ELECTRI recently met with Brian DiBella, President, Electrical Wiring Systems, Legrand North America and Central America. His wide-ranging interview explores working with every aspect of the construction industry and maintaining a leadership focus in the process.
ELECTRI International – Legrand prides itself on what it does for its customers in 90 countries on six continents, serving many different segments of the electrical construction marketplace. What advice would you give to contractors on ways they can stay informed about changes coming to the industry as a whole and up to date on the Legrand portfolio?
Brian DiBella: Given all the changes, the best place to start is a familiar place – your distributor sales reps. We work hard to share information – keeping people up to speed on Legrand’s perspective about things we are doing in response to the industry. Your questions give distributor reps more incentive to stay up to speed. Understanding it’s important to you makes it important to them and we’re ready and willing to interact and help.
ELECTRI – What are you doing to stay ahead of the technology curve and to commit to lead? How do you make sure you are ready for products the industry is demanding?
Brian – One key is really understanding macro-trends. What’s impacting us today and what’s coming down the path? We think about our role so we can plan to help the industry adapt to those changes and new technologies. We invest in research all the time. We’re out in the market to learn what our customers’ key challenges are. We’re building good networks of relationships with technology leader customers like Google and Microsoft. As we do construction work for them, they are certainly on the forefront of that technology and we learn from them.
We continually look to see where new technology is coming from and identify things that support that new technology. So, we’re in data centers, we’re in AV – all things that give us a head’s up that these are priorities to the businesses we serve.
ELECTRI – Should contractors be more aggressive about working more closely with manufacturers at the very beginning of the design process?
Brian – That’s a great question. We spend a lot of time doing what we call a “contractor journey map”. We really look at a project end-to-end and we definitely find some of the biggest areas for opportunity are early on in the construction process.
A lot of effort typically goes into purchase decisions and product selection. But if we go back to that upfront piece, manufactures can certainly be involved in the design assist process. We can help make decisions that support code requirements and make everything more efficient from a productivity standpoint. That’s all done up front. We can also determine if it makes sense to standardize certain products because they’ll be more efficient to install, easier to maintain and manage afterwards. Again, that tends to happen very early in the project planning phase. I absolutely encourage contractors to engage as early as possible with manufacturers.
ELECTRI – Do you see changes coming in the supply chain over the next several years? If so, what will they be and what do contractors and their industry partners need to do to be ready?
Brian – Technology is certainly going to change the supply chain. First is the expectation of better visibility. Think of a $5 pizza. We know the point at which it’s being made, when it leaves the store, and we follow its journey all the way to our house. Yet, contractors will have a $100,000 product order and they don’t have any idea when it’s going to arrive. We need better visibility from a project planning perspective, from delivery of materials, from being able to track and plan much more, and from a job-site efficiency standpoint.
Another change – look at traditional distributors. They’re certainly concerned about creating more value for contractors through jobsite-related services addressing productivity and safety. We should expect this opportunity from distribution and from manufacturers. They’re going to do jobsite prep work, waste removal, materials handling. Those are the areas where we typically see mistakes, injuries, and other things happening. It’s not the actual installation of the product. It’s all with materials handling.
ELECTRI – We hear a lot about sustainability. How do you, as a Legrand leader, prepare for and ensure that the products you’re sending to market meet the operational and sustainability needs of owners, GCs, and contractors?
Brian – As a global company, we look to see what are the most stringent standards from an environmental perspective, from a sustainability situation.
Europe has a lot more requirements around materials. We are compliant with the products we sell in the US, even though not a legal requirement. We do environmental profiles on a large percentage of the products we manufacture – declarations about material content, compliance with local laws and requirements. We work with some leading end-users who have very high expectations and demands in terms of sustainability. We’re very pro-active in terms of complying but also staying ahead of what the codes and standards are.
From a contracting perspective, my advice would be for you to conduct business with manufacturers who can give very clear information about sustainability, coupled with code or higher-level documents like environmental profiles. Choose manufacturers whose factories are ISO 14001 certified for environmental practices. This is an easy way for you to make sure you’re going to be compliant.
If you are working with end-users who demand LEED certification, a good manufacturer can help you understand ways to get those LEED credits and to make sure you have basic compliance with whatever the job requires.
ELECTRI – Your company has been very active and supportive of ELECTRI International’s work. ELECTRI describes its mandate as finding solutions to help contractors be more efficient, more profitable, and to be a real leader sitting at the construction table. In your opinion, has Legrand’s involvement with ELECTRI helped your thinking about the industry and how best Legrand can serve it?
Brian – Absolutely. One of the most important things we get from involvement with ELECTRI is access to thought leaders, the folks leading the industry. ELECTRI really gives us a chance to listen to them, to understand what current challenges they’re facing. Then, we go back and think about ways we can demonstrate that we are listening and that we are bringing better solutions to market, not just in terms of product but in terms of services, support, the types of information you’re looking for from the contracting perspective, the way we do project management and support.
A key, critical cornerstone of our business strategy is to understand the needs of our customers’ customers. ELECTRI has been huge and helpful in helping us gain that insight through feedback from Council members.
ELECTRI – When you review ELECTRI’s portfolio of programs, would you ever say “I really hope ELECTRI is going to pay attention to X over the next couple of years because that’s going to make a difference for the industry”?
Brian – Look at supply chain productivity. The industry as a whole is looking for ways to leverage technology, to take waste out of the supply chain. Addressing that would be very valuable in terms of how we do transactions, how we manage the flow of material from factories to distributors to job sites. It’s just a tremendous opportunity to be the most efficient and the most productive.
ELECTRI – Every leader has his or her own style and approach to identifying, cultivating, and nurturing future leaders. What clues could you share with our audience about what makes someone a good leader either now or how to get the next generation of leaders ready?
Brian -I look for those who go the extra mile, who have a level of motivation and ambition to take on more responsibilities. Integrity and the ability to get things done are key. We call it the “say-do ratio”. The folks who tell you what they’re going to do and then follow through – consistent and able to do it. Find people who help others. Being a surrogate leader is a really important attribute. So, recognize folks on your team who support each other, or help a co-worker get something done on time, or are just more efficient by sharing something with colleagues. These are absolutely key attributes to look for to identify folks with potential.
When you do find them, give them more responsibility, challenge them to grow, push them, if you will. I think the ones who are really eager and able to rise to the occasion are the people who will show themselves very quickly and are the folks worth investing in.
Formal training is a big part of it. Leadership is a material part but it also something that can be learned. Helping folks to be ready to deal with managing, supervising, making decisions – all are really key. Make sure you have a program for developing those skills in your future leaders.
ELECTRI – What final advice would you give to those reading this interview?
Brian – Take advantage of all the resources ELECTRI offers. There is a great body of work. We have contributed and we’ve gotten tremendous value from the manufacturer’s perspective. I know it’s available to the contracting world. I encourage everyone to network and connect.