January 18, 2023
NEMA continues its Executive Q&A Series with a profile of John Selldorff, President and Chief Executive Officer of Legrand North & Central America. In his NEMA interview, Selldorff advises electroindustry newcomers to learn as much as possible about their industry to help improve products, experiences, and value.
How did you get to where you are today?
My first job in the electrical industry was in 1989 with General Electric, when I was recruited out of grad school. I’m not a degreed engineer, but I have always been in industrial businesses, and GE had a product management development program at the time. That appealed to my interests, and they hired me. I spent eight years at GE before moving to Honeywell in the construction and building trades world. In 2002, I was recruited to join Legrand when they went private, and I have been with them ever since.
Currently, I am the head of North and Central America for Legrand, which makes up about 40-45 percent of our global revenues. When I started, we were a smaller company made up of four acquisitions. Since then, we have made 29 acquisitions that have broadened our scope beyond just the NEMA space into data centers, audio and video equipment, lighting fixtures, and other types of infrastructure.
I joined the NEMA board in 2003 and have been, I think, the longest-serving board member.
What do you see as the biggest change in the industry in the next three years?
My answer is not all that dramatic because many things that I believe will change in the next few years are things we’ve talked about for the last 10 to 15 years.
But the biggest change in the industry will likely be the increased focus on corporate social responsibility and environmental impact. This includes the idea of a circular economy and the need for organizations to be more responsible consumers and disposers of goods, focusing on zero environmental impact. This shift has been discussed for the past 10-15 years, but it is now becoming more visible. Companies will face increasing expectations from investors and end-users to adopt responsible practices
At Legrand, we are working toward increasing the use of recycled materials in our products, but there are regulatory challenges around that as standards currently prescribe the use of certain materials and not the performance of the product. We are also looking at the life cycle impact of our product, from beginning to end, including the disposal of our products and how to divert them from landfills. Additionally, we are focused on employee practices, how we operate as a company, and the need for third-party validation to ensure that we are not greenwashing our efforts.
Another area we are focusing on is digitalization and how it can help us do things more efficiently and with less physical paper documentation. This is a change that is underway, but we still have a lot of work to do to make it easy for customers. Right now it favors the bigger companies that have the resources to do it across a broad swath of products or revenue, which creates challenges for the smaller, more entrepreneurial private companies, which historically bring innovation to the industry.
What is your advice to someone starting in the electroindustry?
My advice to someone starting in my industry today would be to understand at a fundamental level what customers care about and how their product or service interacts with them. It is important to connect to end-user reality and the economics or performance of products.
It is also important to avoid getting caught up in theoretical standards and to focus on solving real technical problems to provide reliable, safe, and valuable products. And it is beneficial to know and understand the industry and be willing to learn more about it to improve products, experiences, and value. Additionally, understanding the implications of codes and standards and how they relate to the customer can provide valuable insight into other areas.
The one thing that has kept me in the industry as long as it has is the people, the culture, and the mindset. They are generally good people who are down to earth and easy to socialize with outside of work. This makes it enjoyable and one of the wonderful attributes of the industry. A long career leads to a network of people who can help in various endeavors. This network and experience can help in industry advocacy, helping others grow and develop, and solving societal problems. The industry touches many aspects of the world, and being a part of it is a valuable experience.
What do you do when you’re not working?
I do everything I can to enjoy life and be a part of the communities I am a part of. Sometimes, I need time to recharge, and I will do anything to do so. This includes participating in sporting and leisure activities and spending time with my family. My daughters, who are in their late 20s, are in industries that are unrelated to mine, but I enjoy helping them with guidance on their careers and futures. I also enjoy spending time outdoors and became a pilot, in part, because it allows me to live on the water far away from my office. This is one of my many passions that I incorporate into both my work and personal life. As a result, I fly to many places that I used to drive to.