Co-COO John Gray Celebrates 35 Years at City Electric Supply
Before he became Co-Chief Operating Officer in 2017, before he ran branches and districts that stretched from the Carolinas to Philadelphia, John Gray started out the way a lot of employees did at City Electric Supply.
He started out as a driver.
In 1986, John Gray joined CES at just 18 years old. In his first years with the company at CES Watford and CES Hemel in England, Gray went from delivering supplies to organizing the warehouse to selling door-to-door.
“When we opened CES Hemel, it was a brand-new branch, and we had no customers,” John Gray said. “I called on everybody — from residential to industrial. I didn’t really care if anyone said no to me because I never accepted it.”
Some customers worked with him, and some threw him out. Some eventually gave up entirely and let a young, ambitious John Gray have an opportunity to prove what he could do.
“I still remember one customer telling me he didn’t like my company, he didn’t like me, and he didn’t want me to come back again,” Gray laughed. “I went, ‘Oh, at least you know us then!’”
In Gray’s own words, that was like a red rag to a bull. He kept going back, and eventually, even that customer gave him a shot to supply him.
“In the end, I think part of him admired it,” Gray said. “He gave us one chance on a list of material that was all messed up and needed everything to be labeled. Well, we delivered it, and he became one of my biggest customers.”
That tells you a lot about John Gray. Even now, 35 years later, he’s still that same ambitious person who started so many years ago. Fortunately for us, customers stopped throwing him out of places.
His passion for the business and helping customers earned him a branch manager position at CES Harrow in Northwest London at just 24 years old. He helped turn it into one of the most profitable branches in the district — although he credits a lot of that success to his district manager at the time, Bill Hogg.
“He scared me,” Gray laughed. “But he kept me on the straight and narrow, and let me tell you, that was not an easy task when I was 25 because I was really confident in what I could do.”
Over the next four years, that confidence began to fuel the rest of Gray’s career.
Coming to America
By 1997, after over a decade of hard work, Gray got his chance to move from England to the United States in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“There was a huge culture shock moving to Charlotte,” Gray explained. “But I knew it was time to move on from what I was doing. It was new and good for me and my wife in lots of ways. Of course it was challenging, but I knew the opportunity was there.”
Growing with City Electric Supply
When John Gray came to the U.S., City Electric Supply had about 50 locations in Florida and was just beginning to expand into the Carolinas.
“Nobody in their wildest dreams could imagine it’d turn into what it is today,” he said. “You just thought, ‘I’ll come over here, do a job, do the best I can, and open a few branches.’”
Well, Gray did that — and a whole lot more.
Over the next 20 years, Gray helped oversee new branches in North Carolina, Tennessee, Boston, Kansas, Oklahoma, and more recently Philadelphia and Washington.
“My geography was all over the place, but I was fortunate to have worked with a lot of good people. When I couldn’t be somewhere, a lot of those guys really ran that business. That’s probably why it was so good — because I wasn’t involved in it,” he laughed.
But during this time that John Gray was opening new districts, he likes to credit a lot of that success and growth to the Mackie family.
“A big part came from the Mackie family’s influence. They continued to invest in the company, and they were dedicated to growing the business. But it also came down to having the right people in our branches.”
Today, CES has over 500 locations, all with the right people in the branches.
The Future of City Electric Supply
While having over 500 locations in the United States is nice, John Gray doesn’t want the incredible growth at CES to end there.
“I’d certainly like for CES to open 30 to 40 new branches every year,” he said. “We want to continue to grow our network, and I believe we can do that.”
And right now, a big part of that network includes Puerto Rico.
“I have a personal interest in what we’re doing in Puerto Rico. We just opened our first branch there, and we hope to open more soon. I really believe in that market and the opportunity there,” he said.
How does he plan on tackling the market? With the same passion that’s gotten him this far. Even today, after all the success he’s had in the industry, John Gray still sees himself as that 18-year-old underdog who was just looking for more opportunity.
“We’re a huge company, but we still operate like we’re an underdog, and I still consider myself as an underdog, too,” Gray said. “I never truly felt like I arrived. I constantly have new goals, and they motivate me to keep going.”
When asked what he’s most proud of, John Gray was quick to respond.
“My proudest moments are when I look back and see the people I brought through,” he said. “When I see them grow as individuals and see what they achieve, it’s nice to be a part of that success. You achieve through them achieving.”
And for anyone who’s seeking to grow their career at City Electric Supply, he has some advice worth remembering.
“Don’t let good people intimidate you,” he said. “Have a history of surrounding yourself with good people because good people will not sit still, good people will always find a way.”
We’re honored that John Gray found his way at City Electric Supply. We’re so proud to celebrate his 35th anniversary, and we can’t wait to celebrate even more milestones together!