Tom Mason is not good at standing still. Now in his 21st year with Sonepar Canada,* Mason has progressed through seven different positions, starting in an automation/engineering capacity. At one point Mason even tried to quit so that he could stay home with his new daughter while his wife returned to work. However, the company refused his resignation and instead created a new part-time corporate role in marketing and business development that he could fulfill from a home office. When his daughter was old enough for daycare, Mason resumed full-time work. Today he is Sonepar Canada’s Director of Communications and Business Development, based in Mississauga, ON.
CEW: How has business communication changed over the last 10-20 years?
Drastically. The different demographics really determine what tools we use to communicate. When I started, people communicated mostly by phone. I still do today if I’m talking to someone over 50. If I’m talking to someone 35 or under, it will be Skype, text or email. People in the 35-55 range are flexible in different ways.
But even as demographics merge with different communication devices — things that are supposed to make communicating more convenient — I hear every day from people about how their email boxes or voicemails are full. If you ask people how much they’re on their phones, it’s from the moment they wake up to the moment they fall asleep.
Do you set any restrictions on yourself?
Yeah, when I get home Friday I shut off my phone and everything I don’t need. I will work if I need to on the weekend, and the phone will still be on, but Friday and Saturday nights are my family nights. We might go skating or play board games. There’s a puzzle on our dining room table that I do with my daughter. I find if you don’t do this, you just slowly burn out.
This past November, you gave a session on cloud computing at Electro-Federation Canada’s Future Forum. Why did you choose to speak on this?
It comes from my role as chairperson for Electrofed’s Marketing and Communications Committee. It was an opportunity to teach our industry on why to use the cloud. I’m asked to talk about a broad range of topics, and social media has been a very popular topic since 2011.
What did you want to accomplish?
Cloud computing can be complex. I wanted to take away some of the mystery and help people understand what it could do for them. It’s the same goal that I have for the Marketing and Communications Committee — to advance our industry.
How are you using cloud computing yourself?
I live and breathe it. There’s nothing on my hard drive in any machine I own. I use a Microsoft surface as the hardware device. I have an iPad and different phones. What I do is I tend to make video and media files, which are large. To have a file that’s 500GB is not uncommon, and to move that file around or even store it was impossible until the cloud came along. Now I use various cloud solutions, such as Dropbox and OneDrive.
I went to a meeting a little while ago and didn’t bring a computer or tablet with me. I had a backup file on my phone just in case, but all I did was borrow somebody’s device and access my presentation from the cloud. I had it running in minutes. I know it was a bit gutsy, but you have to trust it. This is one of the biggest issues for people. Cloud computing works well. You’ll believe in it the more you use it.
The biggest concern people have from a business perspective is security. The answer is, unless the material is currently sitting on the hard drive of the computer in front of you, it’s already being stored remotely. Security is something you have to pay for, it doesn’t come for free.
What’s going on in your personal and professional life that makes cloud technology so appealing to you?
I was finding more and more of my time being wasted behind the wheel of a car. I live in The Beach and drive to Mississauga every day, and killing 2-2.5 hours a day driving to and from work doesn’t make a lot of sense. I also have a 10- and 13-year-old, so when I’m not working I tend to be driving people around. I needed to find solutions that would allow me to work any day, any time, that gave me access to my material on any device. Before the cloud, I’d always end up forgetting something in the office or at home. Now I can work remotely. Everything is accessible.
Would you describe yourself as an early adopter?
Oh yeah, always have been. My background is engineering, so new technology doesn’t scare me. I’m always reading about new technology, and thinking, ‘How could this help me with my current issues?’ If I can find something that will suit me, I will play with it.
Would you say you have a low boredom threshold?
I would. I tend to be more active. Even while on vacation, my wife reads on the beach reading while I go play with the kids. I would say that I’m more of an active person than I would be sedate or calm.
Would you say you’re a high-energy person?
I noticed from your LinkedIn profile that, in addition to being on our editorial advisory board, you’re involved in a number of organizations. Why Electro-Federation Canada and the Canadian Marketing Association?
There was also another one, ESFI – Electrical Safety Foundation International. I was a board member there as well. I The goal was to broaden the reach of Sonepar in the electrical safety industry. It’s nice to be involved in different areas of the market. With Electro-Federation Canada, it’s our own industry association. I was asked to sit on the Marketing and Communications Committee and take over the chair position after the chair moved on, partly to promote the use of innovative new communications tools and to learn from other marketing professionals. The industry isn’t utilizing tools as well as it could be.
The Canadian Marketing association is an excellent way to improve my skills in marketing. I find it a great way to network and learn. I read material they’ve put out or followed blogs they write just to better myself.
What’s the goal behind the marketing awards program launched by Electro-Federation Canada’s Marketing and Communications Committee?
We wanted to showcase excellence and innovation in the Canadian marketplace. I would like the industry as a whole to realize how strong our marketing and communication skills are in Canada, they are equally as good or better than other similar industries. What we produce here in Canada is top notch, and the first annual awards ceremony at the Future Forum really shone a light on people who did great work. We are simply very good at what we do.
For our first year, I was extremely happy with who submitted, what they submitted, and the judging process. The trade show and merchandizing winners were particularly strong.
Now that people have seen how the process works and what the outcome was, I’m expecting a 50% to 100% increase in submissions for the 2015 awards. We’ll be making a few changes to the program based in part on feedback from winners and members on the Communication committee. It’s a growing process for both the awards and the industry. The awards help push the industry’s marketing and innovation capability.
What are you looking forward to in 2015?
It seems to be the year where we’ll have opportunity to move forward with how we communicate. We use Yammer as a collaborative communication tool. We tested it, tried it, made sure it works, and now we’re moving forward.
There’s another tool, “LYNC,” where, regardless of the device, you can communicate with anyone at any time. I think it will finally allow us to bring people together in a simplified way so they’re not burdened by hundreds of emails, phone calls, and texts. So that they can bring more measurement and control back to their life, and still keep up with the feeding frenzy of communication. It’s exciting to get to the next level of utilizing these tools.
* The Sonepar Group is present in more than 41 countries with approximately 2,300 branches, 190 operating companies and 36,000 associates. In Canada, Sonepar has over 1,800 employees working out of 103 offices. The company’s product lines are represented in six provinces by Dixon Electric, Gescan, Lumen, MGM Electric, Osso Electric, Sesco, Texcan and Vallen.
Scott Williams is Associate Editor of Canadian Electrical Wholesaler.