Half A Century Of Wisdom… And Lots of Stories
50 years later, Sales Support Specialist Tony Stewart opens up about how the company has changed, how it’s stayed the same, and why AEC has his loyalty.
AEC Sales Support Specialist and Inside Guy, Tony Stewart, has been around for a while. He started at AEC right out of college in 1969 – less than a decade after the company was founded. August 22, 2019 marks his 50th year with the company, placing him in a unique position of knowing exactly how AEC has changed over the years… as well as how it’s stayed exactly the same.
We caught up with Tony for a 15 minute interview that quickly turned into an hour-long trip though AEC’s history. Here are some of the highlights.
What brought you to AEC all those years ago?
I started when I was 22, just out of school. I moved inside at the request of the president of the company at the time.
And what was it like then? We hear so much about the family atmosphere at AEC —has that always been the case?
Oh yeah. The family part was always something that impressed me, even as a young person early on. What made an impact on me were the relationships, not only within the company family but also with our customers, vendors and everybody we work with.
Larry Abernathy, owner of AEC, has been doing that from the get-go in 1959—he’s really big on relationship building, and that guided me and how I conduct myself.
Is that atmosphere the reason you stayed with the company for so long?
When I started, I was newly married. Other companies were interested, but wanted to send me away for weeks. Here at AEC, we were basically self-employed but had the guidance of the owner.
The handful of people that made up AEC acted like family. We did birthday lunches and a nice Christmas party… We were all treated as equals – and that’s from the top down. It’s like a bunch of brothers and sisters – you might get mad that somebody didn’t handle something the way that you would have. But we’re good at what we do and we have each others back. No body leaves; I’m proof of that!
The Sales Support position didn’t really exist before you. How did that come about?
As we expanded our sales staff, it helped to have somebody inside here that can run a project. If anybody calls in – be it one of our guys or a customer that needs something – we always have people who will grab a phone and can help out. If a customer can’t reach a salesperson, I can dig into the project or application because I’ve had 40 years of experience on the road – which is something we didn’t necessarily do before. Now, they have a sort of wingman.
Sometimes the outside guys will send me out on a project if they can’t physically be there for some reason, just to have an AEC presence there so we’re face-to-face with our customer, helping things work right.
Do you miss being on the road?
The part that I’ve always liked the most is contact with customers. I miss sometimes getting out in front of the customer, but a lot of that is still the same. I was just on the phone for half an hour with a plant manager, and it gives me the same satisfaction helping him.
I’m doing the same thing I have for almost 50 years, which is helping people. It could be as simple as following up with emails to let them know their order has shipped or will be arriving today. I enjoy making a busy person’s life easier. In today’s world of emails and texting, it’s still the connection with people that’s most important.
It must have been very different before the days of cell phones and email.
When cell phones first became a thing, we were one of the first test markets. There were 200,000 mobile phones in the entire country when I got mine. My phone bills were about $600 a month and you didn’t get much service – leaves on a tree could cause interference!
But new tech is a game changer. I used to have to call 10 people before I could leave the office to present information to a customer. Now I can provide a customer with almost everything they need, while being inside. Going from drawing boards to computers, you expand your capabilities with new technologies.
Any final thoughts about being with AEC for nearly 50 years?
I couldn’t have asked for a better company to work for. There’s nothing I enjoy more about my job than meeting the next new employee. As new hirees just coming out of school get involved and are still learning what it takes to make things happen – I enjoy going through that learning process with them.
You pick the right person and that relationship blends into this AEC family. Always changing yet staying the same is something you can count on here.
In his role as Sales Support Specialist and all around Wingman, Tony is often the first point of contact for clients calling in to Advanced Equipment Company.
If you have any questions about material handling equipment, finding a solution that fits your application, or just want to hear a really good story or two, you can call Tony at 704-527-3141.