Studies show as many as 80% of employees are disengaged at work.
At First Supply, I saw the opposite.
Josè Rivera, a branch manager, has been with First Supply for 11 years. When I talked to him, without hesitation, he told me he plans to be there for 11 more, and I wanted to know why. He answered simply:
“It’s not like you’re a number or just an employee. You’re like a family member with everybody at First Supply.”
When I first met Josè, I was blown away by how First Supply supported his desire to explore a career in outside sales … and then how they continued to support him when he realized, after testing the waters for six months, that it wasn’t right for him. He decided to return to his branch manager job where he could reconnect with his customers – including regulars who would come in from time to time to just chat.
Employees want to work for a company that has humanity, a company that understands people have goals and dreams. Ninety-three percent of distributors in our research said that the future of distribution includes more humanity. I saw that firsthand when the We Supply America film crew and I visited First Supply.
Employees want to be challenged, to advance in their job and career, and they want a greater sense of purpose. Everyone wants to feel valued for who they are and to be seen.
“When you state where you want to go in the company, they make it happen. They actually stand by it, and they go through with it,” Josè said.
What I learned on my visit to First Supply, overwhelmingly, was that they care deeply about their employees – that they, without a doubt, view their employees as family.
Caring for your employees is not only the right thing to do, but it’s also the smart thing to do – for the employees and the business. Distribution works because of the capacity of every human being inside of it.
That’s easy to say – and not always as easy to do – but I heard story after story on my visit that showed how this noble mentality plays out in real life for First Supply.
To Josè, it’s not just professional – it’s personal. To him, First Supply is and always will be family.
And family stands by you, even when a curveball is thrown your way.
When his son was in the hospital, First Supply gave Josè space to spend time with him before he passed. They played games, watched movies – and created precious memories – without a single worry about his job. Not once did he stop to wonder whether he would be returning to First Supply. He didn’t need to.
And when the distributor organized a benefit, “so many people showed up, and my son just couldn’t believe the outpouring of love from his community, his school and my company, even people he didn’t know.
“That’s why I say First Supply is like family. They took us in, and they treated us like a family. They took care of us through that situation. Life really threw some curveballs, but I still get up every day and go to work and enjoy it.”
When Josè wanted to explore new professional paths, they embraced and encouraged his desire to learn and grow.
When Josè was in need, there was no question that First Supply would take care of him in his time of grief.
A New Kind of Leader
First Supply is celebrating 125 years in 2022. That’s pretty remarkable, wouldn’t you say? A lot has changed since 1897 when horse-drawn wagons made deliveries, yet steadfast leadership, innovation and commitment to the customer have endured. What also hasn’t changed is First Supply’s steadfast commitment to its employees.
The leaders at First Supply are breaking paradigms every day to lead their people differently. Differently in a way that this post-pandemic era requires. They are connecting with their employees not just on a transactional level but at a level that creates a deep bond between employer and employee.
They recognize that their people want to be treated as an individual – not a number. They want to connect and feel like they matter.
The leaders at First Supply are called by a higher purpose and strive to make an oversized impact beyond their bottom line. They’re focused on empowering their employees to achieve their individual goals and highest potential.
Led by CEO Katie Poehling Seymour, a fifth-generation leader, they are members of the Noble Generation. A new kind of leader that recognizes that we must lead today with humanity at our core.
Katie knows it took more than just her family to get First Supply to 125 years. It took thousands of families like Josè’s to make First Supply what it is. And not just the 700 families First Supply supports – but the families of their customers.
During and coming out of the pandemic, “we had to make sure we made the right decisions so that our employees were still able to care for their families,” she said.
This statement, from one of the distributors we surveyed in our research, rings true in the case of First Supply:
“Leadership is all about the human element – the ability to connect, empathize, understand and communicate.”
Lori Quinn, process improvement manager at First Supply, takes this to heart. She believes each individual at First Supply has a “superpower,” and once those special skills are unlocked – and they are in the right seat on the bus – they are happier and more passionate about their work. Attitudes change, productivity skyrockets, and they grow both professionally and personally.
And that’s really what Noble Leadership comes down to: Investing in our people. People like Nate Rubner.
Nate’s story is telling of First Supply and the future of distribution. After generations of being told and sold he would need a college education to have a chance of success in corporate America, First Supply obliterated that “truism.”
Nate joined First Supply as a young 19-year-old working in the warehouse as an order filler. If the “truism” were actually true, he’d still be doing that work today. Instead, he is a regional operations manager.
He is thriving, and more importantly, he is helping his team thrive. “I want to make a difference,” he told me. “I want to invest as much as I can. I want to be the best version of myself.”
What are your employees dreaming of? What do they want to achieve? Are you giving them the opportunity to meet their potential?
One of the distributors in our research put it like this:
“The true calling of a leader is to evoke the personal vision of those they are leading, inspire them to manifest that vision, and then step back and let them run with it.”
The future of distribution is all about the people at the heart of it. This means we must invest in the individuals who make up our teams. We must embrace every person throughout our entire organization, even and especially when they’re dealing with life’s curveballs, like Josè.
Watch for yourself. Hear and get inspired by the First Supply team in our first episode of Season 2 of We Supply America.
Meet the Noble Generation
In the stories we’re telling in our 8-part docuseries, you’ll meet leaders like Katie that represent the next generation of leadership – those who have embraced the Noble Calling of distribution. You’ll meet distributors who are transforming their businesses and leadership styles to make a difference for their employees, customers, and communities. We hope you come away with renewed hope and optimism for what I truly believe is a bright future.
Follow these inspiring leaders who are taking the distribution world into the future. These authentic and energized individuals are leaning into the unknown, pioneering new ideas, and unleashing possibilities throughout distribution.