Canadian Electrical Wholesaler

April 19 2016

John Kerr

On April 13, Electro-Federation Canada bestowed its 2016 Industry Recognition Award on Franklin Empire President Bob Shapiro. Kerrwil Publishing President John Kerr had the honour of presenting the award was presented to Shapiro. Here are John Kerr’s remarks from this presentation.

In my home there is a wonderful memento presented to my father in May 1961 at the annual meeting of the predecessor association to Electro-Federation Canada. It was an electrical industry recognition award and it was treasured by my dad and still is by all of us. You see these awards do mean something, they provide context and a view that in the speed of our world today causes us to reflect and pause, to think, remember and celebrate.

Today I am thrilled and frankly honoured to be here to introduce this year’s winner Bob Shapiro of Franklin Empire. Bob is a son of this business and so much a student, advocate and change architect, he has over his time engineered one of the most elegant transitions of the full line electrical wholesaler model anywhere. Franklin Empire is unique: unique in its values, unique in its partnerships, unique in embracing change, and unique in that they are Canada’s largest privately held distribution enterprise.

Bob Shapiro started in this business in 1968 at a time when the Montreal landscape was dominated by the likes of Union Electric, where his dad had worked prior to founding Franklin. A graduate electrical engineer, he was thrust into the business when the responsibilities of “family first” came into play as his father’s illness at the time prompted several key staff to recruit Shapiro to join as a salesman. Bob said of that time, “I went out as a salesman. I knew nothing, Trust me, I knew nothing but I went out as salesman.”  

Being close to the customer and learning the business from the ground up clearly has given Bob the perspective and view that have allowed him since taking over as President of Franklin to oversee and build a unique, strong and independent electrical wholesaler in Canada.

I remember several years ago when Jim Taggart ask me to help facilitate a working meeting in Collingwood on the future of the electrical industry. We talked globalization, consolidation, selling direct, new products, ancillary products, service and system integration, offshore purchasing, and all the while as we engaged in these conversations there, my eyes would scan the room and I would see Bob deep in thought. The findings of those days together were profound, but for the history of Franklin Empire under Bob all one needs to do is study the shrewd moves and directions he has taken in advancing the firm to today.

In the context of our meetings in Collingwood Shapiro is a pioneer. The acquisition of Playford in 1987, the wonderful and much celebrated merger with Empire and the Backman family in 1992, joining AD, buying Control Mart, expanding into home and building automation, establishing a drive system technology assembly and service centre, acquiring ONTOR, and the recent move to embrace the process instrumentation space with Measuremax.

The inherent strength of a leader like Bob is he is giving, he listens, he is passionate, and he cares. Partnerships and the essence of all that takes is something this man clearly understands, and not only from the perspective of his core suppliers (as would be our collective default) but also from the Backman family for whom he is deeply committed. Hire good people, lay out what we want to accomplish and what we need to do, and let the run seems to be a mantra to the success Bob has helped create at Franklin Empire. Bob too is a mentor and caring friend to many in this room today.

Bob learned long ago, no doubt as he struggled in those early days on the road, to not look over one’s shoulder and drive forward, always take the high road, respect the competition, and make sure the essence of what a true partnership reflects is protected.    

Bob Shapiro and I share the fact we are sons of this industry, we love our roots, but as we spoke last week he reminded me of what we also share, and that is we love what we do.

And as we celebrate Bob today, we need to also reflect on the fact Bob Shapiro’s commitment to the old Canadian Electrical Distributors Association (CEDA) and to Electro-Federation Canada today set the standard for how one gives back and embraces the industry for all our collective well-being.


John Kerr is President of Kerrwil Publications.

 

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