Steiner CEO Speaks on Business and Family at Champlain College

Steiner CEO speaks before Champlain students

Last March, Richard Kerman, or Rick as he is known in the halls and cubicles of Steiner Electric, gave a speech to a group of first-year college students enrolled in the business program of Champlain College, a small college in Burlington, Vt.

Kerman explained the concept of the wholesale distribution channel and how material and services flow from the factory to contractors, original equipment manufacturers (OEM’s), and maintenance, repair and operations (MRO’s) and, ultimately, to the public.

But, the open discussion evolved into much more and received an overwhelmingly positive reaction from the students.

The dialogue was about family and community, history and hard work. He told stories of an 11-year-old sweeping warehouse floors and washing winter’s grime from company trucks, and of multiple generations of family working to sustain and grow a business, and of those that came before him, and those that will succeed him. It was in the articulating of those ideas that kept the attention of 24 young adults who otherwise might be checking Facebook pages or Instagram accounts.

Steiner CEO Rick Kerman explains the wholesale distribution business to students at Champlain College in Vermont.

Robert Bloch, adjunct faculty member at Champlain, says he asked the students about what they thought about the presentation, and he was met with “an outburst of ‘yeahs,’ ‘greats,’ ‘awesomes,’ and “generally positive vibes.”

“They appreciated getting an inside look at an industry to which they normally are not exposed,” Bloch says.  “They felt that [Rick] shared a unique perspective as a CEO and family member. [He gave] a multi-dimensional view.  They liked the personal stories and felt that he was a CEO at a big firm that [they] could relate to as a person.  They appreciated his candor about the challenges the company faces, and the obvious pride he takes in the company.”

While Kerman is a successful businessman, well-practiced at giving presentations in front of groups, he found it was especially easy to talk to these students about something he knows so well, something that he grew up with, something that is in his Steiner-blue blood.

The lecture started with an overview of what is distribution. He explained about distributors and how independent organizations such as Steiner act as the conduit between manufacturers of products and services to the consumers of these goods. He discussed the challenges a company in this industry faces that include the traditional electrical distributor, and newer competitors such as massive home improvement stores, and the Goliath’s of the e-commerce world such as Amazon. While he focused on the electrical products distribution industry, he discussed how the broader industry works to get goods and services into the hands of those who need them. Eventually, however, the discussion transitioned into the history of the company, and the role of family in its success.

Steiner and Family

Steiner Electric is many things. It is a 100-year-old distribution business that over the years has grown to become one of the top 40 electrical supply businesses in the country, with more than 1,000 vendors, and operating 9 facilities throughout the Northern Illinois and Northwest Indiana area. It operates five business units under the Steiner name, including electrical supplies, lighting and controls, generator power systems, automation products and metalworking supplies. Steiner Electric is, indeed, many things. But, at its heart, it is a family business. Rick is just the 4th president and third generation of the company his grandfather founded in 1916. The company is proud that the next generation has already began making their individual contributions in various capacities throughout the company.

For instance, Adam Kerman, Rick’s oldest son, worked summers at the business, and now has worked full-time for five years calling on the property managers at major commercial buildings in downtown Chicago and the surrounding area. His middle brother, Jason, a graduate of the University of Colorado-Denver’s film school, has worked in the marketing department during summers from school and after graduation before taking position as an assistant flame artist at a local production company. A flame artist utilizes Flame software primarily in the video postproduction industry to create visual effects for video and film production.

Family is a common theme when speaking with Rick, but that does not mean that family always equates to blood lines. In fact, there was a period of 40 years when the only family members at Steiner were Rick and his father, Harold Kerman.

Today, the company employs nearly 430 co-workers who average 12 years with the company. Many of them have cross trained jobs; some currently do jobs vastly different from when they were hired. Rick points to the men and women who gave most of their working lives to the company. Literally decades spent in the Steiner “family.” Recently, five members of the team retired and their length of service ranged from 21 to 50 years.

The company must always look at succession planning and making sure the right people are in the right position doing the right things. As Steiner honors its past, it must stay focused on the changing demands required for future growth. One of the newest members of the staff is Josh Kerman, Rick’s youngest son, who recently graduated from Champlain, and now has begun working on a part-time basis in the social media department at Steiner while continuing to operate a successful DJ music business in Burlington.

Josh, like his father, swept the Steiner warehouse floor as a child, dodging forklifts, and was, according to Rick, always an entrepreneur at heart. At one point, he gathered scrap wood, trimmed and finished them and then toured the neighborhood, pushing an old, squeaky TV cart to sell his “Kid Made Music.” Later, to satisfy his Boy Scout Eagle project requirement, he collected gently used sporting goods that he donated to a homeless shelter.

It was Josh Kerman who asked his father to speak at the college, some 900 miles from the company’s typical customer. It wasn’t to make a sale, but it was a chance to impart some knowledge to young, business-minded men and women about an industry that might not have been at the forefront of their thinking.

Rick says “the unique program of Champlain College allows students to start in 101 business classes, not prerequisites. “It gets them excited about business and helps them discover what they want to do,” he says. “They learn the practical aspects of running a business allowing them to better relate to the concepts of what they want to do. The program is designed for creative minds.”

Bloch calls Champlain a professionally oriented college. “We teach a solid chunk of liberal arts, but we emphasize professional preparation,” he says. “We believe in an educational philosophy known as experiential learning, which we value very highly … The more we can offer real-world experience to the students tends to be good.”

