Brent Stringham Announces Retirement

After years of helping shape the wire harness industry with unparalleled expertise, leadership and grace, Brent Stringham bids farewell to a stellar career as he announces a well-deserved retirement. Brent has been a friend, mentor and resource to many in the industry and I was honored to discuss his career and future plans with him.

Brent started his sales career at the age of 19. “I spent seven years in outside sales for a small wholesaler of sundry items in Salt Lake City,” he began. “A school buddy who was a graphic designer knew I was unhappy in my current job and called me one day saying he’d been doing some design work for this nerdy engineering dude who was starting a company and mentioned the guy was looking for someone to help him with sales.”

Brent met Marlin Shelly, founder of Cirris Systems, and they hit it off. “He sent me home with a 12- inch stack of technical material to study and said come back in three days!”  I guess I impressed him with how well I understood his new tester and we agreed I would start part-time.” Brent had a wife and kids to support, so he had to hang on to that day job. He would meet with Marlin at 5 o’clock and work till about 10 o’clock at night. “We did that for months before I gave up my other job and went full-time with Cirris.”

Brent had a storied 30-year career at Cirris and helped grow the company to be a world class provider of cable test equipment. When Marlin retired, Brent decided it was time to spread his wings in the harness industry and enjoyed a relatively short assignment with Komax. The call of wiring test equipment was just too strong, however, and Brent joined DIT-MCO International as Director of Sales, Marketing & Customer Service in 2015.

His years in the industry were truly cherished, and Brent reflected on the highlights. “It’s a very unique niche industry, where there’s a lot of synergy, even amongst competitors. I think that’s why, to me, WHMA has been such a powerful element. I’ve seen so many business deals and ventures created, even amongst competitors, through WHMA. It’s an open minded, tight-knit group of both suppliers and harness shops that work together to grow the industry.”

Brent harkened back on his sales efforts over the years and relayed some wise lessons he discovered. “I never considered myself a salesperson. I’ve always considered myself a paid consultant. I made it a point to know as much as I could about all aspects of my customer’s business, not just testing.” When Brent would visit a new customer, he would always ask for a tour of the facility. “For me to help them best with my area of expertise, it was helpful that I knew their process from start to finish.”

Brent would notice things as he went on the tours. His vast experience in all aspects of the industry enabled him to make observations and suggestions along the way. “By the time we got to the last step of the tour, the test department, hopefully I had earned a level of trust and respect demonstrating that,  ‘hey this guy really knows his stuff, and our business!’  When we started talking about testing, I think I had a lot of credibility and trust built up.” There were instances where he had to inform the customer that his equipment wasn’t really best for their purpose, and because of his knowledge of nearly every competitor in the industry, he could recommend something that was. “Sometimes my stuff was simply too much, sometimes not enough” he said, “but even when I didn’t get the sale, this philosophy usually led to plenty of referrals.”

Having constantly engaged in reading and training to make himself a better asset to his employers and customers, Brent was always eager to pass these concepts on to the sales folks he trained. “The only book that was mandatory reading when I hired a salesperson was The One Minute Salesperson (Spencer Johnson).” He joked that it was short, so they would actually read it, but it also had a couple key gems of wisdom. “The ‘One Minute Paradox’ is essentially that when you help others get more of what they want or need in life, you will find that you have more success and get more of what you want. That’s kind of the way I tried to manage my entire career.”

Brent drew a unique analogy of sales being the exhaust of the engine. “If you have a very well-oiled, smooth and tuned operating engine, and you do everything as effectively as you can, then the byproduct of your efforts is what comes out the tailpipe, and that is sales.”

Another great source of his success was drawn from the teachings of Stephen Covey and his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. “After 7 Habits came out, Dr. Covey taught a year-long course in Salt Lake City called The Stephen Covey Executive Excellence Leadership Course.  Marlin went through the course early and was impressed enough that he paid for me to go through it as well. So, I literally got to learn at the feet of the master, Dr. Covey and his associates.” Brent conveyed that he has two prized mementos from his career. One is his WHMA, Bud and Gus award (now Volunteer Excellence Award) and the other is his Goose and Golden Egg trophy received after completing the full Executive Leadership course from the Covey Institute. “That was one major principle from the course that Marlin and I fostered as we grew Cirris over the years” Brent stated, referring to the Aesop fable.  “Feed the goose, nurture the goose.  The goose represents yourself, your business and your people.”

One of the strongest lessons, Brent got from that course dealt with the idea of synergy he mentioned earlier. “Covey talks about the definition of synergy as 1+1 is greater than two. He taught that there was a scarcity mentality, and an abundance mentality. The scarcity mentality is where people have the idea that for me to win, someone else has to lose. However, in the real world of business, it goes beyond that. If you look at it from an abundance mentality, then there’s more than enough for everyone, and success and resources are not finite. Covey encourages folks to shift from that scarcity mentality to promoting a mindset that benefits everyone through mutual growth.”

I asked Brent about his plans for retirement. “Everybody says I’m going to be bored, that I’m going to be looking in the rearview mirror. Well, when I look in the rearview mirror, all I expect to see is “Riverstone,” because that’s the brand of our new fifth wheel travel trailer!.” Brent and his wife, Janet, have been RV’ers most of their adult lives. He looks forward to more leisurely exploring all those places he visited on business, along with lots of golfing, skiing, fishing and spending time with their five grandkids.

At the end of our discussion, Brent wanted to make sure he gave a shout out to some folks who played a significant role in his experience in the harness industry. First, I’d like to thank Marlin Shelly for giving an opportunity to a dumb sales guy who didn’t know the difference between a cable tester and a cattle prod. I also had a great relationship throughout the years with some of the big hitters in the industry like Mike Rizzo and Darin Teasck at Schleuniger. Also, my short time at Komax. I really appreciate Tim MacAlpine for giving me the opportunity to see the industry from the other side of the connector.”

Brent also gave a shout out to Jim Manke and Kathy Schlieff of Association Solutions, Inc. who formerly managed WHMA through some tough times and brought great value to the organization. He also mentioned Lyle Fahning, past Chairman of WHMA who helped foster the collaborative nature of the organization.

Brent was also kind enough to mention us here at Wiring Harness News, stating that other than a two year hiatus when he first joined DIT-MCO, he has run an ad in every issue. He recalled many fond memories with Fred Knaack, Marilyn Magowan and Kathy Fruend and expressed his appreciation working with Jim Brown and myself these past few years. The pleasure was all ours, Brent. We wish you the best of luck in your retirement and hope that you stay in touch with your vast array of friends in the industry.