When Sid Jacobson began selling cutting tools from the trunk of his car in 1941, he operated with integrity, respect, and a commitment to each customer. He was a leader whose values and passion for excellence are the foundation of what has become MSC Industrial Supply Co. (IMTS booth #432228.)At 52 years old, CEO and President Erik Gershwind jokes that he started in the business 51-½ years ago, because MSC has been in his blood his entire life. He started from the bottom up, sweeping floors, answering phones, and picking orders. Today, Gershwind is just the fourth CEO in company history, and his lifetime of experience makes it easy to retain “institutional memory.”“My grandfather founded the company on three principles,” says Gershwind. “The first one is values. We live by a very tight set of values that track right back to him.”The second principle is growth, the “lifeblood” of the company, allowing reinvestment in customers, associates, suppliers, and the community. The third is reinvention.“If you’re not reinventing, you’re standing still, and if you’re standing still, you’re moving backwards,” he says. MSC abides by a mission of maintaining a state of restlessness, something they keep in check with quarterly meetings to discuss and review business goals.“The idea is to never be satisfied, because that’s how I think manufacturing will continue to power this economy,” says Gershwind.Next-day NetworkSince its founding, MSC has recognized its customers’ desire for convenient, one-stop shopping. “We carry over two million SKUs, representing over 3,000 suppliers, and that number continues to grow,” says Gershwind. Harrisburg, Penn., is one of five major distribution centers for the company, each occupying more than 500,000 square feet. The expanding network allows next-day shipping to anywhere in the continental United States (fun fact: MSC offered one- to two-day delivery via UPS starting in 1988). “If we think about the trends like reshoring and our customers’ mindset about supply chain proximity, we also need to think about the infrastructure investment that’s required for this country,” says Gershwind. “At MSC, we feel really well-positioned, and our outlook is quite good.”Going back a decade or two, Gershwind describes MSC as five large distribution centers and a network of people around to support the customers. “Today, a lot of our footprint actually exists inside the operations of many of our 400,000 customers,” he says. About half of the company’s $4 billion in revenues are called solutions revenues because they go beyond a simple buy-sell transaction. For example, solution revenues come from MSC’s in-plant program that places an MSC associate inside a customer’s business and the sophisticated vending machines that dispense tooling and provide reporting data on usage to help customers manage their supply.“Staffing is probably the biggest issue facing most businesses, certainly in manufacturing,” says Gershwind. “For our in-plant program, an MSC associate will be the customer’s arms and legs. Internally, MSC focuses on succession and talent development from the inside. We invest a lot in training our associates. We also focus on diversity, because historically we have only tapped into a portion of this country’s population and talent.”Great Prospects As more technology comes to market, the question that comes up for Gershwind and other businesses is whether the future is about technology or people.  “We reached the conclusion that the answer was both, not either/or. Technology enables MSC people to bring insights to our customers,” says Gershwind. The power of combining people, technology, and growth creates an inspiring future.“I’m optimistic, and I’ll speak on behalf of all 7,000 plus of our associates,” says Gershwind. “Manufacturing has had an incredible history to date. We feel like it’s just getting started. We’re optimistic about the prospects for MSC in playing one small role in what is going to be a really great story over the next decade.”  Check out leading North American distributor MSC Industrial Supply in booth #432228 at IMTS 2024.
From its humble origins in 1941 — cutting tools sold from the trunk of car — MSC Industrial Supply now carries over 2 million SKUs representing more than 3,000 suppliers. Through it all, the founder’s principles continue to guide the company, now led by CEO Erik Gershwind, who feels optimistic that manufacturing will continue to power the economy.