Family Business

Thomas Hartland-Mackie | City Electric Supply Co.

Power to the people

City Electric Supply employees helped Thomas Hartland-Mackie through a pivotal moment as their young new leader. He empowers them to do right by customers, too.

How do you take the reins of your family’s business with only two years of experience? For Thomas Hartland‑Mackie, it came down to the advice of his grandfather Tom Mackie, founder of City Electric Supply (CES): “If you take care of your employees, they take care of your customers.”

At 18, Hartland-Mackie decided to leave Southern Methodist University after his freshman year to begin a training program at the third-generation electrical wholesaler and retailer. The program immersed him in all aspects of the business, from working on production lines in the US and UK to staffing wholesale branches in the US and Spain.

That breadth of experience would prove useful sooner than expected: a rift rocked the family, and by the time Hartland-Mackie was 20, he was in charge of the company’s North American branch.

Unfortunately, that increase in responsibility coincided with the 2008 financial crisis. Hartland-Mackie says it was a sink-or-swim moment, and drowning wasn’t an option. So he followed his grandfather’s advice and turned to his employees for help, asking for input as pivotal decisions arose. CES emerged from the crisis, and revenue has grown every year since 2009. 


Building on the family foundation

Tom Mackie purchased the business that would become CES in 1951, when it was a bankrupt electrical wholesaler operating out of a two-story horse stable in Coventry, England. He grew the company with no outside investment and treated employees like family. The CES “family” has grown substantially since then, with 368 locations in the US; 393 in the UK; and operations in Canada, Spain, Australia, Ireland and the Middle East.

When Hartland-Mackie first joined the business, his grandfather was in his early 80s but still very much involved. He would be the first person at breakfast in the morning and the last person at business meetings at night. “That work ethic was always a really inspiring thing to me,” Hartland-Mackie says.

Hartland-Mackie’s mother also inspired him. After his parents divorced, when he was 4, circumstances were such that his mother had to reinvent herself. She invested in a failing casino in Newport, Rhode Island, and helped it flourish, achieving a 600% return on her investment.

“She really grounded me in terms of life lessons, and what’s important, and what values are, and keeping your word,” he says.

The combination of decision-making and profit-sharing really makes our teams feel like owners.
Thomas Hartland-Mackie
President and CEO

Planning for the future

Today, Hartland-Mackie leads the global company with a customer‑centric perspective: “We try to have smaller teams and smaller locations that are focused on a smaller geographic area and really focused on the needs of our customer base.” The strategy has served CES well. The company just achieved its ninth year of double‑digit revenue growth, representing 14% growth year‑over‑year.

Hartland-Mackie’s ambitious vision calls for CES to lead the industry in product availability and speed of delivery. The company plans to open 40 new North American locations in the 2019–20 fiscal year. CES is also preparing to launch an online distribution service in Canada, Spain and Australia, and it continues to invest in growing distribution warehouses to support its online business. And at its omnichannel operation outside of London, CES stocks almost 30,000 SKUs and is considering ways to bring those initiatives to other markets.

CES also has a renewable energy department, which focuses on residential and commercial solar, as well as solar farms. And Hartland-Mackie says he’s looking into a marine division, an electric vehicle charging division and building automation.

Beyond the business, the family has established two foundations, one in Europe and one in North America, each committing 5% of its global profits to charity.

Investing in employees

Hartland-Mackie says one of his grandfather’s founding principles is empowering people to make local business decisions, and he has followed suit. “We do have guardrails around decision-making, but we believe the vast majority of people make really good decisions,” he says.

CES has created an entrepreneurial environment, with a strong profit-sharing system in which more than one-third of the company’s profits go to its employees. “I think that the combination of decision-making and profit-sharing really makes our teams feel like owners,” Hartland-Mackie says.

In addition to financial wellness, CES offers its people ways to maintain their physical health, with 100% coverage for many employee benefits. CES employees are also encouraged to become involved in the community through the company’s Dollars‑for‑Doers program. CES donates $100 to a charity of the employee’s choice when they volunteer 10 hours of their time.

Hartland-Mackie sees immense benefits for CES. “It’s not unusual for people to be with us 20, 30, 40 years,” he says. “I think that consistency and passion is our biggest advantage.” It’s the same formula his grandfather espoused: take care of your employees, and they’ll take care of your customers.