In the late 2000s, WJ Connell Co. CEO and fourth-generation owner John Stephenson says the company's industry was going through a lot of turmoil.
"At one point, there had been 20 ownership groups that represented the manufacturers in our industry in specific regions," Stephenson said during an interview with Smart Business President and CEO Fred Koury. "That had got down to six. Our company was one of the final six, but you could see this migration towards more consolidation and disruption."
Seeing this unfold early in the process, he says he had a vision of taking one of his companies — called Atlantic Power at the time— and merging it with a colleague in the industry. In doing so, he says he felt they could create a platform company that would facilitate a natural rollup and yield a better company.
That led to the creation of Power Distributors, now a national platform, for which he is a co-founder and equity partner. The company does some $250 million in revenue and on any given day can ship out 20,000 packages. It's got a strong culture with a family business feel, even though it has 400 employees.
"That is, I think, the accomplishment I'm most proud of at this at this point because that required a real transition and a lot of uncertainty," Stephenson says. "It was three years in the making. It took a long time to put the pieces together to make things happen. But once things started to happen, it really starting to take off and that was very exciting."
Keeping Stephenson is motivated through his curiosity and his competitiveness. He's been driving the business for almost 30 years, but today, he says, it's completely different than where it was when he started.
"I almost feel like I'm at the beginning again," Stephenson says. "We've gone through transition, we're in a new spot, we have to do different and new things. We've had some distribution businesses — like I had one that I sold two years ago. At some point, Power Distributors might be a business that I love but that might get sold as well. I've been on this journey for four generations. I got two kids. I don't know what their plans are — I have no plans for them to come in — but I do want to make sure that I create something that's continuing to thrive hopefully beyond me, and I think that drives me."
Stephenson spoke on Dealmaker TV's SmartTalk program about what he learned from his first job, how mentorship has impacted his career, his regrets and his motivations. Hit play to catch the full conversation.