Canadian Electrical Wholesaler

Backman Cara

Line Goyette

We in the electrical industry always talk about succession, its urgency, and the difficulty in doing it well. This month we present a young woman who adds another dimension to succession. She fell into the Franklin Empire orbit at birth, but could have chosen a different career. Why choose our industry? How does she perceive it? The challenges, the commitment? Cara Backman, Marketing Manager for Franklin Empire.

Cara Backman belongs to the fourth generation of the family to work at Franklin Empire. In 2003, after earning a degree in commerce at McGill, her father encouraged her to get outside experience in the business world. She worked at Mad Science, a world-wide company based in Montreal, offering fun science for kids. Within three years she worked her way up to general manager of Mad Science of Montreal. Building on this experience, she felt ripe for a career change and other challenges. She was ready to explore the opportunities available at Franklin Empire. Timing was right as Franklin Empire’s Marketing and Operations manager was planning to move to Quebec City to oversee the eastern branches and soon retire.

Until this point, she had not realized the true scale of what she had always known as the family business.  “When I was young, I knew that my father and my grandfather sold electrical and lighting products, but nothing more. My brother, my sister and I never felt any pressure to join the company (but all three did). We didn’t know the customers, the business relationships. In fact, we had no real idea of the magnitude of the business, only that our father and our uncle worked very hard and the company was very successful.

Franklin Family


Do you find it difficult to grow and get ahead in an overwhelmingly male industry, and to be constantly associated with the family?

"It’s challenging, but there are more and more women in our industry; this change is well underway. You’ll find even more women in the U.S., but in general we are made to feel welcome. I’ve certainly never felt uncomfortable. When I joined the industry I didn’t know anyone. Surprising as it may seem, we don’t talk business at home. But today, as I meet people in the industry, it makes me proud to see that people know my father and my grandfather.”

Do you feel a clash of values or of generations?

"It exists, it's true. I think it’s more of my generation’s values rather than my personal values that are different from those of my father and grandfather. I was impressed to meet employees who have worked for Franklin Empire for over 25 or 30 years. People of my generation tend to change jobs frequently; I’m hoping to be able to maintain this company loyalty.

I always try to stay up to date on new marketing techniques, social media, new ways to create relationships with our customers and employees. I like to implement different techniques and technologies. I never know if these new methods will work because there is a lot of resistance to change in our industry and I find there are still many customers who are not very tech savvy; some don’t even use email! It’s always rewarding to see the outcome and positive feedback on new methods put in place.

I’m curious to see what will happen with e-commerce. I’m not convinced that at the moment it adds value in the electrical industry, but I do believe that not implementing it will eventually be a competitive disadvantage. On the other hand, I find that we lack good data, especially in French. Distributors need more support from manufacturers to improve the online experience. In our industry, personal relationships are still very important, but people don't have the time any more. Customers will be looking for the same experience in business that they have in their personal lives. The boundaries are not always clear.”

Cara Backman Stage


One thing to change in our industry?

"I would like to change the perception that people have of our industry. I would like to find ways to attract more young people. People don't know our industry. When I was at university it was not an industry that other students looked at or considered when entering the job market, which would have been true for me if it had not been for my family.”

Cara also serves on Electro-Federation Canada’s Board of Directors and the marketing committee of Affiliated Distributors. From the beginning she has been happy to participate in conferences and industry events. “It was probably the best thing to do. I developed networks, learned about best practices, and met many people.”

“New products and solutions pose exciting challenges and opportunities; they may be the best way to attract young people. Lighting, for example, is revolutionizing and the changes are very exciting, which may allow us to make a breakthrough among young people. ” 

"I don’t know what the future will look like, but we will have to approach the market in a different way. With new technologies, we will sell more and more solutions, and with so many new marketing and financial tools to support them, we’re likely to attract young people with this kind of expertise.”

And the future?

Two boys were born since the arrival of Cara Backman within the company and maintaining a work-life balance involves two generations. So what do you do when your values place family at the heart of your life and you work with other members of your family in a family business? Well, just as long-time Franklin Empire employees told Cara, “I hope to stay there at least 50 years. This is not a job, it’s my life.”


Line Goyette is Managing Editor of CEW. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  @linegoyette

Read more Peers & Profiles in CEW by Line Goyette:

Among the Dunnigans of Techspan Industries: a Sense of Adventure from One Generation to Another

David Beron — A Resolutely Scientific Spirit in a World that May Not Be Moving Fast Enough

Running Man: Stelpro’s Yves Chabot

Cara Backman— Open to Everything, Even Life’s Surprises

Nathalie Pilon: A Woman Who Knows Her Own Mind

David Nathaniel: A Talent for Being There at the Right Time

From One Generation to the Other, New Ideas Help the Company Grow

Daniel Peloquin: Just Do It, But Fail Fast

Lina Rishmawi — A New Canadian Who Loves Challenges

Michelle Branigan

Read all Peers & Profiles

 

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