Tim Horsman: the Pragmatic Philosopher

Tim Horsman: the Pragmatic Philosopher

 April 5, 2017

By Line Goyette

A few months ago, I had lunch with industry colleagues who are members of CEW’s editorial advisory board. When I told them I would soon be in Vancouver, they all said, “You have to meet Tim Horsman.”

Such unanimity is rare, but I needed no prompting because I was already curious about Tim and the family business — E.B. Horsman & Son. The 116-year-old company, started by George Dennis Horsman with the help of his father Edward, has established itself in many BC communities, and more recently in Alberta.

Tim is the fifth generation Horsman to lead the company, serving in a variety of positions since 2000 and officially taking on the President / CEO role in 2011. He’s also been active in the industry. Currently Tim sits on the Affiliated Distributors (AD) Executive Board in Canada and the US. He is also past Chairman of Electro Federation Canada’s Board of Directors, Past Chair of EFC’s Scholarship Committee (and still active as a committee member), Past Chairman of EFC’s Supply & Distribution Council of Canada, Past Chair of the BC Electrical Association… the list goes on.

In Tim’s time at E.B. Horsman & Son, the company and its employees have also made their mark in the community. For example, an ongoing fundraising program has contributed $750,000 so far to the BC Children’s Hospital Foundation.

I ask Tim if he always expected to join the family business.

“Not at all,” he says. “I didn’t grow up with my father so I was always at arm’s length from the business. However, I enjoyed summer vacations travelling with him to branches as he met with the branch teams and customers.

“Through the years, I also had the odd summer job with the company — cleaning a warehouse, working in a quotations division pricing contracts, filling in for people in some of the more remote branches — but my father always told me to pursue my own interests, I think in part because he grew up in the business and didn’t want to force succession on me.”

It wasn’t until Tim’s father George was diagnosed with a degenerative brain disorder, and the company needed to create a succession plan, that he was drawn into serious discussions about being in the family business.

“I was in my 30s when the topic was first broached as an option — ‘Should we continue, should we sell?’ Tom Muldoon was the President and General Manager during the transition, and he was a fantastic mentor. He cared dearly for the business and my father, and significantly influenced my decision to give the business a chance.

“I reported to Tom and worked my way up from starting a technical division to District Manager, Vice President, Executive VP, and now President. As my father and Tom ramped down, I worked closely with the management team to run the business.”

From here, our conversation turned toward the distribution business and the electrical industry.

What is it about the distribution business that appeals to you?

“I’m very entrepreneurial by nature. I like the idea of being able to run your own business, but at the same time to be part of an entrepreneurial team.

“It’s also about people. E.B. Horsman & Son has branches in 21 communities. Anyone who has grown up in a small community knows that relationships are important. People look out for each other, and not just in their personal lives. We have fantastic relationships with our suppliers, and even our competitors.”

What have you learned from your mistakes? And from your successes?

“In the moment, we rarely know how things will turn out, so I have learned to stay level headed, ask questions to understand, and appreciate that successes or mistakes can likely only be defined at some point in the future.

“I learned from my father and grandfather not to let the highs be too high or to let the lows be too low. But when you do achieve success, celebrate it with the team.

“I also learned that, if you make a mistake, the important thing is to fix it and move on. Don’t cling to a mistake just because you might have spent a lot of time making it. Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, then it’s not the end.”

Tim Horsman, E.B. Horsman & SonDo you have a personal philosophy that guides you?

“What you think you become. What you feel you attract. What you imagine, you create.”*

How do you see the future for our industry?

“Our industry has always been in transition and always will be. That’s the reality of dealing with technology-based products in the electrical and electronic world.

“Today I’m excited about the state of innovation and disruption, as well as the rate of change in our world. Whether it is Industry 4.0 impacting our industrial space or the convergence of technologies (lighting control/energy management/building systems), we are all challenged to keep up with change.

“It’s not only a product-focused issue. Rapid advancements in distribution, logistics, transportation and information systems — these that have been the cornerstone of our historical success are also affected.”

What has been your greatest achievement so far?

“Being involved with a tremendous team that has been able to transition this company through to another generation has been very meaningful.

“My father passed away in 2008 after a multi-year battle with a degenerative brain disease similar to ALS or Parkinson’s. My business partner and mentor, Tom Muldoon, struggled with his health from about 2004 on. Dealing with heart and stroke-related health challenges and then fighting multiple bouts with cancer. He is recovering today but this has been an ongoing challenge for him and without question impacted our organization.

“Through those years we have all learned a lot about ourselves. We’ve dealt with organizational succession, partnership complexities, leadership development and talent engagement while growing employee headcount, geographical issues, productivity, revenue, and profitability.

“There is no question that as a team we can accomplish great things, and we have a fantastic team. The people at EB Horsman, from the branches to head office, care for one another and support each other every day.

“Personally, I’d have to say meeting my wife, who is a tremendous woman, starting a family (my two girls Hana 8 and Eva Bella 5), and working hard to have a somewhat balanced life.”

What decisions do you find are the most difficult to make?

“People decisions. We are only as good as the people we surround ourselves with, and having an exceptional team is a key ingredient in our long-term success.

“There are a variety of factors to consider when we create, nurture, develop and change our team. This continues to be more of an art than a science to me, and I am refining my communication and leadership skills all the time.

If you could change one thing about your industry, what would it be?

“Restoring product manufacturing in Canada. It’s a shame that multinationals have by and large pulled their manufacturing out. A few, such as Siemens, Lumec (Philips) and Thomas & Betts, continue to manufacture in Canada but we wonder for how long. It would benefit all of us to have more of those facilities, jobs and capabilities here.”

How do you separate work from family and personal life?

“I don’t try to separate them. My life is the sum of all the parts, and to perform at the level I need to, everything has to work in relative harmony. At times things may get out of balance, but we try to bring it back to a good place with as little friction as possible. For that to happen communication and transparency are key as everyone in my life needs to understand how they work together.”

What is success? Does it mean the same thing for your business, industry, family?

“I asked myself this question, today. I can only say, ‘We’ll see.’

“I guess if I’ve been successful, then I’ll have had some kind of impact within the communities (business, industry, family) I work. I’ll have given people around me some form of lift, made something better and helped in some meaningful way. I hope that my children, the people in my business and those I associate with will contribute just a little more or have just a little more fulfilled life because I worked with them.

“I expect that I may actually never know if I’ve been successful, as it will likely be determined by others once I am long gone. But until that day, I know I will keep trying to the best of my ability.”

What’s your source of inspiration?

“I have so many sources of inspiration that I can’t help but get up, be inspired and motivated. My family, the Horsman forefathers, the 200+ people who work for this company and the families they provide for, the customers and suppliers that rely on us for their businesses to succeed in some form are all inspiring to me.

“I’m highly competitive and I care about the world around me, so I guess competition and compassion could also be defined as drivers of inspiration. “We live in a wonderful world of opportunities. The challenge is where to focus our limited time, money and resources… It’s an exciting time to consider how we can shape, influence or impact our industry.”

* Source unknown.

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