’m interested in tapping into.

9.   How will you use your experience from TI, GM, and GE to improve Johnstone Supply?

I see room for process engineering and process improvement. I think we can strengthen the partnership between the cooperative and the members. The immediate opportunity is to get tightly aligned with our most successful business operators and determine how we can implement their success in other regions.

10.   What will be your biggest challenge?

Anytime you have a large organization, communication — or the lack of it — is always a challenge, so I’d like to improve on communication both internally and externally. 

11.   How will you measure success?

Profitable growth for Johnstone Supply.

12.   What are you looking forward to?

I have always enjoyed learning. In the hvacr industry, there is so much to learn — the competition, the landscape, learning what strategies will beat the competition.

13.   What is your management philosophy?

I have an approach to leadership that I plagiarize from Jack Welch (former CEO of GE). It centers on the four “Es of leadership.” First, you have to execute. If you can’t execute, you can’t be an effective leader. Next, you need to have an edge — be willing to make the tough call. You also have to have energy and bring it every day.  Finally, and maybe most importantly, you have to be able to energize the people around you. When you do these things, you can shape your team and do great things.

14.   What do you view as the most important aspect of your job?

To get a strategy set, get everyone to believe it, and get everybody running hard.  

15.   Have you completed assembling your management team?

Not yet. I want to get the strategic plan in place first and then make sure we have the team to execute the strategy.

16.   What management practices will Johnstone Supply help contractors improve so they’ll be more successful?

We have to help contractors sell, and give them the tools they need to succeed. 

17.   What steps are you taking toward that?

First, we want to have the right product selection and breadth of product, but we also want to build a rich source of information. We want to leverage technology and tools that make it easy for our customers to find what they need quickly and easily.

18.   How are you planning to drive sales this year and next?

It’s going to be about attacking things regionally and meeting the needs and expectations of our customers. 

19.   Where are the greatest opportunities
for growth?

Clearly energy efficiency is one. The current administration, and our country in general, are looking for ways to protect the environment. This will present big growth opportunities in hvacr. 

20.   Will you be helping contractors
focus on IAQ issues?

Absolutely. IAQ is right in line with driving efficiencies and the green culture. It’s going to continue to
be big. 

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