Experiential learning is the process of learning through experience. Not just hands-on experience, but in the reflection, critical analysis and synthesis of the experience. One method to deliver an “experiential learning experience” is by inviting people from the real world to come into the classroom to talk in depth, not only about what they do, but about their lives and how they got there, Bloch added. “This is why I jumped at the chance to have Rick speak.”

For instance, when discussing Kerman’s speech, the question of the company’s worth was broached, which led to a discussion on how companies are valued in general: cash-flow multiples; underlying assets, both hard and soft (e.g. customer and supplier relationships); growth potential. “It was a nice, bonus learning moment,” Bloch says.

“So much of what kids are exposed to today tells them that business sucks, and that business people are all a bunch of money-grubbers, but I believe business is one of the most creative forces we have in society for good, and so, it was great to have a guy like Rick come into the classroom and exude his passion for his business. A 20-year-old might not think the industry is glamorous, but they were able to see someone like Rick who was able to make wholesale distribution stimulating and fun.”

While Bloch understands that with Josh graduating, there might be less incentive to visit the school that is situated on the shores of Lake Champlain near Canada, “but if he does,” says Bloch, “I would love to have him give the presentation again, and this time in front of a larger audience.”

Steiner Electric Recognized as Illinois Large Family Business of the Year 2016

Elk Grove Village, Ill. – Nov. 17, 2016 – Electrical, industrial, and generator distributor Steiner Electric Company has been recognized by Loyola University of Chicago’s Quinlan School of Business as its Illinois Large Family Business of the Year 2016.

Left to right: Adam Kerman, Cheryl Kerman, Rick Kerman, Jeff Izenstark and Jason Kerman.
Receiving the award from left to right is Adam Kerman (Account Manager), Carol Kerman, Rick Kerman (President & CEO), Jeff Izenstark (Executive Vice President) and Jason Kerman (Creative Designer).

The Quinlan School rates local family-owned firms on business success, multi-generational involvement, contributions to industry and community, and innovative business practices and strategies. Independent judges select one winner in each of three business-size categories, large, medium and small, based on number of employees.

“The Steiner team is very proud to receive this honor,” said Rick Kerman, president and CEO of Steiner.

“We are grateful for our valued customers, suppliers and employees, all of whom have contributed to our success over these last hundred years.”

Kerman’s grandfather, George Steiner, founded the company in 1916.  Rick and his father Harold were partners for 35 years.  “Today, the third and fourth generation of Steiner descendants operate with the same commitment and core values that George and Harold brought to the business,” Kerman added.  “We’re investing and innovating for the next hundred years with products, services and social responsibility.”

ABOUT STEINER ELECTRIC

Steiner is a 100-year-old distributor of electrical, lighting, automation, industrial and power systems products, with nine locations in Northern Illinois, Wisconsin and Northern Indiana. In addition to products, Steiner provides custom services that deliver operational efficiencies for the contractor, commercial, MRO and OEM marketplace. Visit us at http://www.steinerelectric.com

CONTACT:
Jeannie McCarthy
Steiner Electric Company
847-956-3007
FAX 847-956-5014
jmccarthy@stnr.com
steinerelectric.com

Steiner 100 Year Anniversary Honored at 2016 AD Spirit of Independence Awards

In 2016, Steiner celebrates its 100 year anniversary; this milestone was recognized by AD (Affiliated Distributors) in October 2016 at the AD Spirit of Independence Awards.

Celebrating the Entrepreneurial Spirit, The AD Spirit of Independence Awards honor the commitment that AD members and supplier partners have made to independent distribution and the entrepreneurial spirit that drives them to stay ahead of the curve.

Steiner 100th Anniversary Will Call Counter Sweepstakes Winners

Updated: December 2, 2016

In celebration of Steiner Electric’s 100 year anniversary, silver dollars have been raffled off to lucky winners that have entered the 100th Anniversary Will Call Counter Sweepstakes eligible by visiting any of Steiner’s 9 convenient locations. The sweepstakes started on August 8, 2016 and will run until November 12, 2016.

Click any image below to bring up the slideshow viewer to see each current winner. You can also get the latest sweepstakes updates and view winner announcements by following Steiner on Twitter and searching for the #SteinerSilverDollar hashtag.

Silver Dollar Winners

  • Luciano D. – 2011 Medal of Honor Silver Dollar
  • Josh M. – 2013 5-Star General Silver Dollar
  • Mike P. – 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame Silver Dollar
  • John K. – 1991 Mount Rushmore Silver Dollar
  • Ed H. – 2004 Thomas Alva Edison Silver Dollar
  • Jordan B. – 2000 Library of Congress Silver Dollar
  • Bill J. – 1990 Eisenhower Centennial Silver Dollar
  • Greg F. – 1991 USO 50th Anniversary Silver Dollar
  • Bryan A. – 2015 225th Anniversary of the US Marshall Service Silver Dollar
  • Jim K. – 1995 US Olympic Games Track Atlanta Centennial Silver Dollar

At the end of the sweepstakes, 100 grand prize winners will be drawn on November 14, 2016 to each receive a $100 Steiner Gift Card. Individuals are allowed to enter once per day through the duration of the sweepstakes, and the same person can win more than one of the grand prizes. The more you participate, the better the odds are of winning.

To enter the 100th Anniversary Will Call Counter Sweepstakes, come into any of Steiner’s 9 convenient locations. For more information and additional sweepstakes rules, click here.