Written by Kristen Larsen, guest blogger
I recently had the pleasure to talk on the phone with Mark Eckardt as he reflected on 41 years with Schneider Electric. He has spent many years of his career dedicated to SE, and driving growth with our top customers.
The Beginning of a Great Career
On May 24, 1976, just one week after graduating from Bradley University with his electrical engineering degree, Mark Eckardt started working for Square D, in a small Illinois field office in a suburb of Chicago.
His father was a senior manager at UL and had been the one to recommend Square D as a company to pursue a career with. He had a lot of respect for Square D, the highest quality manufacturer in the industry, and Mark wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. He interviewed with the sales department, but was applying for a factory job as an engineer. After a few hours of interviews, the interviewer brought up the idea of a technical sales role. Mark responded negatively, “I didn’t go to engineering college to be a sales guy,” he joked with me on the phone. But the more they chatted about the job, the more interesting it piqued Mark’s interest. A Technical Sales role was not traditional sales, it involved talking about products and electrical systems, being a design engineer to sales, and not being stuck at a desk all day. Based on that interview, he said yes, and he never regretted the decision – he loved the job ever since.
At the time, there were a lot of sales offices located throughout the US – with many small offices in small cities, where a one or two-man office was quite common. When reflecting, Mark commented, “things have changed dramatically in way company is organized since then.” Mark went through a formal training program – 4 weeks in Chicago, 8 weeks in Milwaukee, 7 weeks in Lexington, Kentucky to learn the ropes of his position and how the sales office worked.
Moving Onto Sales
After training, he received his first permanent position in the Milwaukee field/sales office, and so he and his newly married wife moved there, where they spent the next several years. In 1981, Mark was promoted to district sales manager in Duluth, Minnesota, and achieved some great accomplishments in that role. Despite the existence of a severe steel recession (the area’s largest employer), sales were doubled from $1.1M to $2.8M. In 1986 he received the PWMD (People Who Make a Difference) award, a Schneider North America performance award, and A National Automation Sales award for obtaining a large ($350K) PLC order from DM&IR Railroad that had previously been exclusive Allen-Bradley account.
He continued to find success in his sales career, receiving an award for being one of the top 5 sales offices in the US for adjustable frequency drive sales. Another key highlight was when he presented a paper at the IPC (International Programmable Controller) conference held in Detroit on DM&IR project. Mark’s work was also published in several other publications including ‘Programmable Controller’ Magazine and the Square D ‘In-plant Automation’ magazine.
The next step in his career journey took him to Toledo. Ohio for a district sales manager position with 9 people reporting to him. 1.5 short years later he was offered a promotion in 1988 in San Francisco as a construction sales manager for Square D, with 50 inside and outside sales people reporting to him.
A Shift into Marketing
Then he shifted his career from sales management and moved into marketing, holding a few different roles in regional and segment marketing. In 1995 he moved back to Midwest for personal reasons, returning to Milwaukee as a sales executive for the next 19 years. He moved up through the ranks and eventually obtained a global account manager role managing Kohler Power Systems and GE Wind Power.
He had tremendous success with his Koler account, growing it from less than $1 million in sales to 10 million. He found similar success with GE. Throughout his entire career, Mark always remained passionate about customer satisfaction. In each role, he tried to make sure that the customer thought of Square D or later Schneider Electric as being the single best company in the world that they can deal with. That was not always an easy feat for a company as complex as Schneider Electric. With such a robust offering and global scope, we may look like a single company to customer, but we’re made up of all different business units and products. In his roles, he always tried to provide a cohesive company view to his customers and ensure that our customers thought we were the best possible company they could do business with. He also won 3 PWMD awards (people who make a difference) throughout his career for his dedication and hard work.
Focusing on Strategic Accounts
In 2014 he moved back to San Francisco taking a job as a Strategic Account Executive (SAE) Apple account manager. In this role, he focused on strategy and taking care of the Apple account, including tactical implementation of long term/short term goals. He relocated to CA made him closer to the Apple Headquarters, and was now supervising global account team members located in China, Singapore, Vietnam, Canada, India, Germany, France, and Italy. He had come a long way from his days of working in a one-man office in Minnesota!
