AGE: 36

How long have you been in the PHCP-PVF industry?
I spent too many summers to count working in a warehouse pulling customer orders and doing inventories through my high school and college years. Back then, however, it was just part-time work. I made the career choice to join Hugh M. Cunningham in 2011 and have spent the last 11 years in the industry as a manufacturer’s representative.

What drew you into the industry?
The construction industry was in my DNA from birth with two generations of family before me working in the business. Even though the industry was a huge part of my life growing up, I opted to pursue a different path post-college in the information systems field for a few years. I found myself missing the face-to-face relationships of how the PHCP industry operates when it felt like I was an unknown employee in a vast organization. There’s something powerful when you work arm-in-arm with distributor, vendor, and contractor partners to solve problems.

What is the most rewarding aspect of working in the industry?
AC: The people are what make this industry so amazing. It’s so rewarding to be working in one of the last vestiges of relationship-based business. I love that I get to meet so many different people, and face new challenges daily that make me feel like I’m contributing to solving a greater problem. Over the years, I’ve met so many incredible people that I get the privilege to do business with that have turned into lifelong friends. 

What is one thing you wish more people knew/understood about the PHCP-PVF industry?
Our industry is in desperate need of great people to come aboard. We are living in an era of online chat support, robots that clean your house and call centers that cannot replicate the “personal touch.” There’s a substantial generational gap across every layer of the industry including distributors, vendors, manufacturer’s representatives, and especially the contractor trades. If you like dealing with people there’s a tremendous amount of opportunity to have a rewarding career that’s more than just a job.

What has been the proudest moment in your career so far?
I work for a 3rd generation family-owned business that’s named after my grandfather, Hugh M. Cunningham. Hugh passed away suddenly about a year before I was born, and I was never afforded the opportunity to get to know him. My proudest moments are the multitude of occasions that industry partners have taken the time to tell me a personal story about my grandfather, the kind of man he was and the business he ran. I feel so connected with him through those slivers of history that I never would have heard working outside of our industry. Our agency has changed a lot since he started the company in 1947, but I trust he’d be proud that we haven’t forgotten our core values and focus that he instilled 75 years ago.

What is one thing most people don’t know about you?
When I’m not on the road making sales calls I love to be outside camping, hiking, and biking. I rode a bicycle from the Missouri River to the Mississippi river in the Summer of 2017 as part of the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). It was a total of 411 miles and 13,078’ elevation climb over 6 long days. I’m not sure if my wife is ready to forgive me yet for that summer “vacation.”

Why he was chosen as a Next Gen All Star Top 20 Under 40 winner:
“Austin is a well-respected young professional and is wise beyond his years. As the third generation in this family-owned business, he helps bridge the gap between the old-timers and the younger generation in our industry. He has the ability to adapt to whatever situation is in front of him, whether it's helping resolve a customer issue, negotiating with a manufacturer or mentoring a new employee.

Austin continually brings fresh perspective to the business, infusing new ideas and technology. To enhance his education and work experience, Austin completed the IPA/MRERF Certified Professional Manufacturers Representative (CPMR) program. This executive education program helped him gain insight into operating a more effective and profitable rep firm while acquiring a network of colleagues from many industries.

Because Austin is so relatable and approachable, he has been able to maintain and strengthen our companies' relationships with our legacy manufacturers, while at the same time developing relationships with new vendor partners. The suggested attributes of a nominee for this prestigious honor are a young professional that entered this industry to make a difference, while at the same time driving the industry into the future. Austin is a rising star in our industry who constructed a solid foundation early in his career. As he continues to build onto the legacy of HMC, it is in his heritage and nature to encourage and support others within this industry to grow and thrive,” says Hal Haas, manager, factory support team, Hugh M. Cunningham Companies.