Meet the Wholesaler: Amber Sheehan-Jelinek
Building her own success in a family business
Name: Amber Sheehan-Jelinek
Title: COO and Co-owner
Company: Johnstone Supply, Sheehan Group
Number of Locations: 13
Number of Employees: 105
Year Founded: 1997
Major Product Lines: Coleman, Evcon, and Goodman
Last year, at 34, Amber Sheehan-Jelinek won recognition in Distribution Trends’ “Top 40 Under 40” feature. Younger than most executives in the industry but boasting a longer tenure than many employees, Sheehan-Jelinek has taken the road less traveled in a couple of ways and learned how to make it work for her and her business. Read a little more about what she has picked up along the way.
At such a young age, have you ever run into difficulty commanding respect in the company? If so, how do you manage that?
ASJ: As someone who entered our company full time at the age of 19 and as the boss’s daughter, difficulty commanding respect has been something I have experienced more than my fair share of. My way of managing it has varied and evolved throughout my career. Early on, I found the best path was to work harder than any of my peers. I focused on being action- and goal-oriented as I moved up the ladder within our company.
Today, I focus on staying humble by taking accountability for my weaknesses and really working to improve them. I have had the blessing of working alongside so many of the people that I now manage. Working together with them allowed them to get to know me on a deeper personal level to see that I sincerely cared about them.
Coming up in that environment, was there a moment when you knew you had “turned a corner” in terms of your skills and/or relationships and this was going to work out?
ASJ: As the boss’s daughter, people just can’t help but introduce you as his daughter, especially when you have a gregarious father, like I do. For years, I worried if I’d ever be able to step out of his shadow and be able to have relationships and respect built off of me as an individual, not as “Jeff’s daughter.”
At an industry meeting circa 2015, he was introduced by Michael Meier to another industry professional as “Amber’s Dad.” It was in that moment that I felt I had turned the corner and proved to myself that I’d be able to make this work.
The moment I realized everything was going to work out from a skills standpoint was in October 2012. My dad had just returned from an unusually long time out of the office. During lunch, we were discussing things that had gone on over the almost two months he was out. As I expressed my relief and delight that he was back to help prevent me from messing up the business, he said, “Honey, I never would have left if I thought you’d even come close to messing up the business.”
I had never looked at it from that perspective, and at that moment, I realized I would be OK. The days that I am struggling and feel like I am failing at everything I do, I think back to that moment. As his office hours continue to decline, I take it as his unspoken message to me that I am not messing up … too badly, at least.
What one piece of technology or software (outside of your phone) can you not live without professionally?
ASJ: As silly as it sounds, I simply can’t live without Excel and my oversized computer monitor!
How is your company dealing with the ongoing threat of e-commerce and consumer-direct sales?
ASJ: We are in a unique position. HVAC distributors outside of our Cooperative have to manage e-commerce solutions/platforms at the same time as driving local adoption of e-commerce, all while building their own value with their contractors. Since locally we don’t have to work on the development of e-commerce solutions, we can focus all of our bandwidth on increasing the adoption of them. Driving our sales through the Johnstone website by providing information, training, demos, and support regarding the features and functionality of our e-commerce tools is a top initiative for us.
We also have a team that solely works on our contractors’ overall adoption of technology in their own businesses. Our position is that the more we can drag our contractors into the digital age, the more equipped they become to work with their end consumer, which protects our channel.
What has changed the most in the industry since you hired in?
ASJ: My first instinct is to say the number of women in leadership roles is what has changed the most since I have hired in to the industry. However, I think the changes in technology slightly trump the changes in leadership.
What was your favorite course in college? Why? Was it the content, the teacher, something else?
ASJ: Something most people don’t know about me is I didn’t go to college. I am a perfect example of the now popular phrase, “college isn’t for everyone” that our industry preaches. I knew I wanted to get into our business and elected to learn through on-the-job experience instead. It was a risky choice, but I don’t regret it one bit.
What industry-related books, websites, blogs, social media do you follow regularly and why?
ASJ: Other than the normal industry “stuff” and standard vendor/competitor’s social media accounts, I follow:
- ITR Economics, to keep an eye on the economy. This helps with our company’s strategic plan.
- Cooling Post, to see what’s going on globally.
- Owler, for competitive intelligence.
What would be your dream job outside of this industry?
ASJ: My dream job outside of this industry would be a Disney tour guide. Who wouldn’t want to spend every day at Magic Kingdom experiencing the Disney magic and watching little kids’ dreams come true over and over each day?
Do you have a specific goal for your company within the next three years that you could share? (If yes but it’s some other time frame, feel free to share that.)
ASJ: We are focused on sustaining our double-digit sales growth while elevating the customer experience across all of our sales channels.
What motivational approach/tactic has been most effective for you in your career with regard to the employees you manage?
ASJ: I have found empowerment, listening, and use of timing to be most effective. For all the reasons I need to be empowered, they do, too. In fact, I believe Steve Jobs’ mantra, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do,” so much that I actually have it on the wall across from my desk.
Tactically, listening is one of the hardest things for me to do but the most important and essential to motivate. Motivation is often all about saying the simplest things when someone needs them the most. You don’t know what they need or how they need to hear it if you don’t listen.
Publication date: 6/3/2019