56. Continuous Learning & Growth: The Key to Success in Business | Anne Vranicic, Valin

Episode 56

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Continuous Learning & Growth | The Key to Success in Business

Anne Vranicic, the President of Valin Corporation, joins the Driven by DCKAP podcast this week to speak with Karthik Chidambaram about her 22 year journey with Valin, what she’s learned during her time at the company, how the company navigated the dot com crisis, their strategy with mergers and acquisitions over the years, what they’re doing to stay ahead of the curve in digital transformation, and much more.

With her extensive experience having worked at all levels in distribution, as well as her driving passion for the industry, Anne has taken the reins to help guide the company even further into the future as technology continues to rapidly advance, and to further Valin’s long standing reputation as the leading provider of technical solutions for the technology, energy, life sciences, natural resources, and transportation industries.


Karthik Chidambaram: Hello, everyone. Welcome to a brand new episode of the
Driven by DCKAP podcast. I'm really excited today because we have with us
the president of Valin Corporation, Anne Vranicic.

Valin started in 1974 as a distributor in the semiconductor industry. And
today they are a leading distributor of automation, heating, filtration,
fluid handling, and process control products. They serve technology, life
sciences, energy, transportation, and various other industries.

Anne started with Valin 22 years ago. She started as an intern in 2001, and
became full time in 2002. She started in the warehouse, did a lot of
different jobs, and today she's the president of the company.

I'm really excited, and it's an honor to be chatting with you, Anne. Welcome
to Driven by DCKAP podcast.

Anne Vranicic: Thank you, Karthik. I appreciate the time and I look forward
to the discussion today.

Karthik Chidambaram: Thank you, Anne. And i'm just curious to know, how did
you get hired at Valin? Can you tell us the early story?

You started in 2001 and you started as an intern, and then a lot of people
start as interns and then sometimes they go join another company, and
sometimes they get hired at the same company, but you got hired at Valin.
Can you tell us your initial years at Valin? How did you get hired?

Anne Vranicic: Oh, well I was in college, when I went to Valin and interned
for the marketing director at that time. And most of my work I was doing was
helping her build some content, write some newsletter information, and then
do some data cleanup work. And I did that for one summer.

And then I came back again and worked for her over kind of a Christmas break
period. Which was fun. I enjoyed it. But I was living, actually, in North
Carolina and I had gone out to California. That's where Valin is to do the
internship. And I actually had no intention of moving to California and I
didn't even think there was an option to work at BValinailyn, to be quite

But you know, life events happen. And I was honored when the director of
marketing went to Joe Nettemeyer, the President, and asked if she could
bring me on after I graduated college. And it was, they came to me and I, at
first I said, no, I'm going to stay out here on the East coast.

And like I said, life events happened and decisions changed. And I decided
to come out and I said, I'll give you one year. I, and then I'm moving back
East. And so they said, okay, if you're going to do that, we're going to put
you in the warehouse. I said, fine. That actually sounds kind of interesting
to me learning about kind of that pick, pack and ship and how the roots of
distribution work.

And I started doing that and, and thought that was interesting. And then got
some exposure into customer service and purchasing. I learned a bit about
operations and I ended up staying at Valin. And, throughout that time, I was
very fortunate to be able to participate with many teams and projects and
just kind of move my way around to, till today, I guess you can say.

Karthik Chidambaram: Oh, very interesting. And you started around 2001-2002,
and that was the dot com bust. And when you started with them, Valin was
making about 75 million in revenue, and then the revenues plummeted to 25
million. So, it's pretty much, like, kind of starting from scratch. Can you
tell us about that time period?

I mean I also graduated around the same time. I finished college around the
same time, so I could really relate to that. But what were some of your
learnings working at Valin? Because I'm sure that hard period taught you a
lot. What are some of the learnings in the company around that period?

Anne Vranicic: Well, I think the biggest learning was when you see trouble
like that, it's amazing to see the team effort that goes into working hard
to try to correct and encounter the efforts. I mean, with that time period,
I know our CEO and president took out personal loans to keep the business
afloat and keep payroll going. We had employees voluntarily take some pay
cuts just to keep the business going.

It was a really, really tough time and we really came together and there was
a core group that just put their heads down and said, Oh, we're going to go
out and get sales. We're going to cut our costs and we're going to get
through this. As we work through all of that Joe, our President at that
time, said we will not go through this again. And we're going to begin our
diversification efforts into other industries.

