A Final Word from VP of Operations Jim Lawson After Nearly 45 Years at CES
On June 30, 2023, Jim Lawson retires as Vice President of Operations for City Electric Supply (CES). His retirement marks the end of a nearly 45-year career, which included opening nearly 115 CES branches.
A Career Paralleling the Company’s Growth
Shortly after his wedding in 1979, Lawson responded to a newspaper job announcement for a sales representative. The gig came with a company car. “I didn’t have a car, and I wanted a car. So, I decided to apply,” he laughed. Thanks to that ad, Lawson joined CES, also known as City Electrical Factors (CEF) in the United Kingdom, as an outside sales representative in Glasgow, Scotland. He got that company car and launched a career spanning two continents and almost five decades.
Founded in 1951 by Tom Mackie in Coventry, England, the company expanded over the decades. In 1983, CES began operations in the United States. Lawson’s own path mirrored the company’s growth. He opened the Glasgow City Centre store as a branch manager in 1985 and by 1991 was a group manager with 10 stores reporting to him.
“CES has always been about the people,” according to Lawson. He remembers meeting Mr. Mackie in Scotland for the first time; following a tradeshow, “Mr. Mackie helped load the trucks at the end of the night. I will never forget my first interaction with him because his humanity was so memorable,” he said.
Once he understood and embraced that culture, “Why would I want to work anywhere else?” Lawson said.
Lawson Helps with U.S. Expansion
In 1996, he and his wife, Lynn, two children, Craig and Scott, and 10 suitcases flew from Scotland to Raleigh, North Carolina, so he could help with the CES expansion in the United States.
“I wanted to come to America and build something from scratch,” Lawson said.
CES did not yet have name recognition in the Carolinas, but Lawson rose to the challenge. “In the early days, we didn’t have anything to sell and no one to buy from. But when you’re young, you’re full of self-confidence, and you can take on the world,” he said. “The customer walking in the door knows what they want. If they like you, the customer will find a way to do business with you. I learned that early, and I’m glad I did.”
Over the years, Lawson worked to launch CES branches in North Carolina, South Carolina, Colorado, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and North Florida. In total, about 115 stores opened under Lawson’s guidance. “Good people want to work hard and do their job, and my job is to help them grow and prepare for their next steps,” Lawson said.
CES now has close to 600 U.S. branches in 30 states.
“I like starting things from scratch. You can build the dream,” he said. By the time he opened branches in Colorado and the South East, CES had a more established reputation in the United States. “But when I did it in the Carolinas, I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Lawson said.
Lawson Offers Advice
CES is now a Lawson family affair; his son, Scott, serves as branch manager for CES North Charleston.
Many of those Lawson recruited to CES also continue to work for the company.
“The biggest thing for me is watching the young guys come through and progress through the company. I enjoy helping them in their professional journeys. Seeing them become managers and going through the ranks gives me great satisfaction,” he said.
Lawson has confidence in the team he’s leaving behind. His advice for them? “Don’t get away from the core values, but when you have to adapt, do it. Just because it worked 10 years ago doesn’t mean it will work today,” he said.
“The only thing in life that’s constant is that things are going to change,” Lawson said.