John Stegeman has been working in industrial distribution for a long time. The CEO of White Cap, North America’s largest supplier of specialty concrete accessories and safety supplies for professional contractors, has been in the game for 35 years now and has never been more excited for the future as he steers the White Cap business down its future path.
John began his career at Ferguson Enterprises, North America’s largest plumbing wholesale distributor, in 1985 as a management trainee. “Ferguson was an incredible environment for me to learn the distribution business,” he remembers with a smile.
Starting as a trainee in the warehouse, he was able to learn customer service from the bottom up. “At the time, Ferguson’s training program allowed me to learn more about operational and sales management while interacting with customers,” he shares, adding that “making the transition from being a teammate to managing others factored heavily into the future – being able to mentor, coach and develop others is a true privilege”.
After 20 years with the company and many relocations throughout the east coast, John became its President and CEO from 2005 to 2009. “Many leaders in distribution remember these times well, as the US was going through one of the worst economic recessions in recent history, led by a housing and credit crisis,” John explains. “Wolseley, Ferguson’s British parent company at the time, decided to make wholesale changes, and unfortunately, I was one of those changes,” John says.
However, what he thought was the worst day of his life turned out to be one of his best. John joined HD Supply, which was the parent of White Cap. “I was very excited to have the opportunity to drive the future of the White Cap business as part of HD Supply,” he reflects.
Today, White Cap is estimated to have nine per cent market share in a US$45 billion industry. “Over the past 11 years, we’ve built this incredible business, driving double-digit compounded annual growth and dramatically improving profitability,” John smiles. “The first step in redirecting the business was assembling a group of leaders who were selfless and willing to work together to unite under one culture. Now, as I look in the rearview mirror, I’m very proud of the leadership team that we have today.”
“The growth opportunity in the future is even greater,” he shares, as combining organic growth with mergers and acquisitions provides a large runway for White Cap.
The business has grown from US$850 million in revenues in 2010 to well over US$4 billion today. Now, under the ownership of two private equity companies – Clayton, Dubilier and Rice, and The Sterling Group – the company has the ability to significantly invest in its future.
John and the White Cap leadership team are very confident in its future success. “We have a very passionate and driven team of sales and operational talent that creates a unique culture of teamwork and customer service, made possible by our focus on diversity, inclusion and our strong internal values. In a world where personalized customer service is being replaced by automation, our culture provides an opportunity to make a difference for our customers.”
It’s an exciting time to be a part of White Cap, he grins.“Our internal company values of Teamwork, Relentless, Unwavering, Service, Transparency, Experienced and Dependability, which spells out TRUSTED, unite us and drive our work forward,” John notes.
The challenge with mergers and acquisitions is combining different cultures that have developed under different leadership, but John is a big believer in momentum, both personally and professionally. “Building a strong culture while you are integrating companies is hard work, and it must be genuine,” he says. “Our team needs recognition when they perform well and also needs to be challenged to always reach new heights as one team.”
Teamwork is also something near and dear to John’s heart. It’s something that he’s intentionally driven into the White Cap culture, especially now that it’s integrating the businesses it has acquired over the past 12 months.
“As we acquire businesses into the White Cap family, ensuring we have one culture is of paramount importance. One team, one culture, one company!” John champions. “It is very difficult to attain scale and efficiencies if everyone is moving in a different direction. Process management and sales management must run in unison to accomplish great things.”
Looking ahead, John identifies one major challenge White Cap and many other distribution companies will need to overcome. “If you’re operating in North America today, I think one of the biggest challenges a distributor has – and it doesn’t matter what kind of distribution you’re in – is a war for talent, especially in light of a strong virtual labor environment,” he says.
White Cap is rare in that the leadership team understands the value of customer service and doing what is unexpected for customers, John explains. “It’s an amazing team both in our functions and in our field,” he continues. “Our experienced team also helps develop talent for the future of our business. Leadership consistency and an eye on service helps our customers come back to us. We’ve had very little turnover in our senior leadership team, and I believe that consistency has driven above-market results for our business over the past 10 years.”
But he’s very aware that office culture has changed dramatically in the post-pandemic era, and that’s something that will need to be taken into account when building a successful office environment.
So how does White Cap go about attracting quality candidates? “Our recruiters work in unison with our field leaders to ensure we are always bringing talent into the organization,” he says. “Quite honestly, our best recruiters are our own teammates, and if we continue to provide opportunity for advancement, we will continue to blend and extend our talent reach. Starting in the warehouse and learning the business from the service side first sets the right tone for customer service.”
Considering John’s own beginnings in a warehouse so many years ago at Ferguson, that’s a wonderful prospect indeed. And as White Cap continues down its path of profitable growth and working towards its promise of building trust on every job, this prospect is looking more exciting than ever.
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