May 26, 2020
By Blake Marchand
Electro-Federation Canada’s Young Professional Network (YPN) is a fantastic tool for industry professionals under 40 to build their network, build their professional skills, and give back to the local community. These are the three tenets on which the YPN program is structured: give, gather, grow.
“It’s a way we can upskill our membership to be able to grow into leadership roles in the future,” said Joanna Kwant, Director of Strategic Transformation for Gerrie Electric. “I think YPN can have a role in ensuring our young leaders are prepared for the road ahead.”
Earlier this year EFC elected new YPN regional and national chairs for 2020 and 2021. Among this new leadership group are Kwant, who serves as Chair for the Ontario Region, National Chair Sean Bernard, Quebec Chair Jean-Francois Gravel, and Atlantic Chair Nick Foster.
If you are familiar with the electrical industry, you likely know the Gerrie name well. The company is led by Co-Presidents and CEOs Heather and Elaine Gerrie, both of whom are active members of the broader industry. Now, the third generation of the Gerrie family is making its way into the leadership core of the company. Joanna shares the Director of Strategic Transformation title with her brother, Jonathan Kwant, and cousin, Taylor Gerrie. Appropriately nicknamed the “3G”, Joanna, Jonathan and Taylor have been in their current roles as part of the company’s leadership group for just under two years.
“A couple of years ago we were invited to participate in strategic planning with the executive team. This was the first time we participated,” explained Joanna, “so I was really grateful to get to work with our entire executive team and gain insight into how we build our strategies, and see the strength of the team together.”
As part of this process, they developed nine initiatives to drive the company’s success. “The 3G are responsible for executing and delivering on those initiatives with teams that we build within the organization,” explained Joanna.
“My team was responsible for creating a plan to grow sales in our existing sales base by capturing more of the electrical basket. We launched our plan late last year, so now we’re just monitoring it, watching its success, and making adjustments for any challenges or changes that need to be made based on customer demands. We did an analysis of what our customers are buying and what they’re not buying.”
Joanna’s team also interviewed customers to gain further insight into why they weren’t buying specific products/product groups from them. “We then created a pricing strategy to help us capture more of that business.”
Pricing can be tricky, she noted. The company wanted to develop a universal strategy that would be easy to implement, yet flexible enough to accommodate customer requirements.
“It was a lot of fun. I had a really great team,” said Joanna.
Gerrie Electric’s Director of Pricing and Product Integrity served as project lead. “We had branch managers, account managers and other strategic people in the company to help develop the plan, so we had a lot of expertise and customer knowledge at the table… Part of it was we were selling the strategy not only to our customers, but also to our internal team.”
Joanna learned to appreciate the value of different perspectives while growing up in a family-owned company, where she gained experience working in the warehouse, in administrative roles and marketing, as well as in the company’s retail lighting studio.
Eventually she moved into inside sales, working in Oakville, Ontario for three years, and then outside sales at the Concord, Ontario branch for another three years.
“You don’t really understand the full extent of the business or the industry until you work through some of those things. In each job, at each level, you work with different people and you get exposure to different things. Every year I’m learning so much more about the business and about the industry and how great it is, so I feel really lucky to be on the journey that I am.”
Ultimately, experiences like these help people transition into a leadership role. This dynamic is at the core of EFC’s YPN, which enables members to build business and life skills. YPN events cover such topics as personal branding, social media, leadership, taxes and finances, and how to maintain a work/life balance.
Joanna joined YPN when it was created in November 2015. “So, we’re actually coming up on our 5-year anniversary,” she noted.
“Initially I joined because it was something that I thought I should do. But it quickly turned into something I really enjoy being a part of and hope I can help grow.” Which is why she got involved in the YPN committee. She’s been on the Ontario Region committee for three years, serving as a vice-chair for two years.
“It is a big commitment. You can’t just decide to be on the committee and not participate because that doesn’t provide value to the committee, but it also doesn’t provide value to you.”
Getting more involved in the program and being a committee member, she said, “has really helped me make a better connection with certain people in the industry and certain members, giving me more exposure to different companies and different people. So, I think there’s value in that as well.”
Which goes back to a sense of community that YPN fosters and stronger business relationships.
“It’s a way for young professionals to feel connected to the industry,” explained Joanna. “I think that being a part of something is really important to people. Our industry is this great big family and I think people do feel connected.”
“I hope our industry stays that close and tight, because it is growing and changing. I think it’s important to carry that on into the younger generation.”
Blake Marchand is Associate Editor with Kerrwil Electrical Group