Magazine article Business Credit

Winning at Credit Department Culture: Ferguson Enterprises Inc

Magazine article Business Credit

Winning at Credit Department Culture: Ferguson Enterprises Inc

Article excerpt

What fuels an efficient, successful trade credit department? If you ask any number of credit professionals at Ferguson Enterprises Inc., the short version of the answer is simple: the people. And at Ferguson, one of NACMs first national corporate members, the company has a lengthy track record of investing in its people.

Based in Newport News, VA, Ferguson is the largest plumbing wholesaler in North America and a major distributor of HVAC&R equipment, waterworks and fire-protection products as well as industrial pipes, valves and fittings. At a time when the "do more with less" culture permeates companies globally and business travel budgets are being slashed across the board, Ferguson stands out as a contrarian.

"I think the thing that has contributed most to our success as a credit department is the company's willingness to invest in the associates in so many ways," said Adam Easton, CCE, director of credit management. It is part of a "lead, don't follow" ethos, according to Debra Deihl, Ferguson vice president of financial services.

"We tell our people 'don't always do what everyone else is doing or has done; Do your own research. Don't be afraid to come to another conclusion.' You might just be the only person in the room that is right," Deihl noted.

What Makes Ferguson, Ferguson

One of the company's trademarks is ensuring all levels of credit staff are well-educated on the evolving best practices in the business. Ferguson's dedication to training its employees internally and sending them outside their respective offices is noteworthy.

"Education is vital to making people think bigger, how they approach work and make decisions," said Deihl, who has been with Ferguson for 17 years. "That's what we do every day: make decisions."

Deihl noted she is particularly proud of and impressed by Ferguson credit staffers who return from NACM's Graduate School of Credit and Financial Management (GSCFM), one of many opportunities Ferguson funds 100% for approved employees through its company scholarship program. "They bring back what they've learned at NACM Grad School; they talk to management," she said. "The key is not just giving to one person, it's them sharing with others. We've seen that it has made a difference in how people do their jobs."

Ferguson scholarships aren't only earmarked for GSCFM-bound students; employees may apply for various levels of outside education. For an employee out in the field, Regional Credit Operations Manager Tristin Morgan, CBF, said one of the key boosts to her career was being allowed to travel to a weeklong Financial Statement Analysis course at NACM-National's headquarters. "That was so valuable to me during my formative years with the company," said Morgan, one of four Ferguson staffers on that trip. "It really broadened my spectrum."

Education helps Ferguson allow for a more decentralized approach to staff management in its various offices. With customers spread throughout the country, there is a level of trust that the credit managers are well-versed in what they're doing. "Ferguson recognizes the value of being in the field and understanding the local field. Of course, there are processes and procedures, but we let them work individually and work with the customers bringing to the table what they do best," said James Bailey, CCE, northeast regional credit manager. "There is a lot of leeway in how they can handle the relationships with customers. I think it makes things more interesting and more fun."

Numerous Ferguson credit professionals told NACM this management style promotes a collaborative vibe throughout the company. Also helpful is that ideas do not flow only from the top down, which is the norm in some more traditional workplaces.

"We encourage our associates, regardless of level, to give feedback up through the channels for improvement and ideas," said Bailey. "We want our associates to actually speak up. …

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