Kathy Mazzarella’s rise to the top job at St. Louis-based electrical distributor Graybar is legendary. She started at the bottom and worked her way up, but that’s only part of the story.

When Mazzarella joined the company in 1980 as a customer service representative, not only was she a woman looking to forge a career in a male-dominated industry, she didn’t have a college degree. These two strikes did not dismay Mazzarella or Graybar, who took a chance and set in motion one of the most remarkable career paths in the industry.

After several years in quotes and sales, she became a sales manager. From there, Mazzarella held a series of sales, marketing and product manager positions. She eventually held senior vice president positions in human resources, strategic planning, sales and marketing before moving into the C-suite as COO in 2010.

Just two years after this promotion, Mazzarella was named president and CEO, and in 2013 she added the presidency to her resume. Today, she’s one of 37 women to lead a Fortune 500 company, and she helped grow Graybar to $7.3 billion in 2020, up 30% since she took over. functions of general manager.

Mazzarella, who addressed attendees at MDM’s recent virtual event, the Future of Distribution Summit, sees a lesson in how Graybar benefited from hiring and promoting Mazzarella, even if she didn’t exactly fit the cast model.

She knows that other distributors should take similar risks on career hopefuls who might not tick the boxes of the traditional distribution candidate.

“If Graybar hadn’t hired me when I was 19 because I didn’t have a college education, I wouldn’t be president,” she said. “They supported me throughout my career development to make sure I had the education I wanted to get. I never would have had this opportunity if they were so narrowly focused that you had to have a four-year education. It’s important for all of us as business leaders to make sure that we don’t define diversity and inclusion too narrowly. Let’s open our eyes and open our minds, and look the whole person and all the complexities and all the wonderful things that people can bring to our organizations if we can tap into their gifts.

‘It doesn’t make sense why you wouldn’t do that’

Fast forward 41 years and it’s understandable why Mazzarella is adamant about the benefits of tapping into the gifts of what might be an unlikely candidate. She also touted the benefits that diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) can bring to a particular company as well as the wider retail industry.

Mazzarella said there are at least two reasons a company should aim for better representation when it comes to gender, race and other demographics.

“By all means, it’s the right thing to do — and that’s the main reason you do it,” she said. “But it also makes good business sense. Numerous studies have been published over the years showing that various organizations are more likely to outperform their counterparts.

“They bring fresh ideas, innovative thinking. They help build relationships with various clients and in their communities. They help us compete for talent and they help us attract and retain the right talent. It also improves your reputation, both as a business and as an employer of choice.

One of the studies cited by Mazzarella came from Deloitte, which argued for an inclusive culture with telling statistics.

“Organizations with inclusive cultures are twice as likely to meet or exceed their financial goals,” Mazzarella said. “They are also three times more likely to be high performers. They are six times more likely to be innovative and agile. And – here’s the big kicker – they’re eight times more likely to get better trading results.

“I don’t know about you, but it would be really cool to say that we’re eight times more likely to outperform our peers. It’s the right thing to do, but there’s also a pretty solid business case. It doesn’t make sense why you wouldn’t do that.

To learn more about Mazzarella, including her tips on how to start increasing diversity and inclusion in your business, click here for on-demand access to Future of Distribution Summit presentations and panels.

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