February 9, 2015

Q&A with Paul Molitor, IDEA’s President & CEO


In December 2014, IDEA welcomed new President and CEO, Paul Molitor. Molitor came to IDEA from the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) where he was responsible for the association’s strategic initiatives and developing smart grid standards, among other things. We took some time this week to sit down with Molitor in his new role, getting detail on IDEA’s mission and 2015 goals. Our new CEO also shares some personal nuggets: he knows a thing or two about blues and barbecue.

Q: What does a typical day in the office look like in your current role as President and CEO at IDEA? 

A: There are really four things that I have to do: manage up, down, inside and outside. It’s always some mixture of those four.

“Managing up” is the things that I do for the Board. “Managing down” is whatever it is that I’m trying to pull together with the staff. “Managing inside” is personal development, things like following up on trade articles and working on writing skills. “Managing outside” is what I do with our customers or partners.

Q: During your time at the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) you worked extensively on their standards development. How do you see your experience at NEMA assisting you at IDEA?

A: Standards underlay each of our services: the Industry Data Warehouse (IDW), the Industry Data Exchange (IDX), and the Industry Retail Database (IRD). My practical experience with standards helps since they are absolutely core to everything we do here. I especially think it’s important for the IDW, given that we are trying to move toward increased data quality – data quality is absolutely defined by the standards.

It’s helped that I’m able to navigate a standard as well as the development process for standards, so that I can figure how we can move things in the direction most beneficial to the manufacturers and distributors.

Q: The Data Certification Program, a major IDEA effort, was announced last October. What kind of impact do you believe the Data Certification Program will have on the Industry?

A: I think, more than anything, it’s going to be a money saver for everybody. There will be an upfront investment by the manufacturers in order for them to get their data to meet the Data Certification Program requirements – that’s your entry-level cost. But then there’s the cost of maintenance after that, which should be minimal for the manufacturers.

In the past, distributors have had to do a lot of work on a regular basis in order to run their inventory management system, enterprise resource planning system, and website if they were ingesting incomplete data, or data that didn’t have as much detail as what we are now offering through the Data Certification Program. So, this program will save them time and money.

Really, what we should be able to get to out of this program is a faster time from the plant floor to revenue for everybody. Time is money – that’s where the big benefit will come into the industry.  

Q: There was a big deadline for the program last week for manufacturers. What recommendations do you have for manufacturers as they work towards becoming compliant and certified? How would you recommend that distributors help motivate their manufacturer trading partners to achieve compliance and, ultimately, certification?

A: If you take a look at the ways the manufacturers can deliver their information to us, it goes from the highly manual to the highly automatic. The more we can move the manufacturers toward the highly automatic, the better.

On the other end, Tom Naber at NAED and I have discussed how distributors need to maintain high expectations for the manufacturers. They’re faced with the uncertainty of, “We may not get all of the data we’re looking for,” which is true, but they shouldn’t back off. Continue to have high expectations and encourage the manufacturers to move toward more complete and higher-quality data.  

Q: A large part of IDEA’s focus will be on the Data Certification Program in 2015. Are there any further goals you have in mind for the year?   

A: So, the first thing is the Data Certification Program – you live or die by your data in this industry, especially as distributors try to compete with other online sources and large retailers. That’s really our sole focus for 2015 and any other business things that we are looking to accomplish will flow out of that.

As far as going forward, if we take a look at our current technology platforms right now, which we outsource to companies to run our IT platforms for us, they are a little bit old and they are a little bit inflexible. So, one of the things that we’re going to be looking at coming up is how we can move to newer more modern platforms that can make it easier for everybody. Also, that should help information flow back and forth between the various information networks and transaction networks that we support – not only the IDW, but also IDX and IRD.

Q: How did you come to enter the electrical industry?

A: You know, it’s kind of funny because I danced around this industry for the better part of 35 years. My dad was a shop teacher, but then he ran a building maintenance company and one of his cousins was in the electrical supply business. Then, I spent some time on the retail side of the business as a buyer’s assistant for a small regional home improvement chain in the Midwest.

The way I formally came here was when the Energy Independence and Security Act was passed in 2007, creating the national effort toward smart grid. With the law, they wanted to bring artificial intelligence and communications to the electric grid.  I had those components in my background, but I wasn’t necessarily an electric-grid guy. In 2009, NEMA decided that they needed someone like me to run their smart grid program, and that’s when I formally came into the electrical industry.

Q: Do you have any advice for anyone just entering the industry? Things they can do to ensure success?

A: Again, I wasn’t an electric-grid guy when I came to NEMA, but I went out and found every book I could about how the electric grid ran and operated. I ran into so many people who really didn’t understand the underlying basics of electric power and it was always frustrating, because you couldn’t have that conversation with them.

So, to anyone who is just coming in: it doesn’t matter if it’s this industry or any other technical industry – dig down into the underlying technology. Don’t think that it’s too difficult or doesn’t necessarily pertain to your job, because it probably does.  If you want to work in this industry, you should know this industry.

Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?

A: I always joke that my examples always come back to one of three things: food, movies or music.

I’m a blues man – I enjoy going to live shows. If the band has horns and harmonicas, all the better. On the food side, I’ve got a smoker.  I’ve been to a couple of outdoors cooking competitions in the past and will again. In fact, they have the national cooking competition up here in Washington, D.C. in June, and I might be out there, smoking some ribs.

Among the activities, I also bought a bike about five or six years ago and really, really enjoy just putting the miles on that thing. When we get into daylight saving time, I’ll be riding my bike to work. 

Q: If you could meet anyone in the business world, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

A: Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy’s. First of all, he seemed like a really approachable, cool guy. He was an orphan, he was a high school dropout, and he worked his way up through the franchise system at Kentucky Fried Chicken before he founded the Wendy’s hamburger joint.

This is a guy who had what people would consider the deck stacked against him and he managed to succeed royally. There is a great story of him: after he retired from day-to-day operations at Wendy’s, he decided to go back and get his high school degree. His graduating class voted him “Most Likely to Succeed.” In addition to that, he took his wife to the senior prom. So, he just did cool things and seemed like a real down-to-earth guy.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share?

A: I will share with you my guiding principle here lately. There are three kinds of people: wolves, sheep, and sheepdogs – be the sheepdog.