And that really put us on a trajectory of an acquisition spree. And we've
acquired 47 companies over the last 20 years. And that really diversified
our business. In 2001, we were roughly, I would say, 75 to 80 percent
focused into the semiconductor market.

And today we're split 50-50 between semiconductor and industrial. So it
really gave us a lot of balance. It gave us a lot of growth opportunities.
We can really manage the business a lot better during the cyclical periods
of the ups and downs between semi and the industrial markets. And it's given
us a lot more leeway to be able to invest in the company.

And to continue going after our growth initiatives. So, we've really put a
lot of effort into that and we're continuing to diversify the business
Within our core markets of semiconductor and industrial and when I look at
industrial I really focus in on the energy market, health sciences, and then
there's the rest of kind of the general industrial market, which is a lot of
manufacturing wastewater pulp and paper and some of those other heavier
industrial industries

Karthik Chidambaram: No, very interesting. I mean during these tough times,
you really learn a lot as a leader. And I could also relate to what you
said, because even at DKAP, not in 2000, I mean, we didn't even have a
company then, we started in 2005, but around 2012-2013, we ran into a lot of
financial trouble and we had a big payroll to meet, but you really learn a
lot during that time period in terms of the things you do well or things you
don't do.

Well, yeah. Where should you focus? Yeah, so it's really interesting that
you guys diversified and not really focus on one industry. Yeah, that's
actually a great lesson for anybody listening just talking about the
different roles you did at Valin. One of your key initiatives has been
leading the digital transformation efforts at Valin, and we are very
thankful to be partnering with Valin on your digital transformation journey.

Tell us about your digital transformation journey at Valin, and what efforts
are you guys taking right now, and how is it changing your business model?

Anne Vranicic: Yeah, no, we've always been very on the forefront of wanting
to look at where technology is going, where is industry going, where are the
customers going and how do we meet the customer where they want to be?

There's a joke in a story of back in, I think it was 1980, roughly. Valin
got its first Mac computer. And at that time, the founders of the business
said, I guess everybody was around it looking at it, and the founder said,
‘well, I don't know what we're going to do with this, but someone's going to
figure it out.’

It's kind of a joke around, kind of our philosophy. We don't always know
what we're going to do with some of the things, but we have some really
smart people that we're going to find out and, and how we're going to test
it and try it and either scale it or kill it. So we've always kind of taken
that, that philosophy.

We launched our first e-commerce site in 1998. It was, you know, it was a
very homegrown site, but it was very forward looking because most B2B
customers, or excuse me, companies didn't have e-commerce. People weren't
really thinking about that. And we had a lot of suppliers and, and That
said, why are you wasting your money, put more feet on the street, you know,
but it's that foresight that said, well, it's going in this direction.

So we need to start preparing. So we really try to take a lot of, we build a
lot of effort into trying to build foresight into our business and, and
across our VPs and the rest of the organization so we can determine what do
we need to do next so that we're not behind the scale. We started in 2006,
2007, really focusing on our back end ERP system.

And what I mean by that is we decided, okay, we really need to build this
thing out. So that is. It's a useful tool, not only for operations, but
across the rest of the business. And so we started doing some major data
normalization within our systems because we wanted to build out a reporting.
We wanted to build in strategic pricing.

We wanted to use the software as a tool to make better business decisions
and make them, Faster. And so our focus for the first, I would say from 2006
to 2010 was a lot of just data normalization in our systems. So that data
could feed our e-commerce, could feed our websites, could feed our CRM
system, et cetera.

And then from 2010 till probably about 2018, the biggest focus for us was
our back end technology stack, or that infrastructure. And we really took a
hard look at how do we build out an ecosystem that can become a 360
communications tool across our organization, and then be able to take that
data and that information and feed it to our customers and suppliers.

So that became a big focus and we did bring in outside help to help us build
that strategic vision and a five year plan, we were really fortunate to be
able to hire back actually Chris Tucker, who is our VP of IT, today, and he
really drove that vision and drove the teams to be able to implement the,
the plan, and that was extremely beneficial to the company because in 2020
when COVID hit, everybody was able to pick up their laptop, go home, and we
were still able to communicate.

I remember beforehand, we would rack our heads on, you know, how are we
going to get people to use Teams? How are we going to get people to use
these tools that we put in? And then it was just, Well, you have to, so in
the sense, you know, COVID stunk, it was terrible, but it, it was a huge
force into change management on, on utilizing the technology that we
invested in and and to be able to, to continue to operate seamlessly.

