Distributor Spotlight: Winsupply's Rob Ferguson
Missouri native works his way up from truck driver to director of operations at the 600-location distributor.
If there is a poster child for the opportunity the PHCP-PVF industry presents for individuals, Winsupply’s Rob Ferguson would have to be a finalist to be cast in that role.
Ferguson started in the industry at age 12 working at Suburban Supply, his family’s supply house in the Kansas City, Missouri area. Ferguson’s grandfather and father were plumbers who ended up buying the supply house they frequently did business with. “I drove a truck for the supply house before I had a driver’s license,” he says with a laugh.
Ferguson worked for the family business through high school and college. After college graduation, Ferguson went to work in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for the distributor bearing his last name.
“I worked there with the intent on seeing how the big guys did it,” he says. “The plan was to come back and help grow and expand Suburban Supply.”
Ferguson’s dad later was contacted by Winsupply’s Kent Best, and about a year later Suburban was acquired by Winsupply. “I was brought back to help them with the acquisition and get them onboard with Win,” he says.
Fast forward a year and Ferguson took over as local president of Grandview Winnelson, located about five miles south of downtown Kansas City. He ran that location for seven years. “I was ready to become a local president probably before I was ready to become a president,” he says. “I was 26, and I told Ken, who had become an area leader, I am ready for my own company and I don’t care where it is or what shape it’s in. He said he was waiting for my call.”
Ferguson’s career progression didn’t stop there. He was contacted by Winsupply COO Monte Salsman about becoming an area leader, a role he held for four years, responsible for Win local companies in Missouri, Kansas, southern Illinois and Nebraska before being promoted last April to the company’s vice president of operations, reporting directly to Salsman. Ferguson is the 600-location company’s highest ranking executive who started out working at a local Win company.
Ferguson attributes his climb up the Win ranks to the people he’s worked with. “Some of it is the right timing and luck, but I’ve always worked around people who are better at their jobs than I am,” he says. “I’ve worked with people who care and have wanted to help me. I’ve had a lot of great mentors. You have to be willing to do everything. I came up through the industry ranks. I drove a truck and I’ve worked in warehouses putting boxes on shelves at 10 p.m. You have to earn the respect of the people you work with.”
And once he became a local president, Ferguson made sure he surrounded himself with excellence. “I was able to build a good team around me,” he says. “When I took over Grandview the recession hit. We were one of the only companies in the region where we were growing 30, 40 and 50% during the recession. That was a tribute to how our team was able to take care of our customers. The customers that stayed busy did business with us. The recession was one of the best things that ever happened to me and my company.”
Now Ferguson is working with Win local presidents across the country as well as helping identify future Win superstars. In the Winsupply coownership model, Winsupply has majority equity in each location while local company presidents and sometimes employees own substantial equity.
“It takes a very special person to work in our organization,” he says. “It’s a high-risk-high-reward mentality. There’s no cap in pay here. The stock value of a local company is based on success. We ask people to have a minimum 20% return on investment and 10% earnings growth year after year. Do the math. That’s how people get extremely wealthy. We have a lot of people in our organization retiring as millionaires. People know about Win but don’t necessarily understand Win. Yes, you have to write a check to come work here, but you also get to own up to 30% of the business and take only about 15% of the risk. It’s almost too good to be true.
“We are good at leasing buildings and putting inventory in them. The hard part is finding leaders who are willing to invest and have that risk-reward scenario. Those are the people we are looking for.”