Jack Phelan, president of TriFactor (Lakeland, FL) began his term as 2008 MHEDA President on January 1. TriFactor Chief Operating Officer JJ Phelan-Jack’s son- sat down with the new president to provide readers of MHEDA Edge an introduction to MHEDA’s 54th leader: his background, his thoughts on business, insights into working with family and his goals for engaging MHEDA’s next generation.
JJ: How did you enter the material handling industry?
Jack: I responded to an ad in the newspaper for a salesperson.
Why material handling sales?
My father would come home from work and talk about the life of the salesman. His description created a desire in me to have what he described.
Which is ironic- I had a father in sales, too! So, what keeps you in the business?
I enjoy developing solutions that help solve companies’ problems and help them operate more efficiently. I enjoy going to distribution centers and seeing cases being sorted at a high speed. The idea of how that’s all coordinated and tracked is exciting to me.
Would you do anything differently?
A couple of things come to mind. Recently- in the past 5 or 6 years- we created a common vocabulary and common methodology. We are more structured now, and if I had a machine to go back in time, I would take more advantage of that structure.
What advice do you have for young people entering the industry?
There are so many things I’ve learned over the course of time that I didn’t appreciate while I learned them. I’ve always heard the expression, “If I only knew then what I know now,” and I don’t think there have been any truer words spoken! To me, that’s why networking is so important. Take the opportunity to talk to people who already have been down the path and draw upon their experiences.
That’s the same advice you gave me! What can young professionals expect from MHEDA under your leadership as president this year?
It’s important for us to engage the next generation of leaders within member companies. They need to know that they can network and learn from others’ experiences. It’s important for gatekeepers- the people at a company who are heavily involved in MHEDA- to let their employees know that MHEDA is a resource to take advantage of.
Is there anything you don’t understand about my generation?
You know, I don’t like throwing everyone into a generational basket. As individuals, we all have traits. I agree with some generalities that are out there, and there are some that I just don’t like when I see them. For example, I don’t like dealing with those who want instant gratification. People must work for what they get, and they need to be patient to reach that goal. I don’t like it when people feel that they deserve something just because they exist, not because they put some effort forth to get it.
What do you wish my generation understood about your generation?
How much things have changed during the course of my lifetime.
Like the amount of progress that’s been made?
Yes, the progress that’s been made and the inventions that have been done. One thing I’d like for the next generation to appreciate is that my generation has invented so many items. They enjoy so many luxuries, and I don’t know that credit is being given to the older generation for things like transistors or the space program that have led to other successes.
Speaking of progress, looking back on your years in business, what’s been your greatest accomplishment?
Buying our company in 1993. I have taken great pride in growing the company and its sales volume, as well as building our facility that we get to enjoy every day.
You talked earlier about learning from past experience. What’s been your greatest learning opportunity?
People don’t appreciate what they’re learning during the course of life. There’s always an opportunity in the material handling world- because of technology changes- to learn something new. It’s necessary to stay on top of your game. Things don’t stay the same.
What’s the most challenging thing about working with your son?
We don’t agree on everything. We both take different views, and I think it’s important for us to just kind of melt them together and come up with something acceptable to both of us. It means I’ve got to pick my battles.
What do you mean by that?
If I’ve been down a path and made the same mistake a couple of times, I certainly don’t have a desire for you to go down that same road. At the same time, knowing that you want to do things your own way and control your own destiny, I have to be mindful of that and know which times it’s best to allow you to stumble. That can create a conflict.
What’s the best thing about having your son work with you?
On a personal basis, it’s the idea that I get to see you on a daily basis. Family is important to me. I’m proud of both of my children. You and your sister, Kim, took your education seriously, and you both have a good work ethic, strong values and a desire to lead and succeed. As that relates to you from a business perspective, it empowers me to go off into the sunset at ease in the future.