So that was a huge focus for that period of time. Today, and over the last
couple of years, what we've done is we're, although we're still continuing
to improve our backend operations and technology stack and adding a lot of
automation. To our processes to improve those and and make them faster,
quicker answers to customers.

We're starting to turn or we have turned to more of the technology stack
that's on the revenue generating side. So I look at it in two ways. I look
at technology for cost efficiencies. And I look at technology for revenue
generation. So, the revenue generation is more on the front end of the

And that's where our big focus is right now on connecting our sales and
marketing to our inside sales customer service. To our go to channels
outside. So any of our SEO, our marketing campaigns, our e commerce, our
website, and then pulling that through to be able to capture new revenue
and, and through those types of channels.

So, that is a big push for us. A lot of it. That's where the AI talk comes
in. That's where the chatbots come in. A lot of the recommendations. And so
that's, I believe that is the, the new wave of where we need to go to
continue to build the business and, and stay a front of the trends and the
way that customers and buyers are.

Looking for answers and information.

I'll stop there, but I think you get to the 20 year…

Karthik Chidambaram: No, I think it's very interesting. You walked us
through the 20 year journey of the digital transformation at Valin and at
different periods in the company, you focus on different things. Like you
rightly said, sometimes, you know, I'm just going to focus on data. Let's
get that right first. And then you focus on the back end.

And then now you focus on the front end and. Making sure the systems talk to
each other. You guys are definitely ahead of the game when it comes to other
distributors out there in terms of marketing or digital transformation and
all that. What advice would you give to other distributors out there who are
looking to do something similar to what Valin did?

Anne Vranicic: Sure. I would say that if you want to get ahead, the first
thing you have to focus on is your data. Crap in crap out is kind of the
mantra, right?

But good information and good information out. If you can start with the
basics, then you can build upon that. You have to build your foundation. You
know, the biggest change that we see is across the sales efforts right now,
and to be able to scale, I believe you have to start changing the roles and
the expectations of those roles, because you can't automate if one person is
holding the keys to everything.

So one of the things that we did was on the sales side is we took a look at
how we're managing our accounts, our customers, and rather than have one
sales person do everything from cradle to grave, we mapped out all of the
tasks that they're doing, and we built, started building teams around core

And we took the tasks and we said, all right. On the inside sales customer
service. This is what you're going to be managing and front facing with the
customer and outside sales. These are the tasks and responsibilities and
expectations that you have with front facing, with the customers.

Essentially, what we were trying to do is to break out tasks and then build
processes around those either to automate. To increase our communication,
the speed of communication to the customers and meet their expectations and
also free up time for our sales team to go after new growth initiatives,
because that is very important if all they're doing is retaining business.

then we're not going to be able to scale. So trying to free up those
resources to go after new specifications, new growth initiatives, do some
business development, et cetera. So those are the things that we're focused
on right now is, how do we look at our business? How do we meet the needs of
our customers?

How do we take those, how do we break up the tasks that need to go into
serving our customers and what do we need to do to automate, to help our
teams internally, to be able to communicate, and then how do we help free up
time for our outside sales to be able to go after new growth initiatives.

But like I said, start, go after your, whatever the data is in your system
and then start looking at your processes and your people and then apply
technology last. Don't start with the technology,, is my biggest advice.

Karthik Chidambaram: I think that's great advice. I mean, I always think
technology is just an enabler. It just helps you do things faster and

But you have to get the basics right. Well said, Anne. And a company
constantly needs to keep reinventing itself to stay ahead of the game. Not
just the company, even as a leader, one needs to constantly keep reinventing
themselves. So you have reinvented yourself many times in your career. How
do you keep reinventing yourself? How do you do that? Keep abreast with
what's happening around you.

Anne Vranicic: Yeah. I mean, there's several things. Honestly, I believe
some of the best ideas come from the people that are working at the company.
A lot of leaders, I feel, take an approach where they constantly go on the
outside and look for advice, but consultants and everything, although they
can give you some very good information and perspective, really the people
that you're working with know what's going on.

