The summer of 1997 was a busy one for Amber Sheehan-Jelinek and her family. Her dad was opening up the family’s first Johnstone Supply location in Detroit, and it was all hands on deck.
“We worked long hours prepping the building, setting up the shelving, checking in product, and even hanging the outdoor signs,” said Sheehan-Jelinek, 34. “One of my favorite memories from that summer is when my sister and I, at 12 and 13, helped our dad hang our original sign outside the building.”

While that summer was particularly memorable, Sheehan-Jelinek has been involved in the family business for much longer than that.

“I grew up in the business and was very fortunate to have my father as a mentor who encouraged me to get involved in all aspects of the business,” she said. “As a teenager, I discovered a true passion for HVACR distribution. Among my friends and family, I’ve always been referred to as ‘an inquisitive little creature,’ so the opportunity to help solve our contractors’ unique challenges on a daily basis inspired me to join our business.”

From warehouse to warranty to branch manager, there aren’t many positions Sheehan-Jelinek hasn’t held at the company. Today, she operates as the company’s COO.

“At each point along the way I learned how to execute, contribute, improve, and relate to each role,” she said. “Being brought up the ranks this way has helped me have empathy, insight, and leadership in ways I simply wouldn’t have had I not been.”
Sheehan-Jelinek insists HVAC distribution is comprised of some of the best people you’ll find in any industry.

“This is one of the last industries where it really is all about relationships,” she said. “This industry is ‘old school’ in all the right ways. People do things simply because they’re the right things to do.”

Sheehan-Jelinek is driven to make a difference in as many people’s lives as she can.

“Not to sound cheesy or cliché, but I want to make a difference,” she said. “Helping people with their careers is a way to help them change their lives. I work closely with the ‘youngsters’ in our company to make sure they get and stay engaged in our company. This industry can be a career for just about anyone, not just another job. Careers change people, provide opportunities, and offer self-worth. There is nothing more rewarding for me than making a lasting positive impact in someone’s life, and I have hopes to do so for as many people as possible.”

As a Xennial, Sheehan-Jelinek can relate to an existence before the internet and one heavily entranced within it.

“I’m of the only generation that can truly relate to both generations before and after me,” she said. “The new kids have a tough time relating to the demographics of our industry. My pre-internet childhood helps me relate to the prior generations in ways that are important to them. Having technology develop alongside me through adolescence allows me to relate to the generations after me as well. Being just old enough to remember the ‘old days’ before computers, iPads, cellphones, etc., I can relate to and build relationships easier with the current, albeit changing, demographics of our industry.”

Her advice to the industry’s next generation: Learn and network as much as you can.

“There are a lot of people out there who are willing to teach you the industry,” she said. “Be diversified in what you learn. Go out with a contractor and walk in his shoes for the day, visit manufacturers’ facilities, and go work a week with a wholesaler. Take people up on what they offer to teach you. Network and create opportunities for yourself.”

When not working, Sheehan-Jelinek devotes most of her time to her two small children. She does enjoy scrapbooking, as well, when her schedule allows.

“I’m genuinely enthusiastic about our industry because I’m doing something I really enjoy and really care about,” she said. “This is an exciting time in our industry. We are leading our companies though the digital migration and changing landscape that journey brings. It’s impossible not to be enthusiastic about that.”

Publication date: 12/19/18