Debbie Ellis is a 26-year veteran and the current District Sales Manager with G&W Electric Canada, a global supplier of electric power equipment since 1905, which supports its sister company Survalent Technology, a supplier of advanced distribution management systems which includes SCADA, OMS, and DMS since 1964. We had a chance to interview Deb from G&W, and to ask her about her journey to where she is today.
Deb’s first steps began in the midst of an incredibly busy university career. She was attending school full time and supporting herself with three separate jobs as a receptionist, a retail worker, and a data entry clerk with GEC Alstom International, a supplier of low voltage switchgear and other product lines. Her beginnings as a data entry clerk with GEC Alstom International may seem humble, and undoubtedly familiar to university students everywhere, but Deb was determined to grow her knowledge. Professional curiosity is important, even in “entry level” positions – by expressing her interest in learning more about the product, Debbie got her first technical introduction to switchgears while working at a part-time job. Her hard work had not gone unnoticed, as G&W hired her as the inside sales representative, which has led her down the path to where she is today. This taught Deb to never underestimate experiences, no matter how seemingly small.
Working with WiRE:
We asked Deb about how she started with WiRE, and what her experience has been like. Prior to WiRE, Deb had 15 years of inside sales & marketing experience and 8 years as the District Sales Manager in Ontario with G&W. She had been involved with several business acquisitions during G&W and Survalent’s growth. Her decision to move to Outside Sales was spurred by the fact that her son had grown into a young adult, and Deb felt it was time to prioritize growing her professional career. In this pursuit, Deb met Joanna Osawe, the Co-founder and Co-chair of WiRE, and was invited to be part of the advisory committee.
Since then, WiRE’s network and capacity has grown, providing additional opportunities to network and learn more about the industry. For Deb, getting to know people, building a reputation, and connecting with people within this industry has been incredibly valuable. Networks help build a web of professional contacts that can enrich one’s experience and exposure to different industries, provide guidance and support through challenges, and help point us in the right direction, wherever we might want to be.
Furthermore, WiRE’s monthly Speaker Series and field trips to various industries tie back into Deb’s initial professional curiosity: WiRE has allowed her to learn about industries and worlds that she may otherwise not have known. This is valuable both to new market entrants and long-time professionals: it can help inform you of where the industry pulse is currently, and where it may be heading next.
Challenges and Opportunities:
The renewable energy industry still comes with its own set of challenges – it remains a predominately male-dominated industry. and as is probably most clear in the world of sales, a lot of business can happen outside the office in the social world. Deb’s advice is to find common ground with your customers, which can help spark that first conversation. In her experience having worked with predominantly male field staff, finding that connecting “bridge” can make all the difference. For example, Deb, being a big NASCAR fan, has a NASCAR sticker on the back of her safety helmet – and though seemingly small, it has helped her break the ice and provide the first steps in developing successful professional relationships.
In this vein, Deb’s advice is to be well-versed in a wide range of topics, to provide the tools necessary to discover that commonality. Scanning the headlines, following news updates, and making the effort to speak with colleagues and friends are all small ways to keep up to date. Most importantly though, the primary focus of any relationship (professional or otherwise) should be to build trust and respect. Focus on maintaining a professional and knowledgeable reputation, but also know when It is ok to say “I don’t know”, and work to fill that knowledge gap for the next meeting.
Finally, Deb’s advice to students and those looking to make a career change into the industry:
1) Seek and take advantage of opportunities to attend conferences, participate in events, and volunteer as time permits. Print business cards, even if you aren’t working yet, so you can begin the networking process as soon as possible. And as first impressions are important, always dress for success – business casual at a minimum (field trips being the exception).
2) Never “burn a bridge” – your networks are life-long assets, and in the case of renewable energy, the industry is small.
Deb’s success in both her education and career are a testament to her professionalism, hard work, and passion and her insights and advice about entering and navigating the industry are useful to women and men across all sectors. In summary: focus on building strong networks and reap the benefits at many levels, find the commonality to connect with people, and finally, be present, professional, and engaged.
By Jennifer Ng, WiRE Volunteer