They're talking to the customer, they understand your systems, they
understand the process, they see the friction that's going on, and they
typically have some really, really great ideas. One of the things that I've
been very focused on for the last year since I've taken on this position
position is getting out and meeting with the team talking with the people I
work with at Valin and as well as talking to a lot of our suppliers,
visiting customers just trying to understand how their businesses are
shifting, where things are going, and how that translates to how Valin is
interacting with them whether it be, like I said, our supplier, or a
customer. And really those things are- it's a lot of little things that
typically just add up to some big transformation. I don't believe
transformation is a huge thing. It's a lot of little things that just add up
over time And it's not something that is going to be told to us by, like I
said, some big outside consulting firm or anything like that.

It's how we're managing the business and how we're going after new growth
opportunities and how we're serving our current customer base. You can find
a lot of innovative things to do if you just listen to your people, listen
to your customers, and listen to your suppliers, and then just pay attention
to the market dynamics going on so that you can prioritize your investments
to be able to maximize the efforts of the team and maximize the dollars that
you want to put into any of the technology or processes that you're trying
to improve.

Karthik Chidambaram: Yeah, as someone once said, you have two ears and one
tongue. So listen more. So yeah. So it's really cool.

And yeah, you listened and you became President of the company in 2023. Last
year, did you expect that you were going to be the President of the company
one day? Or how did that happen? And who told you you're going to be the

Anne Vranicic: No, I actually did not expect it. It's, and to be quite
honest, I never asked for it or never thought that it would be something I
would actually really wanted to. I, it was- it's an honor. It's an honor to
serve the people at Valin. I've been working with them for, you know, 22
years, almost 23 years now.

And many of them are very long term employees. We just had our longest
serving employee retire in February. He was with the company for 46 years.
We have several other employees that have been with the company 40 plus
years. And it's a real testament to the company and the longevity of the
people and the commitment that they've given over their careers and lifespan
to, to build up the business.

And that is one of the things that I really want to keep moving forward is
that building mentality that we're not finished. I think it keeps things
very interesting. It's a. You know, some people like to build, some people
don't need to build, but there's a lot of opportunity when you're looking at
how do we continue to evolve to meet the market demands to counter cyclical
market dynamics and changes.

And we have to be agile to be able to do that. And I think when you engage
people and then continue to engage the people that were prevailing. They
become a part of that and we see that when you see the longevity of an
employee and we, we really appreciate all of the efforts that they put in.

We recognize those continuously. They are the heartbeat of Valin, and it's,
and I want to continue that culture, and it's a, it's a tough job, it is
very tough, but it's very rewarding when you see other people step up and
say, hey, I can help, I can do this. I want to participate, and you're like,
wow, okay, maybe we're on the right track.

Karthik Chidambaram: Very nice. You get a lot of help. But when did you
first know that you were going to become the president? And how was it like
when you know, you were told that, hey, I'm going to be the new President

Anne Vranicic: Yeah, we started the discussions probably about three months
prior to the announcement, we were actually going through a very big
transition. Like I said, Valin acquired roughly 47 companies. Well, last
year we were acquired by Graybar Electric, which is a very large electrical
distribution in the United States. And with that transition was the
succession planning of putting up a new executive team.

And with that executive team, the VPs and, and my team that I work, get to
work with day in, day out. We had been working through those roles for
probably about two years prior. And with that I was asked to, if I would be
interested in stepping up and taking over. And I said, at first I said, I
need to think about it. Because that's a lot. I have a family, and my
husband and I both work, and we needed to decide if this was something that
we could manage personally and how we would do that and came home.

We had lots of discussions and ultimately came down and said, you know what,
I really want to be able to serve the people at Valin as much in this
capacity and we're going to make it happen. And so with that and the
transition with Valin was when I took this role and, and now we're just
moving. There's no rest.

Karthik Chidambaram: Very interesting. You talked about Greybar's
acquisition of Valin, but Valin has acquired 47 companies and now you have
been acquired. So tell us about what goes into a decision making process
like that. And what does this mean for the future of Valin?

Anne Vranicic: Yeah, well, Valin was a hundred percent employee owned
company. And one of the big things with our former president who is our CEO,
Joe Nettemeyer, was to make sure that whatever happened, we would not, we
would be joined up with another company that was. Either employee owned or
very focused on taking care of their employees.

There's a lot of consolidation going on in the industry and with our
culture, he really wanted to ensure that we were going to match up with
another company with a similar culture and mindset and growth oriented.

Being Graybar just happened to fit that profile, I guess. And so the
conversation started between Joe and Graybar's President and CEO, Kathy
Mazzarella, and then it just naturally went down the path. Graybar has been
very focused on diversifying their business into the industrial automation
space and Valin is strong within that portfolio.

