At the Helm: Thomas Hartland-Mackie

By Patricia Olsen

A few minutes with the president and CEO of City Electric Supply, Dallas.

Generation of family ownership: Third.

Revenue: Approximately $2.5 billion.

Number of employees: 8,000.

First job at this company: Shredding profit and loss statements for my grandfather from as young as I can remember, probably age 5. My first official job was when I was in eighth grade. We were on a family vacation in France, and I spent two weeks working at one of our warehouses there.

Most memorable thing I learned from my grandfather: I took over from him. He always told me, “If you find something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life."

Most memorable thing I learned from my mother: You can forge your own path. She didn’t join the business and was successful on her own. When you grow up in a large family business, that group is a huge center of gravity. It was nice to grow up knowing this was a choice for me, not a given.

Best thing about this job: Seeing the impact that careers in our business have had on our employees’ and their families’ lives. We pride ourselves on being a company in which you can come from any background with or without a degree and work your way up.

Our greatest success: We’ve been the fastest-growing wholesaler of electrical material over the last 10 years, and that’s been incredible for the group. But I go back to the fact that our greatest success is our people, because that number is a reflection of them.

Best advice I ever got: Take care of and empower your people and they will take care of your customers.

Quote from our company’s mission statement: We don’t have a corporate mission statement, but our family office does: “Empowering people who care to create lasting things that matter and sharing our success with our people and communities.”

On my wall: I’m a big lover of contemporary art, so I have a few paintings on the walls, and also artwork from my little kids.

One of my greatest accomplishments: I took over our U.S. business in October 2008, when we were hit hard by the financial crisis. I was able to take a business experiencing heavy losses and turn it around.

Best thing about working in a family business: You have a group of shareholders who all really care about the long-term success of the business.

Advice for other family business leaders: Communicate. When the founder runs a business, communication is largely determined by that person. I’ve tried to focus on changing that communication style. We engaged a family business adviser to help us with that.

On a day off I like to… hang out outdoors with my three kids and my wife. We have a vegetable garden, we take walks, and sometimes we go to the museums here in Dallas. We also travel as much as we can.

Philanthropic causes our family supports: We focus on children and mental health. We support the latter through medical facilities and hospitals, but also by donating to those who help the homeless. I sat on the board of the largest homeless shelter in Dallas, and we’re affiliated with Make-A-Wish and the Dallas Red Cross, among others.

I realized I had emerged from my grandfather’s shadow when… I came to the realization that if I was ever going to run the company to the best of my ability, it had to be in a way that was genuine to my beliefs. The first three or four years I ran it the way I thought my grandfather would have run it.

Future succession plans:  I’m 32. I’m hoping I’m around for a while, but I’ve talked to the other shareholders about what my recommendations would be if there were an emergency. We’re trying to work through what role the fourth generation might play, and how we can prepare them to be great shareholders.

Words I live by: Integrity is everything.        

Copyright 2020 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact    


Article categories: 
September/October 2020

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