Howard A. Gordon founded Gordon Electric Supply with his father and brother in 1953. They wanted to be the go-to place for local electricians to find the materials they needed in a quality they could trust. Howard ran the company for 36 years before deciding it was time to pass the torch in 1989, a few short years after his daughter, Cara Gordon Potter, and son-in-law, Ab Potter, entered the company.
In 1986, Cara and her late husband, Ab, came from large corporations, bringing with them sophistication and goals for a stable business in a predictable industry. Together, they brought their entrepreneurial spirit to Gordon and set the company on its path to integrating the innovation needed to carry the company to success. Cara explains that her first job at Gordon was to “…automate our systems and get our inventory, sales, and customer data in the computer.” Knowing that Gordon has dozens of technologies being used daily, who knows if she could imagine the magnitude of what she undertook!
When asked if taking over the family business was always in her plans, Cara Gordon Potter admitted that it wasn’t where she saw her career going, “While I had done a little office work at Gordon before college, I knew nothing about electrical supplies. I didn’t always know I would come back to Gordon. After moving to the East Coast, working in various fields, and getting my MBA, I thought I’d spend my career in corporate America. However, after doing that for 15 years, I was ready to sail my own ship.” The year was 1989, the ship was Gordon Electric Supply, and there wasn’t a new captain but a new President, Cara Gordon Potter.
While family started the company, it was important to Cara that, like her, her children had a choice in whether they would join the family business. “I always wanted my kids to follow their dreams,” explained Cara Gordon Potter, “I was certainly very pleased that my son, Mike, saw his calling at Gordon from an early age and that my daughter, Sabrina, found an entrepreneurial husband in Josh who embraced the Gordon family.” Rather than feeling pressure to ensure that the next generation would lead the family business, she focused on growing a company that could continue the values of the family it was named after, even if the people running it didn’t have the Gordon name. “I felt that being given the opportunity to build a company that creates a future of engagement and well-being for our workforce would be an incredible, life-defining treasure,” Cara shares, “Not many people get this opportunity.”
Looking back at the over 30 years that Gordon has been under the guidance of Cara, she has not let that time slip through her fingers. She has earned the right to boast about Gordon’s success at hiring and keeping a happy workforce that continues to grow, “I so love it when team members tell me this is the best place they ever worked and that they are so happy to be here.” She gives the credit of setting the stage for Gordon’s enormous growth and success to “having the right people in place to serve our customers and our team, especially Dan Korthauer and Randy Molthan.”
Gordon Electric Supply is now coming up on its 70th anniversary. The company has the stage set with the right people, leadership, and values that customers and partners want to embrace. Gordon Electric Supply will continue its success for many more years thanks to the pieces put into place by Cara Gordon Potter.
Additional Q & A Responses from Cara Gordon Potter:
What advice would you give to other aspiring Women CEOs?
Speak up, don’t be intimidated, and conduct yourself with professionalism and respect for others. Perhaps most of all, develop your skillset and trust yourself.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Find professional coaches and mentors to help develop your capabilities and to provide affirmation. I wish I had found Vistage, the leadership coaching organization, sooner.
What is your favorite book.
I really like all the historical novels of Geraldine Brooks. Also “A Mercy” by Toni Morrison was impactful for me.
What are your favorite things outside of work?
Read, cook, play golf, travel, and spend time with grandchildren.