TS: To start, congratulations on your recent promotion to CEO of Optimas. I read where you will oversee the planning and execution of the company’s strategic plan for both the Americas and International operations. So, you leave Wurth and it feels like a week or two later you are knee deep right back into this great fastener industry. I know it was longer than that but you really did not take a lot of time off. So, how did the Optimas opportunity come about?
Marc: The old fashioned way by word of mouth. They had a need and two people were talking and my name came up as a good candidate. Optimas owners American Industrial Partners reached out and it was love at first sight.
TS: You were at Wurth for many years and had a similar position with them. You are in very rare company to have been CEO of two of the largest fastener distributors in the country. That’s not so much a question as it is a comment but can you share your thoughts on this experience?
Marc: Until you asked that question I had not thought of this situation that way. But yes I am unaware of anyone who has run two separate large companies of this size in the fastener industry. I know of a couple who ran big fastener companies and went to bigger companies outside of fasteners but not within the industry. I think my ability to do this was my good fortune of working at some excellent companies with great people who worked together as a team.
TS: Just for those who are not familiar with Marc Standquist, give us a short history of your fastener career. Where you started, what jobs you have had. I think the first time I spoke with you was when you were with Dokka. But please, share with us the career path one takes to be CEO of Optimas.
Marc: I started as a sales trainee at fastener manufacturer Rockford Products in 1986. Came out of the training program as an inside sales person. From there became a traveling salesman with a geographic territory then became a Key Account sales guy and ended at Rockford Products as the Ford sales guy. Then off to RB&W as a sales manager and ended there as Director of Sales. Then I went to General Fasteners and handled the 30 branches outside of Michigan. Important for me as this presented me the opportunity to get distribution operations experience. Then I became a plant manager of a fastener manufacturer called Reliant Fastener. This got me my manufacturing operations experience. From there I became the President of GenFast Canada’s largest automotive fastener manufacturer. This also exposed me to doing international business. Then I joined the Wirth Group in 2001 and went from a President of a single company to EVP overseeing a dozen companies in five countries. Was there until June of 2019. Working for Wurth was my greatest and most fulfilling experience of my career. Great culture and great people.
One thing of note is the companies I worked for during this time. Everyone one of them an Iconic name in the industry. All of them with rich histories. It was an honor working for such industry legends.
With this new position my challenge is to take this excellent group of people and through culture, innovation and best in class products and services develop Optimas into an iconic name in the industry.
TS: I had no idea of several of those positions. I’m fascinated by your work history. Absolutely, those are a lot of great companies and a lot of great steps along the journey. Moving on…The entire distribution model has changed a lot and yet in some ways it stays the same. There is more private equity in the industry. How has that affected the marketplace?
Marc: The private equity interest in the fastener industry has been around for a long time. P.E. sees how fragmented we are and recognizes the opportunity to build a platform based on multiple acquisitions. I don’t see a big change other then more activity with the availability of cheap money.
TS: You have been in the industry a long time and seen a lot of changes. But I almost feel like the rate of change has accelerated the most in the last 5-10 years. Consolidations on both the distributor and supply side. What are some the biggest changes you have seen in recent years? How has technology affected it and have we only seen the beginnings of those changes?
Marc: I think the explosion of vending machines led by Fastenal is a surprising change. Now everyone is doing it. Next would be the technology upgrade for JIT programs and the development of RFID.
I think we are just starting the innovation evolution. I believe the Covid virus will see even more improvements as people race to find marketable solutions.
TS: What changes do you anticipate in the next 5-10 years?
Marc: More automation, stronger ties between distribution and manufacturing. If companies are smart, a much more focused approach with their employees. Employee retention will become a strategic issue for all.
TS: A few years back you were the President of the NFDA. Talk a little bit about national and regional fastener associations. Why have you been involved and how have they been of value to you?
Marc: Well first off I put a lot of value on belonging to NFDA , they offer a lot of services that really help the smaller companies. Also the opportunity to network with other people in the industry has lots of value. I was never one of those people who hated the competition and was bitter. We all are just trying to make a living and good honest competition is healthy. I always felt they will take some of my customers and I will do the same. Nothing personal. For me the value is when we have an annual meeting that includes suppliers. To meet so many of them in one place reduces my travel needs.
TS: I have heard you a few times on Fully Threaded Radio and I know you are an avid fisherman. In addition to fasteners and fishing, how else does Marc Strandquist spend his time?
Marc: I like to hunt as well. But for right now my focus is work and positioning Optimas to be the selection of choice for our customers. That actually is great fun for me. I love it.
TS: You have moved around a bit in the industry and had success at many different companies. So, let me ask, do people buy from people?
Marc: There is no question relationships are important. Especially relationships based on trust.
TS: Some people who have worked for a long time get asked things like “how long are you going to keep doing this?” And often the answer is something like “till I stop having fun”. Do you just enjoy the work you do or do you still have something to prove to people or even to your self?
Marc: I am genuinely having a ball doing what I do. I don’t want to sound arrogant but I don’t think I have anything left to prove. I have traveled the world and been blessed with being presented opportunities that I was able to take advantage of. I did my best for every company I worked for. So for me the reward is taking on a challenge and successfully solving the problem.
TS: Have you got any particular life philosophy you live by that guides you from day to day, either a business philosophy or a personal one?
Marc: I think there are several beliefs I have that make up my core philosophy: 1) do what you say you are going to do. 2) do not under estimate the power of being a mentor and or role model. 3) be open, honest and speak with great candor. 4) hire talented people and then be smart enough to get out of their way. 5) never be afraid to make a decision. 6) push authority down to the lowest level. Avoid having corporate make all decisions. Empower your people.
Note from TS:
I have a regular column in Fastener Technology International (FTI) magazine, called 10 Minutes with the Traveling Salesman, which can be read online at www.fastenertech.com. Subscriptions to FTI, print and digital editions, are free-of-charge for fastener manufacturers, distributors and users as well as suppliers to the industry.”