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128: Attracting a New Wave of Leaders in Distribution: Revisiting Steve Deist

May 17, 2023

Distribution has a PR problem. Longtime listeners will no doubt recognize that phrase as one of Jason's favorites. The lament takes aim at the industry's lackluster attempts to attract fresh talent, anyone who hasn't grown up in a family business and, therefore, remains clueless to all that distribution offers. Steve Deist, chief operating officer of Ewing Irrigation, agrees. He chats with Jason about the math that makes distribution work, the industry's noble mission, and, of course, the value proposition about which more young people should know. 

"I'm really, really boring," laughs Steve before launching into his origin story. His career trajectory, while not glitzy - an engineering degree followed by time on the manufacturing side, 20 years worth of consulting, 4+ in his current role - has provided him with a unique vantage point from which he can see the industry's promise and pitfalls. 

"One of the first ah-has that you get from distribution is that it's all different, right? If you've seen one, you've seen one." Steve considers the sheer diversity reason enough to consider distribution as a viable career option. Add to that distribution's persistent presence as an economic force, and you've got a recipe for steady professional growth. From the 1970's onward, for instance, "the number of the percentage of the GDP and the number of wholesale distribution companies is pretty darn stable." According to Steve, that's a function of the key value that distributors provide. 

So why don't more folks out of college (or even high school) give serious consideration to distribution? Messaging. 

"I think we tend to be a little shy and not willing to put our employee value proposition out there," Steve says, pointing out that distribution doesn't do a very good job about talking itself up. Sure, big tech gets all the glossy press. Yes, their hotel-like HQs are status campuses. Distribution, however, offers unprecedented opportunities for advancement - and far earlier than those management-heavy behemoths. 

The industry also offers an exceptional relationship-building, difference-making environment that resonates with Gen Z. "At Ewing, I don't care about selling them this rotor or this bag of fertilizer this month. I mean, I want to do that," he laughs. Ultimately, Steve says that Ewing's goal is to make their customer successful, to help them grow rather than simply rating a transaction. "That's a long-term career relationship," Steve says - the kind that will attract a new wave of leaders.


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“A distributor is very much about micro marketing; they win the battle one customer in one relationship at a time.”

“One of the first ah-has that you get from distribution is that it's all different, right? If you've seen one, you've seen one.”

“The winners and losers in the future are going to be based on the talent that you can attract.”

“I think we tend to be a little shy and not willing to put our employee value proposition out there and be proud of it, and kind of talk it up.”

“These days, an influencer or someone in your circle has much more impact on the decisions you make than mass media did.”

“There's still a lot of people that don't go to college in this country, [ ] and those are great candidates for us.”

“Entrepreneurs win by adapting very quickly to the market, to the labor market and the customer market.”






Distribution Talk is produced by The Distribution Team, a consulting services firm dedicated to helping wholesale distribution clients remove barriers to profitability, generate wealth and achieve personal goals.   

This episode was edited & mixed by The Creative Impostor Studios.

Special thanks to our sponsor for this episode: INxSQL Distribution Software, integrated distribution ERP software designed for the wholesale and distribution industry.


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