“Everything you’ve heard about Arrow is wrong”: This company broke from tradition to fuel innovation

Christine Tatum

Arrow Electronics is the oldest, biggest, coolest company you’ve probably never heard of — despite its 2016 sales of $23.8 billion worldwide. But name recognition promises to grow as Arrow shifts from its B2B focus to deliver products and services to consumers.

We recently met with Arrow’s digital team to understand why they think working for this long-established company is more exciting than ever.

ARROW AT A GLANCE

FOUNDED: 1935, when retailer Arrow Radio opened on New York City’s “Radio Row,” the birthplace of electronics distribution.

EMPLOYEES: 18,700 globally; 2,000 in Centennial, Colo., where the company is headquartered. 

WHAT THEY DO: Provide products, services and solutions that support the process of taking a tech product to market — from ideation to design and construction, manufacturing to marketing.

WHO THEY DO IT FOR: Anyone building amazing things with electronic components and enterprise computing solutions.  

IDEAL CANDIDATE: Someone who can help humanize the digital approach to search and purchasing. Be a good communicator, too. 

MUST-KNOW TECH: Angular, C#, Spring, Sitecore. 

What do you want people to understand about Arrow Electronics?
Matt Anderson, chief digital officer and president:
I think everything you’ve heard about Arrow is wrong. About a decade ago, this company was on a quest to become the leading tech distributor in the world. In many ways, that quest is a chapter that was successfully written. If you look at Arrow’s competitors over that time frame, you see that they have split their businesses and sold off big portions of them.

Arrow held things together and invested in engineering design talent a decade ago, the thesis being that the company has these amazing assets, and the ability to move products makes us uniquely able to be a partner of innovation. The company made a pivot to be more than a global center of distribution. It didn’t want to leave the roots. But those roots, in and of themselves, were not enough ambition. Arrow wanted to become a technology ecosystem. 

I now call Arrow.com a hard asset IoT platform. Eventually, everything in the world is going to be connected to the Internet. Arrow is fueling this innovation revolution. You can plug into our offering at every stage of taking a product to market. If you’re going to make something, Arrow has the raw building blocks you need. It’s the beauty of what Arrow has become that people need to know about.


You're an established legacy company. How do you nonetheless stay agile?
Chris McGrady, digital marketing manager: Arrow is a refreshing balance of certainty and innovation. Here, we’re not afraid to try something new — but we’re also not throwing something against the wall and seeing what sticks. Everyone here is focused first and foremost on the quality of our products and services and how they meet our customers’ needs. We get those things right first.

Then we focus on our sales approaches. We are A/B testing our messages to see what works best. We are not just guessing. We know what works, and that helps all of us grow. It also creates a really strong environment of continual learning.

Anderson: We maintain a five-years-out mission, which gives us a horizon that’s practical but  still innovative. Some things are so incremental that they don’t seem to matter — but when you’re thinking about things happening five years out, you can see where, when and why you need to make adjustments and advancements. That’s Arrow’s sweet spot: Innovation that resonates with need, demand and market. 

What attracted you to Arrow?
McGrady: One of the things that attracted me most was the idea of building an e-commerce platform from scratch for such a huge company in the electronics space. I have worked on commerce in electronics for 10 years. The idea of being part of a digital transformation and a data-driven culture was really important to my decision to join Arrow.

From leadership on down, the freedom to try something new and fail from it is not just preached here, but practiced. I have been on teams where they talk about all of that, but it’s mostly lip service. And worse, when there is failure, there are repercussions — and then people are afraid to try anything else. 

Another thing that made me want to work here? Access to big data. A lot of companies look at the numbers once in awhile — but Arrow is truly data driven. Here, we have real-time dashboards showing what’s going on. So, it’s never a surprise how the numbers look for the day or the week.

Timothy Hoehl, senior manager of product ownership: I could see Arrow is taking a very B2C approach for what traditionally has been a very B2B company. I came here from the world of financial services and an employer that was trying to break out of traditional banking models. I could see that Arrow was also trying to break out traditional business models. It was hiring technologists who had different perspectives about how to sell in business-to-business and business-to-consumer relationships.

I wanted to be a part of this big transition. We have a traditional model for sales — and now we’re building personal relationships similar to financial advisors by providing our customers the support of engineers to help with design and with the articles and data any customer needs to research a part. Then, we’ll sell it to you directly.

How does Arrow differentiate its solutions in the marketplace? Anderson: The Arrow difference is not only that we have actual solutions at every stage, from napkin design to the making, but that if you bring us an idea, we would concierge you. We certainly have the specialists, and Arrow Digital is the operating system of Arrow. It’s how everything plugs into this company’s hard board of unrivaled assets to make solutions for itty bitty and really big companies. 

Hoehl: We are really making this personal. We are using a lot of our internal resources to understand what our customers want. We interview our engineers to find out what things are hot in the market, what things are needed, what things are wished for. Then we put things forward to get even better data and continue advancing. 

Kristen Chonowski, application marketing manager: With our website. We wanted to put a modern twist on selling these products and taking them from traditional sales on the street to things people can order online for themselves. We want to make it easy for people to find and understand the online tools that will help them design and build, the data sheets and the products.

McGrady: Arrow is unique in the sense that it offers the entire life cycle of electronics — from design to end-of-life services. Our experts help with conceptualizing design and getting rid of tech when it’s not working anymore. Arrow can be there for the research phase — and with the design tools and how-tos when you want to lay it all out.

And when you want to select your components and talk about your design — like, “I don’t know which chip would work best” — our experts will help you order it. Arrow is also there with support for prototype to manufacturing and marketing, the full gamut.

To have this combination of resources and product offerings — including a catalog of more than 3,000 parts? That’s unique.

What kinds of employees are most needed at Arrow?
Anderson: People who are willing to take risks and try things. We can’t have conservative and nervous people working with radical innovators. The second thing we are looking for: People who are interested in — make that love — technology. We are a tech ecosystem and platform.

Hoehl: People are using a lot of different technologies today, and one of the key components tying all of them together is human language. Think about how much natural language support is out there, whether it’s with Siri or Amazon’s Echo. So, we’re interested in people who can help us continue to humanize the digital approach to search, to purchasing and to helping people establish relationships and partnerships that get great things done.

Joe Ackert, IT director of Arrow Electronics digital team: Given our fast-paced, startup-like environment, we've found that communication is the number one skill we value in technical candidates. Beyond this, web technologies such as Angular, C#, Java Spring Frameworks, and Sitecore Enterprise CMS are key technologies in our business.

Photos by Haley Samuelson. Interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

 

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