30 Under 35 Profile: Luke Allen

While many in electrical distribution have risen through the ranks, Luke Allen arrived at Dickman Supply from a completely different industry: the banking and finance industry.

In Columbus, Ohio, he was a senior analyst at JP Morgan Chase. He moved back to Sidney, Ohio, (where he grew up) and was working as a commercial loan underwriter, when one day he ran into an acquaintance.

"I had known the family who owns Dickman Supply. I bumped into the owner [Tim Geise] who asked what I was doing," Allen said. "He asked if I wanted an opportunity to come on board there. He was looking for a finance-pricing-numbers type of guy."

Surprised somewhat at the invitation, Allen found the idea appealing and accepted the offer in 2007.

"When I made the change, our owner was looking for somebody to help with the banking side of the business," Allen explained. "As we have grown and banks put more reporting requirements on companies, he was looking for an insider, I guess you could say."

Coming from one industry to another might have caused some of Allen's new colleagues to look at him skeptically, being an outsider. But Allen explained that he had few problems adjusting to the electrical industry, and credits his new colleagues for being generous with their help.

"Everybody was real helpful, got me up to speed and helped me to learn the business. It was a pretty smooth transition," he said.

Allen went to work on Dickman Supply's margins and pricing—right up his alley in terms of experience and background.

"So it wasn't too scary of a transition. Now if I'd had to jump in right away to working on a counter or outside sales, something like that, in a brand-new industry then that would've been a little intimidating," Allen said.

He also worked as a warehouse supervisor before becoming operations manager, his current role. More recently, Allen explained, he has been spending time dealing with commodities and prices. In that role, Allen cites the company's inventory as his biggest responsibility.

"The biggest thing is managing our inventory with the fluctuations in commodity prices. You have the copper market, the steel market," he said. "And the manufacturers, it seems, are changing their pricing sheets every other day. The big thing is to make sure we have enough inventory to cover ourselves when a customer comes in."

Allen and his wife Kristin have three children: two boys, Grady, age 5 and Ty, age 4, and a daughter Kate, age 2. He is also a third-generation Allen working and running the family farm when not busy at Dickman Supply.

In mid-June, the farm "made its first cut of hay," Allen said. "The boys are now getting strong enough to where they can start dragging bales across the wagon. That's been fun to see."

Some day he hopes the Allen children will be the fourth generation of the family to work on the farm.

"We grow hay and also raise corn and beans. I joke that I work at Dickman to support my farming habit," he said.

Q. What advice do you have for other young professionals in the electrical industry?
A. Lean on experienced coworkers and industry veterans. The amount of knowledge they have is more than you can get in a book.

Q. In your six years there, what has changed the most in the industry?
A. I think consolidation while the other would be inventory management. The manufacturers are all getting down into lean inventory and just in time [inventory]. The contractors don't have materials on their shelves like they used to. And of course distributors don't want to have the carrying costs of having five months of inventory. Seems like most distributors are getting down to two months of inventory. So I'd say inventory management and consolidation in the industry.

Joe Nowlan is a Boston-based freelance writer/editor and author. He can be reached at jcnowlan@msn.com.