And so it really met Graybar’s criteria within their diversification
strategy. And so we've been very fortunate to be able to be acquired by
Graybar for, like I said, there's a lot of acquisitions going on. There's a
lot of changes in the marketplace. And although balance has been on a great
growth trajectory we recognize being a midsize distributor to be able to get
to the next level.

You do need the support of essentially, kind of deeper pockets and people,
other companies that are able to continue to invest because it's getting
more expensive. It's getting more competitive. There's a lot of large
companies that are coming into this mid space. distribution industry.

And so the competition is getting pretty, pretty fierce. And so you need to
be able to have the backing and the support to continue to, to scale the
business going forward. And all of those are, all of the, that criteria is,
it matches very well with Graybar's vision of growth and where they want to

So Valin is jumping right in and we've gotten a lot of support from Graybar
to be able to do quite a bit that we haven't been able to do in the past.
And we're really excited for the opportunities that they're providing us.
And we don't want to let them down, obviously. Yeah. So, we're going to
continue to push the envelope, not only with technology, but growing our
revenue and our position within our marketplaces of semi energy and health
science and industrial.

Karthik Chidambaram: Yeah, thanks. And you talked about the different
changes that are happening in the industry and a lot of mergers and
acquisitions happening in distribution. But then there are still a lot of
small companies out there, a lot of family owned businesses that are trying
to compete.

So if you're a small business out there in this current landscape, what
strategy would you take to compete with some of the bigger players?

Anne Vranicic: Oh yeah. I mean, definitely find your niche. I think, you
know, when most people think of distribution, they think of the big box
distributors, the ones that are selling a lot of the commodity items box in
box out, a lot of the e-commerce big companies, but that's not all of

There's a lot of distribution that is very focused on specific needs within
specific industries within manufacturing. Nothing, is all box in box out. I
was learning the other day of how in some of the health science areas of how
they go about building proof of concepts for new medical equipment.

And it's just fascinating to hear their needs because it's not that they
need a widget from this site or a widget from that site, but they're looking
for partners on how do I take different components from the industrial
automation world to be able to build new equipment. And when you get into
something like that, you have to, you need engineering skills, you need
problem solvers, you need people that can think outside of just what's going
in the warehouse and what's going out of the warehouse.

And so there's a lot of opportunity out there to be able to carve a niche
for your business, but that takes listening to the customer, obviously. And
I think a lot of those family owned businesses, I think a lot of people just
know this already and are doing it, and that's what's made them successful.

The tough part is, you get to a point where it gets tough to scale, and then
that's where you have to start thinking, what's the next thing, how do I
continue, what do I need to do to reinvent and move to, to the next level of
business. And that's tough. And I don't have, really, an answer for that.
That's kind of an individual thing.

But I think everybody knows that if you really want to be successful with a
family business, find that niche and build around that. Find those strengths
and build around those strengths. I have this philosophy, you know, you can
either invest time into areas where you're good at to become great. Or
you're investing time into things that you're not so good at to become

Well, I don't want to be average. I'd rather focus on the things we're good
at and figure out how we're going to be great at it. And if you can do that,
you're going to build a recipe that can build success within your own life
and within your business.

Karthik Chidambaram: No, definitely. Right. So don't spread too thin. Be
really great and get it. What do you do? And then work on expanding to other
areas and try new things. Experiment. Yeah.

And you also talked about Valin being employee owned. You guys are 100
percent employee owned. So what is, what are the pros and cons of being an
employee owned company?

Anne Vranicic: Well, yes, like I said earlier, we were 100 percent ESOP
company employee owned company with the acquisition of Graybar. We're
actually now falling under their employee ownership structure, which is
different than Valin, but it's still very good. The pros of being employee
owned is that you get an ownership culture.

The employees get the benefit of when we perform well. And they get the not
so benefit when we don't perform well. But with that, like I said, you get a
lot of engagement. Within the employee base, because they want to see the
company do well because it benefits them. Now, it's a, the cons of it is
that you know, I don't think there are many cons.

I can't think of any to be quite honest. People want to participate in
something that they have a purpose for. And having a business that you have
an investment in, you have a purpose for it. You're not just in there day
in, day out, you know, inbox to outbox, inbox to outbox, you haven't

Relationship with the business and I believe that is a great way to treat
your employees. And that is one of the biggest reasons, like I said earlier,
that Graybar was such a great match for Valin because it was- it brings the
same culture and same mindset to the business and we want to continue to be
able to offer our employees those types of benefits.

