City Electric Supply Employee Shares Journey to Success

CES Controller Darren Smith Celebrates 30 Years of hard work and adventure 

GREENSBORO, NC – At just 19 years old, Darren Smith was pursuing a career in architecture and building studies, but it was nothing like he expected. When current CFO Phil Flaherty reached out to him about a training program at CES, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Today, Smith celebrates 30 years with the company.

“Phil Flaherty asked if I wanted to interview with Roy Jenkins for this training program,” Smith said. “I credit Roy Jenkins with giving me 50% of my vision after that conversation. He worked with City Electric Supply all his life, and he gave me a good story of what to expect. I bought in.”

Smith kicked off his career with CES in the Head Office Training Program in order to see and understand the business from every angle. This eventually led him to take on many positions in Isle of Man, Scotland, Kenilworth, Leamington, and Greensboro – where he’s been a controller for the North Carolina Accounting Division for 24 years. Smith says his journey with CES was quite the adventure.

“I was young, so moving around every few months, every couple years, it was no problem. Wherever I went, I met and kept friends at each location. Each stop had a purpose,” he said. “At the time, I was training to become a divisional controller, but that’s a position that rarely opens up in the UK because CES already had all of their accountants. I wasn’t sure where I would end up, but I knew I’d have an opportunity somewhere.”

While there was some unknown, he couldn’t turn away from the opportunity. “I knew at some point there would be a position,” he added, “but I never expected it to be in North America.”

After six years of moving all around the UK and completing the Head Office Training program, Smith was presented with two opportunities.       “Either go to Canada and work as a controller or start our operations in North Carolina under nobody,” he said.

“North Carolina was much warmer than Canada. It was a risk, but I was confident that I could handle the operations at the time, especially when we only had 16 stores in North Carolina.” Smith made the move to the U.S. as CES was preparing to see the fastest growing period in the company’s history to date. The rapid growth in the area required him to learn things quickly upon arriving to North Carolina.

“Everyone reaches out to a controller when they start new branches,” he said. “John Gray, the Co Chief Operating Officer, Jim Lawson, the District Manager in Raleigh, were asking me a lot of questions — they still do — and I had to find answers. In the UK, everything financially is set up for you. Here, you have to do everything yourself. Sales tax accounts. Privileged licenses in each jurisdiction, city, county. It was a lot of work to start with as you’re adjusting to a new country.”

It didn’t take long for Smith to adjust and start seeing the vision he had six years ago come to life. Over the next 24 years, North Carolina added more than 100 branches in one of the most remarkable moments in CES history. “The North Carolina division grew at an alarming rate,” he said. “We grew this division to levels I never thought we’d see, from 16 stores to 116 stores in really just a matter of years.”

All that success, according to Smith, is a result of the CES culture, which promotes retention. It allows employees to buy into the culture. “We’ve always been a family company, we always look after each other,” he started. “That promotes retention and longevity. You have time to become friends with the people you work with. I have 116 Branch Managers, and I enjoy working with them all. Dealing with all those different characters is a lot of fun. It’s challenging sometimes, but most of the time it’s a lot of fun.”

Smith has no plans to retire anytime soon. But before he does, he hopes to see 150 more branches in North Carolina. “I think everyone had a vision that City Electric Supply could grow and become very successful in the U.S.,” he said. “Seeing that growth firsthand, being a part of it, that was a huge milestone for me.”

City Electric Supply was founded in 1951 by Tom Mackie in the United Kingdom and expanded to the United States in 1983. Today, CES employs more than 3,000 people in over 500 branches across the U.S.

City Electric Supply Employee Shares Journey to Success

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