For each of Schneider Electric’s large Global Strategic Accounts (GSAs), there is an SAE in charge of the customer / company globally. This meant anything having to do with Schneider and Apple fell to Mark’s responsibility. Since the role had a global scope, Mark had people dotted line reporting to him in many different managers in other countries. He also had an army of dotted line reports to help maintain a strong relationship with Apple ranging from global support people to specialists and solution architects across entire world. Each person specialized in a certain area of the business, but dotted line reported to Mark whenever they were working with Apple. The Apple account has grown significantly since Mark stepped into the role, bringing in 35 million euros last year (2016), and a projected 45-50 million euros this year.
Why Stay with Schneider Electric?
Over the years, Mark had many opportunities to leave the company. He received the occasional call from headhunters over the years, and at one time while living in Milwaukee, he seriously thought about starting a consulting engineering firm with a few friends (in retrospect – he says he’s glad he didn’t!)
He always felt extremely lucky to work for a company with big benefits that treated him fairly. Mark worked hard and had many opportunities for promotion and internal growth, always felt it was a very satisfying career, never had enough reason to ever think about leaving. “I never thought I’d work with Square D for 40 years – but I never had a strong reason to ever leave.”
He reflected that he was also very blessed with great managers that he worked for. “I had many different managers, almost all have been really great people to work for. Some of my best friends are still people I worked for even now that I stay in contact with and will after I retire.”
Retirement… What Next?
Now that he is retiring, Mark reflected on how his job was not just a job, but a life career and a passion of his – and “how am I going to replace that when I retire?” “This was more than just a job; it has been my life”.
Mark and his wife Pam have built their dream home in Tucson, AZ with a pool, spa, fire pit, and great view of the mountains. Their plans are to continue their love of travel with good food and wine.
Mark has made many connections all over the world working in a global role over the years. “That’s one of the benefits of a global job – I have met so many nice people, both customers and Schneider employees. Now I have lots of friends that have invited us to come visit them around the world!” He and his wife plan to visit Singapore, China, London, and many other places to spend time with former colleagues and friends.
He also plans to fill his free time getting involved in his local community, whether helping kids, tutoring, or getting involved in Habitat for Humanity. He hasn’t figured out exactly what he will devote his time to in Tucson, but knows he wants to help give back. He is also looking forward to getting back into sports: golf, softball, and tennis. “I played in the Milwaukee Square D Softball league, and I’d like to get back into that.”
When asked about sharing advice for someone just starting out in their career, Mark suggested reaching out to other colleagues. “It is really easy to be scared by the complexities of a business or company. But there’s an awful lot of good people in our company that can help you. It’s not always easy or comfortable to reach out, especially when dealing with a 150k+ employee company, but there’s a lot of great people in this company willing to help you advance your career.”
Things have certainly changed over the years, and now it seems younger generations don’t typically think about staying at same company for decades. Though it’s not as common as it used to be, there are still a lot of people that have been with company for years.
As someone who is 7 years into their career with Schneider Electric, it was inspiring to hear about Mark’s journey over the past 40 years and how he was able to grow within Schneider Electric into his dream role. I’d like to personally thank Mark for his dedication to Schneider Electric, and wish him a relaxing and adventurous retirement!
Mark Eckardt joined Schneider Electric on May 24, 1976, and has recently retired after 41 years with the company. His most recent role was the Strategic Account Executive for Apple Computer. He has held various positions across the United States, and remarks that, “I have had a great career and have been lucky to have made many great friends both at SE and customers.”
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About the author:
Kristen (Krissy) Larsen is an Employee Branding Social Media Specialist for Schneider Electric in North America. She graduated from Bryant University with a degree in Marketing and Literary and Cultural Studies, and started with Schneider Electric in 2011. Krissy is passionate about Schneider Electric’s community programs, and is on the leadership council for our Community Impact program. Outside of work, she regularly performs with a musical improv comedy troupe, and enjoys spending time with her husband and two dogs.