Karthik Chidambaram: No, thank you so much for answering this, because I was
always curious, right? Are there any cons you know, with ESOPs and being an
employee owned company? So yeah, I think that's a great answer. So thank

And I mean, talking about Valin and your career and also as a woman leader,
when we were chatting last time one thing I thought was really inspiring
was, you know, at one point in your career, you even considered quitting
Valin and to take care of your kids, but then you decided to hang on and now
you're the President of the company.

So tell us you know, what went through that decision making process and how
the flexibility, which Valin offered you, helped you stay at the company?

Anne Vranicic: Oh, sure. Yeah, it was that, that was actually quite a tough
time. I'll be honest. I was working on my Master's. I was working full time.
My husband just started a business and oops, we got pregnant with our first

And so it was, financially, for both of us, we were, it was very, very
tight. I needed to continue to work just to keep our health benefits. And I
was going to night school and the first year of my son's life was- I felt I
missed quite a bit. And when I got pregnant with our second child, I really
had to sit down and get my priorities straight.

And after coming off of maternity leave and going back to work for a little
bit, my husband said, okay, I think we'll be okay if you want to take some
time off and. And then just focus on the kids in school and to, to finish
the mass, my master's and I said, okay, you know, I think that's, that's
what I need to do just to keep my sanity and, and I want to be part of my
kid's life.

And so I did go in and I talked to our VP of Human Resources and I said, I'm
going to submit my resignation. I said, I need to be home and I want to
finish school. And she said, well, did you ever consider maybe taking a
little bit of a step back and just help him part time for a while?

And I honestly didn't even think that was an option, nor did I even consider
it. You know, industrial distribution is, you know, has traditionally just
been, you know, mostly men, which is fine. And so I just didn't think it was
something that would be considered. I think I was Valin second person to
ever go out on maternity leave at that time.

But I said, you know what, what do I have to lose? I'll try it, you know, if
I don't like it and it's not working out, then. I'll go back to my original
plan and take some time off, but it ended up working and I was extremely,
extremely appreciative to the support of not only the foresight of our VP of
HR, but just the management team at that time.

Recognizing that there are times in people's lives where you have to give
more in one area than another area and being able to work with me to, to be
able to, to prioritize and manage my time. And with that, I really was
compelled to show my loyalty to Valin as well. And so I worked part time.

I finished school, finished my Master's and had a third child. And I was
able to- I would say I was working part time, but I probably wasn't working
part time because it was, it was a lot, it was more than part time. And then
just over the years, as the kids started school and started doing, I added
more and more hours and until I was fully back full time again.

So, you know, it was a time of growth for me. And it really helped me put in
perspective what's important. And I appreciated the support and I see that
with the employees at Valin and other people as well. There's times in our
lives where events happen and you need to reprioritize your time and your

And if you're somebody who is a contributor and looking to do good. I'm
willing to work with you because it doesn't last forever. Everything is in
chunks. Nothing is forever. So you may have to pull back in one area and
give a lot more in one area and then, and then it changes over time and.

You can give them one another area and pull back in, in, in another area of
your life. So it's always a give and pull. And I think it's important to
work with the people you work with to recognize those and, and help them
prioritize their time. So that's important. And it gave, I feel very loyal
to the company for that support they gave me at that time of my life.

Karthik Chidambaram: Well, I think that's really, really interesting. And I
took that from our last conversation and last chat. I really loved what you
said. And in fact, I shared it with our team as well, because not all days
are the same in somebody's life or not. All months are the same. Sometimes,
like you said, you know, all of us deal with different priorities.

We might have sick parents we need to attend to or something else is going
on in our life, which we need to attend to. And the company does need to
offer that flexibility. I really took that from you in our last chat. And I
just want to say a big thank you for sharing that. I really love it, you
know, because I think that really hit me hard because sometimes, right, you
would see an employee who was working so well, and then there could be
something that they're not doing right, and we might get upset, hey, you
know, you're not doing a good job, but then there could be something else
going on.

So it's always good to be empathetic and understand what's going on. So,
yeah, absolutely.

Anne Vranicic: I mean, We're all people, nobody's perfect. And we're all
dealing with things in one capacity or another. And, and I think as a
leader, if you don't recognize that, you run the risk of losing a lot of
good people in your business and, and I don't want to see that at all and
treat people fairly and they'll treat you well back. And so I think that's a
very important philosophy to live by.

