Canadian Electrical Wholesaler

March 1, 2017

Rachelle Caron: a Leader Who Stares Change in the EyeLine Goyette

Rachelle Caron, General Manager of Westburne, hails from the Gaspé, which might explain why she's both fearless and can see emerging market trends from a mile away. In the changing world of distribution, this is a major asset. Behind her composure is a formidable leader. A chartered accountant by profession, Rachelle describes her career as nontraditional, and since assuming leadership at Westburne she’s achieved great success. Read on to learn more about Rachelle Caron.

How did you decide to make a career in the electrical industry?

“When I graduated from university I worked in an accounting firm, and my main client was a distributor of refrigeration and air conditioning products. I quickly joined this company, which was bought by Westburne. Then I had the incredible opportunity to be involved in all areas of the company, not just finance and operations, which was the traditional domain of chartered accountants. This gave me an overview of all aspects of an organization at the beginning of my career, and what it takes to be a customer-focused distribution company.

“I climbed the ranks at Westburne to become controller for eastern Canada. When Westburne was purchased by Rexel in the early 2000s, the company focused on electrical products and I became General Manager in 2002.”

What are the main changes you have observed in electrical distribution in recent years, and what changes do you see ahead in the next few years?

“It’s easy to talk about the past, a little less so of the future. There have been a lot of changes, mergers, and acquisitions in the industry. Changes among suppliers and manufacturers have altered somewhat the situation for distributors. These changes have brought interesting challenges, and I believe that acquisitions will continue.

“Since 2013, the industry has also been living with significant economic challenges, including a decline in the price of raw materials and an economic slowdown. Our clients are feeling the effects of this slowdown, as well as new demands and expectations. Distributors must adapt quickly, offering expertise and value-added solutions. I would say this brings a certain dynamism to the business and a multitude of opportunities.

“With the Internet, everything is fast. Information is at our fingertips. The web is revolutionizing how we do business. Distributors can save customers time and offer customized solutions that set them apart from the wealth of information available on the Internet. Another important change is a new generation of employees working for our customers, ourselves, and our suppliers. This generation focuses on interpersonal relationships. We must learn to accommodate young people who want to learn quickly and make a difference. It is certainly a great challenge for our industry, and forces us to constantly renew ourselves. If there is a phrase I never want to hear again, it would be, ‘We’ve always done things this way so why change.’

“LED technology has also had a major impact on our industry. We are now talking about solutions instead of products. Electricity is at the heart of new economic engines and changes looming on the horizon, such as Industry 4.0 and Big Data. It represents huge opportunities for us. We will need new skills and we must prepare, anticipate these changes.”

What have been your greatest challenges in your career? The most difficult?

“My greatest accomplishment is certainly to have positioned Westburne at a leadership level in the industry. I would say that overall my greatest challenge has been to build a dynamic team to get us there. It was often necessary to go off the beaten path, and invest in non-traditional niches.

“To make a difference, it is absolutely necessary to position oneself ahead of trends. When we felt the first winds of renewable energy, if someone had asked me to estimate the results we could expect from adopting these new technologies, I am sure the results would have represented only 10% of what we have actually achieved. Of course, we always face resistance when introducing change, but change management is part of my daily life. In fact, the theme of our annual meeting this year was the power of change. A change for me is always positive, depending on how it is managed.”

Being a woman in a man's world: from your perspective an advantage, a handicap, or a little of both?

“The question always makes me smile, it’s more of an urban legend. I was appointed General Manager of Westburne on an April Fools Day, and bets were laid. A woman and accountant in a man’s world was an unlikely combination for this position, but I have earned my place.

“Our industry is very respectful of the people who are in it, we rub shoulders together on many occasions. I am determined and have plenty of support, and that’s how you can make a difference and become a leader, regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman.”

Do you have a message for young people — women or men — who would like to join our industry?

“Come and join us. Our industry in general is in constant renewal. All the challenges related to energy, the environment, Big Data, Industry 4.0… they offer immense possibilities, and we are privileged to be able to offer exciting, dynamic careers at the convergence of these technologies.”

If you could do your career over again, what would you do differently?

“I would have jumped into business management sooner. When I was a controller, I lacked gas to fuel my passion. Being a controller means always looking in the rear view mirror, working with and analyzing lagging indicators. Being in management means looking ahead, making decisions that have an impact not only on the results, but also on our employees. I’m very focused on employee development, and seeing them grow in the organization is very stimulating.”

Is there a person who has been a source of inspiration in your professional or personal life?

“At the beginning of my career at Westburne, I had the opportunity to work with a vice president who gave me a lot of help and guided me as I moved up the ladder. I am fortunate to come from a family with strong values, which have always served to guide me, and I have the good fortune to have an exceptional partner who supports me. In my turn, I support training for young people and I’m trying to influence decision-makers to pitch in and get their hands dirty.”

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