How sales powerhouse Debbie Ellis is cleaning up Ontario’s grid
Author — Dashiell Brasen
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Debbie Ellis

Job Title: District Sales Manager, Ontario
Company: G&W Electric Canada

For 27 years, Debbie Ellis has put her passion and motivation to work developing her career in sales at G&W Electric, a manufacturer of distribution voltage electrical equipment that takes power from transmission lines to the local grid. A huge NASCAR fan, Debbie slapped the racing league’s logo on her safety hardhat when she started working off-site—an example, she says, of how she applies her unconventional educational background in psychology to connect with colleagues and clients on a daily basis. Debbie also supports the Leadership Accord for Gender Diversity in Canada’s Electricity Sector and sits on the advisory committee for Women in Renewable Energy (WiRE), a networking group where she mentors others and learns from her peers in every sector of her diverse and fast-changing field.

Tell me about G&W. What does the company do?

G&W has been in the electrical industry since 1905. Our head office is in the U.S., but G&W actually opened operations in Canada in 1982 and has remained in Canada. We manufacture equipment for electrical systems, like distribution voltage switchgear and reclosers. We also manufacture—in our Canadian facility—all of the gas switchgear for the wind industry.

How did you get started with G&W? What’s your role now?

I’ve been with the company for almost 27 years now. I started in the inside sales and marketing group. I’ve been through many mergers, acquisitions and product development schemes throughout my career with the organization to get to where we are now, where we offer more intelligent devices and are able to provide our customers with reliable solutions: anything from distribution automation systems and micro-grids to renewable energy technology. My manufacturing facility alone has its own electric vehicle charging station with solar panels, and we’re doing battery storage to show our capabilities.

For the last 11 years, I’ve been covering the province of Ontario. Now I’m the District Sales Manager for the entire province, whether it be direct with [the local utility] or whether it be with the electrical contractors and the developers of wind projects. We sold the electrical switchgear equipment for the largest wind farm in Ontario.

What was that like—being part of building Ontario’s largest wind farm?

In Ontario, there are two main suppliers that would be approved to supply the electrical switchgear. The switchgear goes out for competitive bid, however, we’re the only local Ontario manufacturing facility. With these large wind farms that can be a significant advantage. We don’t have to ship equipment across the border. We’re employing people right here in Canada. If they need help in the field, we have local field support. Good Canadian jobs.

The fact that I’m born Canadian, raised Canadian, work for a Canadian-based company, to win a Canadian project and have a percentage of the project manufactured right here in Ontario, and it being the largest wind farm—there’s a great deal of pride for our company.

These orders are large for us—probably over 20 switches—so that’s a significant dollar value. We have a fun thing at our company where, for every order over $100,000, we ring a bell. It’s very motivating for our manufacturing staff when they hear that bell ringing, knowing they’ve got a few more months of work and things are good.

Have you always felt this interest in innovation, energy efficiency and renewable energy?

G&W’s product development has evolved over the years, coming up with more innovative solutions to improve the electrical grid. Years ago, we used to manufacture oil switchgear. We were one of the first to manufacture distribution voltage gas switches, and we’re now one of the leaders in solid switch technology, where no maintenance is required. Canada manufactures all the gas switchgear used in the wind industry worldwide.

To spend the past 27 years of my career participating in the growth of a relatively small and growing company, seeing the innovation and improvement of technology from year-to-year, is very exciting. We only have one planet and we really abuse it, so if a small portion of what I do contributes to the better of the planet, I’m certainly all about that.

What aspect of your work are you most passionate about?

Typically, the electrical industry is a predominately male industry and I have had to overcome some challenges with inclusion along the way. Now I’m at that mid-point of my career where I’m sandwiched between a lot of the folks who are starting to retire and the younger folks who are kind of seeing me as the one with the experience. It’s interesting being able to mentor young people coming into the industry and show them the ropes.

Sales folks have to be self-motivated. The company provides the new product development and it’s up to you to propose the solutions to potential customers to earn their business. I’m a self-motivated person so that’s been a really exciting journey for me. There’s not just one thing I’m passionate about, it’s all of the things collectively that we’re doing for the advancement of a cleaner and more efficient energy sector.

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