Karthik Chidambaram: Yeah, I mean, is there anyone you are particularly
inspired by? Or what do you find inspiring in a leader? And who are your

Anne Vranicic: Oh, goodness. You know, I feel like people come in and out of
your life at certain times for a certain reason. And over the years, I've
had many different mentors.

It amazes me, you know, when you're going through different periods, whether
you're going through a growth period, you're going through a period where
things don't seem to be going right at all. People come into your life at a
certain moment to give you advice or guide you. And it always amazes me when
I see that.

I mean, there was a gentleman many years ago, and he was the one that really
encouraged me to go back and get my Master's. And he said, knowledge is
something that nobody can ever take away from you. Continue to pursue
education and learning. And that always resonated well with me. I've had
coworkers that I've worked with that have given me advice.

I had one of my coworkers I've worked with a few years ago and said for, for
several years, and he told me to the side, he said, never say that. You
don't have anything offered. He's like, you're smart. He goes, you can do
this. And, you know, just words of encouragement like that are very

And then looking at just other people that have persevered over hardships
and still put others first. Those are the people that inspire me. And, you
know, my parents are big contributors to that. My dad has always been a
servant leader. He really focuses on how he can help others. He holds people

He's not always the, you know, a soft person, if I can say that. He has high
expectations and he will hold you to them, but it really helps you grow. And
I think that's very important today. I think a lot of people come in
thinking that I know everything and I'm entitled to this. And. You know, you
can go get a college degree, a master's degree, whatever it is, learn all
sorts of cool concepts.

But once you get into it and you start building the experience. And the more
you learn, you realize you don't know a lot. So you better start not relying
just on yourself and start reaching out to others to help you along the way.
And I think that's important. I think you need to continue to treat people

And leaders that do that, I think, inspire others to rise up to the new
challenges. And I think that's, like I said, important for the young people
coming into business, any business. Realize that you don't need to know all
the answers. Continue to educate yourself, seek answers from others.

Don't act like you know it all, rely on the other people who have strengths
that complement your weaknesses. And when you can do something like that you
can really make change and that's important. In the world, that's the only
thing you can count on in this world is change to happen.

Karthik Chidambaram: No, totally. I never have a sense of entitlement like
you just said.

You're involved in a lot of women groups, like the Society of Women and
Industrial Distribution. It really reflects your dedication into empowering
more women into distribution. Could you share any impactful initiatives or
strategies that are working to encourage more women to pursue their careers
in distribution?

Anne Vranicic: Yeah, I mean, I wouldn't say I was doing anything big or, you
know, strategic and most of my work that I do is speaking with other young
women. I have mentors, I think I have two mentees, yeah, two mentees right
now, but I've been a mentor for several years to many different young women
looking to go into industrial distribution.

And a lot of our conversations really do surround, you know, how do you
manage life and work and what are your recommendations on how to communicate
and balance? And it really, women, I feel they're, they want to give their
best, but they also want, you know, professionally, but they also want a
personal life.

I mean, all of us, whether a man or a woman, you're trying to figure out how
do I, how can I be impactful, but also enjoy my life, and how do you balance
that. And finding that purpose is not always an easy thing. And it takes a
lot of self reflection on, well, what's important to you? Because like I
said earlier in my comment, you know, there was a time in my life where my
family is, and it is still today, my family is my priority.

It is my priority, my husband, my children. And so. After that is how I wrap
the rest of my work around it. And if I have to, you know, work late at
night after everyone's sleeping or early in the morning, when everyone's
sleeping, I do that quite a bit, but it's my, really my big advice to the
young people, not only women, but the young people coming into the business
world, is continually reflecting on where your priorities are and then how
are you going to wrap everything else around that and what you will find a
lot of purpose and what you do.

And, like I said, my family's my number one, but then again, serving others
and helping others succeed is my number two, and that's why I work so hard
between balancing my personal life and work life, because I find it
rewarding. Serving others is what is very rewarding to me. And so that's how
I prioritize and manage my time. I don't know if that helps too much.

Karthik Chidambaram: No, it did. You know, it did. Life work balance, as you
call it. Yeah, serve others and have a purpose.

