30 Years at CES: Brad Jenks Celebrates Huge Anniversary
Before Brad Jenks became a regional manager with 25 branches across North Carolina, Virginia, and Michigan, he got his start driving for Torbram Electric Supply (TES) in Canada.
What does Brad say about his early days working for TES? Well, he likes to quote his good friend and district manager, Sam Morse.
“Nobody grew up playing electrical wholesaler in their backyard,” he laughed. “When I first joined Torbram, which would later become City Electric Supply, let’s just say I arrived as a motivated employee.”
On October 28, 1991, Brad Jenks got a job as a driver for TES in Ontario. Just a few days later, he and his wife, Wendy, celebrated the birth of their first child, Christian.
When Brad said he arrived a motivated employee, he meant really motivated. Jenks wanted to be a part of a team and advance his career, but most importantly, he wanted to provide for his growing family.
“I was a believer that CES was exactly who they said they were. At the time, everyone thought I was crazy working for what they thought was just a mom-and-pop shop. They didn’t know that this mom-and-pop shop also had a place in Boca Raton and Geneva,” he laughed. “I wasn’t there for more than six months when those same people called me asking if we were hiring.”
Those six months eventually turned into 30 years. That driver job in Ontario eventually turned into a regional manager position in Michigan. That quote about not playing electrical wholesaler in the backyard is, unfortunately, probably still true today.
From 1991 to 2004, Brad Jenks went from driver to operations manager to branch manager, all at the Waterloo branch in Canada. In his own words, the years flew by.
Then, not long after he was promoted to Waterloo’s branch manager, Brad and his family — which now included his daughter, Abigael — received the opportunity of a lifetime.
Keith Nichols, then-VP of Canada, needed to find someone to help launch City Electric Supply in Michigan. Brad Jenks made the top of the list.
“I never thought it would be me who’d get to help build us in a brand-new market from the ground up,” he said. “Michigan was a part of our massive expansion at the time — Ohio, Illinois, Arizona — it all happened in 2004 and 2005.”
“I was gearing up for my next position, and now here I was in a whole new country.”
When Brad Jenks first came to Ann Arbor in 2004, he thought it was a nice place to raise a family and start a new branch.
Vendors in Michigan thought otherwise. Plenty of other suppliers tried to expand there already. Tried, but failed.
“When I arrived, vendors there said to me, ‘Oh, here’s the next one to fail,’” Brad smiled. “In 2004, we had zero branches in Michigan. We had to build everything from the ground up. I had a lot of questions I had to figure out. In Ontario, I knew the people, I knew the market. But what could I offer Michigan?”
He focused that energy on figuring out what exactly Michigan contractors and vendors needed from their supplier. Instead of telling them, he asked them.
“I didn’t tell them how it was going to work,” he said. “I told them about the company, and then I asked, ‘How does CES fit in the market here?’ Instead of telling them how great we were, I asked them how we could get there.”
It worked. Jenks sold positivity to employees and direction to vendors. As the confidence started to build, contractors lined up to tell him what they needed from their supply house.
“Whether it was me or somebody else, this was going to happen,” Jenks said. “It paid me dividends just to listen to what these guys were telling me.”
However, it wasn’t just the what that Brad was selling, it was also the where. He’d meet up and do sales calls anywhere, even if it meant selling out of the trunk of his car in a Tim Hortons parking lot. No, really. He did that.
“I joke about it now, but I was really selling CES out of my trunk,” he laughed. “Persistence is one of those things that is a factor in this industry. We don’t sell two-year contracts; it’s all one transaction at a time.”
After what has probably been thousands and thousands of transactions since then, Brad currently finds himself thirty years into his career, managing 25 branches across three states.
And even though he’s graduated from selling CES out of his trunk, we’re confident he’d still do the same today if it meant more success for his branches.
The Reason Why
Thirty years is a long time, and Brad will be the first to admit that it’s gone by faster than he realized, especially now that he’s near 50. (Don’t ask him which side of it he’s on.)
So, what’s the reason? Why has Brad stayed with CES from his early days in Canada all the way down to, well, Michigan?
Part of the reason has to do with how he was raised. Part of the reason just has to do with CES.
“I came in with the mentality that you get a job, you work until you’re 65, and then you retire. You don’t bounce around,” he said. “I think with CES, they’ve given me new opportunities, new challenges, new positions. For me, it’s easy to say I didn’t have to look around for anything else.”
A lot of that he likes to say is just good luck. He wanted opportunities, and he got plenty of them.
And although opportunity motivated him before, he likes to think something else gets him up in the morning now.
“Just knowing that I’ve got a good team around me that works hard for me — it makes me want to work hard for them,” he said. “I think about them and their families all the time when I’m doing my job. The only way I’m successful is if people beneath me raise me up. If I don’t help them and support them, then I’m not doing my job.”
Two of his proudest stories in particular come to mind. At the North American Managers’ Conference in 2016, an employee in his branch network told him he changed his life.
“I didn’t know how to react at first,” Brad admitted. “It was the idea that I could’ve had that kind of an impact on any one person. When people come to me and say thank you for what you did, I have to tell them that I didn’t do anything. I gave them the opportunity. They were the ones to make it work, not me.”
At the conference, that moment landed. Brad feels the weight of responsibility, but it’s not a burden because it comes with the joy of seeing people succeed.
“It feels great because I can give people the same opportunities that I got,” he said. “I try to clear the hurdles and give my guys a clear track, but they’re the ones who still have to run the race.”
What was his other proud story we mentioned before? At the same conference in 2016, CES unveiled its “ONE” promise: one company, one vision, one family. For someone who came up the ranks through TES and then CES, seeing the inclusion was a very symbolic moment for Brad Jenks.
“A few of the same guys I started with in Canada were at that conference 15 years later,” he said. “For us, the ‘ONE’ idea represented all of the memories of what we’ve been through to get to this moment. At the Omni Hotel in Dallas, the lights on the building flashed CES and then TES.”
“It seems odd,” he added, “but it just brought everything together for me — what I had accomplished after the move to the U.S. and the relationships I still remember to this day.”
When Brad looks back at his time with CES, he smiles to think of all that’s happened and all of the support he’s received along the way — specifically from his family and his mentor, VP of Operations Gary Smith.
Brad Jenks Looks Ahead
So, what about the future? When Brad Jenks finally hits 65 and allows himself to retire, what does he want people to say about his legacy?
He admits it’s hard to think of that right now. (To use his words, it’s a lot like asking a frog in a blender, “What do you think you’ll taste like when you’re done?”) But he also has some truly special words he’d like his career to be remembered by.
“When you’re in the middle of it, it’s hard to think about what it is that you’re creating,” he explained. “I care an awful lot about this company, so the easiest answer is probably that I cared. I cared about my staff, I cared about my team, I just really cared. Hopefully that’s what they remember the most.”
No matter how they remember him, Brad reminded us that he still has a long way to go! We’ll have to ask him again once he hits his 40th anniversary!
On top of everything he has accomplished so far in his career, Brad also has some advice for anyone currently working their way up the ranks at CES. He likes to tell them to keep one thing in mind, one thing that has helped get him to where he is today.
“Keep learning,” he said. “This industry is like a rocket ship. One innovation comes along, like LEDs, and it changes the entire industry. You have to keep learning to keep up. This will help you bring value to your customers. It’s not about what it says on the building, it’s about who is in the building. If you always bring value, it’ll always bring customers back.”
Although no one grows up playing electrical wholesaler, we are glad that for the past 30 years Brad Jenks decided to play electrical wholesaler with us, even if he hasn’t exactly grown up, yet.