29 Years at AEC Speaks for Itself.
“People say the grass is greener on the other side. My experience at AEC is the “grass” will always be fertilized and cultivated.”
Meet Inside Man, AEC’s VP of Operations
29 years ago, Derek Helton walked through the doors at Advanced Equipment Company to meet owner Larry Abernathy. After putting in the time as an Inside Sales Specialist and Operations Manager, he became AEC’s Vice President of Operations.
We caught up with Helton to talk about his experience and how AEC values turn into big benefits for their clients.
How did you come to start at AEC?
About a month into working for my father’s company, after college in 1991, I got a call from Larry Abernathy, AEC Owner, asking if I would come interview for an inside sales position. Unknown to me, my mom had been sending out resumes on jobs that were listed in the paper. AEC was one of those listings she had responded to.
I looked up the company in the Yellow Pages, (no internet at that time) and headed into an interview that I had no idea would become a lifetime career. Larry offered me the job after my second interview, which was really a gift from God, as far as I’m concerned.
What position did you start in?
When I started out, I basically handled everything from sweeping the warehouse, unloading trucks, and inventory control, to order entry and phone sales. After a few years, Charlie Williamson’s territory was booming, and he needed assistance. So a group of us on the inside had the opportunity to go out and quote some projects that consisted of shelving, pallet racks, mezzanines—what we call allied equipment—directly to the customers.
We got help and mentoring from Charlie, who is a natural teacher. It was a win-win for us! We gained working knowledge with our product lines as well as valuable experience working face to face with our customers—which is really important for a customer-based business like ours. Additional compensation, was also a great benefit.
How did you find yourself as VP of Operations?
In 2000, Daryle Ogburn was asked to move into the position of AEC’s president, and I was offered his outside sales territory. But at that time, I was getting ready to be a father for the second time and I felt that my calling was to be a part of the internal operation of the company.
I suggested that Larry should talk with Scott Hovis about the territory. He did, and Scott has done an awesome job managing the territory ever since. I think it was definitely the right decision for me, for Scott, and for the company.
Larry rewarded me by offering me the position of Operations Manager. He also invited me to be part of the company leadership and board member. That’s when I received the title of Vice President of Operations.
What do your duties involve now as VP of Operations?
My job is to oversee the inside staff and coordinate business with Darin Boik, AEC President.
I make sure everything runs as efficiently as possible on the inside so that our sales team won’t have to worry about the business side of things. If the sales team needs to push tasks over to the inside team, or get any kind of assistance, that’s also what I’m responsible for – and I do my best to make it happen.
Who do you have on your team?
I work closely with Jennifer Schumacher, our Accounting Manager, and Josh Hamrick, Sales Coordinator. I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. Both of those folks are like family to me, but they’re also like my right and left hands. We have a level of communication you only get from working alongside people for so long—we almost know what each other is thinking before we even say it.
And now we have Sales Support, Tony Stewart, working inside with us, and Tony will just stand by you all the way as well – he’s solid. He came off the road after being an outside sales guy for close to 50 years. I like to give him a hard time that he started here when I was only 18 months old.
It’s clear that you love your team, but what else has kept you at AEC for nearly three decades?
Larry Abernathy, AEC Owner. Larry is one of the most honest, generous, and genuine people that you’ll meet. He’s one of those guys that would give you the shirt off of his back if you needed it more than him.
Since the day I started here, if Larry told me that something was going to take place, it has taken place. He has always been a man of his word and has always looked out for us – from the newest member of the team to the oldest.
Over the years, I’ve had opportunities to work at other companies, but why? People say the grass is greener on the other side. My experience at AEC is the “grass” will always be fertilized and cultivated.
Whatever we need to help us succeed, it’s offered; it’s that kind of attitude. I just can’t say enough nice things about Advanced Equipment Company – but I guess 29 years speaks for itself.
How does a family atmosphere benefit your customers?
We’re all on the same page here, much like families are. And we’re unified in our common goal, to help our customers any way we can to reach their goals. We let them know that they’re not just our customer—they’re a member of our team.
I could name off a ton of companies that we’ve been doing business with since before I started here and we’re still working with them today because that’s what we do. We build long-term partnerships.
That’s why Larry is very selective and takes his time hiring a team member. He ensures that every new person who joins our team fits in with us, our culture, and has a family mentality. Because that is what creates great partnerships.
What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
I’m a first-time grandfather and my grandson is about five months old now. I’m a really big family person and they’ll always come first.
I also like golfing, hiking, and going to any Appalachian State University football game or other sports with my family. My oldest son graduated from App and my youngest son is now a rising Junior there. And now that they both play golf, it’s just a wonderful way to get in family time.
What would you say to someone who has never worked with AEC before?
That we will not leave a job until it’s right. It’s easy to get it right the second time, but we work hard to get it right the first time. And if any challenges arise, we’re going to do whatever it takes to make it right.
Our customers will get the highest level of service that they deserve. That’s what they all have learned to expect from us.