Yeah, I mean we have come to the end of the podcast and a few last ending
questions on this podcast. We talked to a lot of leaders and one thing we
asked them is what is the question you would like to ask the next leader we

And the last leader we interviewed was Scott Sinning. He is the President of
Pricing for Distributors. He used to work for Greybar. He worked for them
for over 30 years. And the question he asked is, ‘there's a generational
shift in distribution with the aging workforce and the pending retirements
of so many. As a leader, what are you doing to inspire the next generation
of leadership to be as driven as you are in the distribution industry?’

Anne Vranicic: That's a loaded question. It's a good one. But yeah, it is
interesting to watch the huge, huge dynamic shift going on. And we call it
the gray tsunami. And by 2030, I believe will be the last of the baby
boomers that have exited the market.

And so, yes, there is a lot of knowledge and skill and expertise that's
leaving the marketplace right now. And you know, with that, it doesn't just,
you know, a lot of people will be like, oh man, it just affects our
business, it's affecting the entire economy. And, but with that, you know,
it's, it's a little scary at times because there's, like I said, a lot of
knowledge leaving, but there's a lot of opportunity that's opening up.

And for those that want to engage and want to learn and figure out how to
become good at something, there's a lot of the older generation, I should
say the baby boomers, or that really want to teach and mentor those young
people. And I see it at Valin. I see a lot of our young people really
starting to attach on to the more seasoned employees that probably will be
retiring in a couple of years. And they're trying to learn as much as they
can from them.

There's a lot of opportunity and if you can recognize the value of that
knowledge and that expertise and take the time to dig in, listen and learn.
You're going to put yourself above and ahead of others that are just trying
to figure it out through a book. So I feel right now, while we still have
the time, it's extremely important to work and learn from the knowledge
that, like I said, is going to be retiring in a couple of years.

And I think that's very motivating because, like I said, education opens up
opportunity. And there's a lot of learning that can be still done and go get
it. Go, go get it. Become the next expert.

Karthik Chidambaram: Yeah. Keep learning. Yeah. Well said, Anne.

So now it's your turn to ask a question. So what question would you like to
ask the next leader we interview?

Anne Vranicic: You know, I think one of the biggest shifts that I'm seeing
is going from an individual seller to more of a team sales approach.

And I'm interested in understanding how other companies are looking at how
they're positioning their sales, marketing, customer service teams to work
together, to grow their Sales efforts, because that's a big thing for us, is
team selling. And I'm always curious of, how others are building those teams
to be able to interface with customers to get scale and growth.

Karthik Chidambaram: No, I really like that question because it's just not
about the sales person but it's about the team and people are not just
buying the sales person. They're buying the team. They're buying the
company. Yeah. Thank you.

And I would like to end with this question. What book are you reading right

Anne Vranicic: I think I have like three of them right now, but the business
book I'm reading right now was actually recommended to me by Susan Conte.
She's been, I've been very honored to be able to start working with a
leadership coach, and she recommended the book called Radical Candor and I'm
almost finished with it. I think I have about a chapter left, but it's an
interesting book on having conversations with people and how to set
expectations and how to communicate that's positive, but motivating, but
sets expectations on holding people accountable to what they say.

So, it's a good book. It's interesting. It's all about communication. I feel
like that's the, the, the reason why we all have jobs is, is just to
communicate, communicate, communicate.

Karthik Chidambaram: No Radical Candor is really, really interesting. So,
Ray Baggio talks about it a lot and also Reed Hastings and his book. I think
another book you should probably check out on radical candor is No Rules
Rules. Hastings, you know, I think that's a great book as well. So, yeah, I
mean, I practice radical candor as well. So, I mean, it's really

Anne Vranicic: I'm on the right track. If another, if a smart person like
you is reading that, I'm in good.

Karthik Chidambaram: I'm not sure about being smart, but I mean, the book
I'm reading right now is the Essentialism. This is by Greg McKeown. So it's
a great book as well. You know, you don't really need a lot of things. You
keep subtracting, keep eliminating. I just completed reading that book. So
yeah, that was a good book.

Anne Vranicic: Yeah, I'm a big organization person. So I have a rule of,
bring something into your house, you have to take something out of it.

Karthik Chidambaram: I love that actually.

I mean, I really enjoyed this conversation. Thank you so much. You know, you
have a very inspiring journey. I mean, I got inspired. In fact, like I said,
I also shared some of our learnings and our little chat we had in prep to
this conversation with our team. I really learned a lot.

Thank you so much for this great conversation. Thank you for joining Driven
by DCKAP podcast.

Anne Vranicic: It was so nice to chat with you today. You guys have a great
day. Thank you.

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Episode 56