On Solid Ground
Tim Baxter remembers one night way back when his father Jerry picked him up from his part-time job as busboy at the Harbor Restaurant in Parsippany, N.J. Jerry noticed the toll the long day had taken on his son.
“Well, you have two choices,” he said, as the two talked about the future. “You can choose to either work with your hands or work with your head. But remember, if you work with your hands you have to have a really good skill.”
And if you work with your head, Jerry taught his son over the years, you have to be able to connect with people and be willing to laugh at yourself. Most important, he said, you have to be humble.
In a way, Baxter chose both paths and, along the way, has developed the skills that have elevated him to the top of the CE industry.
As president of Samsung Electronics America, Baxter is known to get his hands dirty, working alongside retailers on their sales floors on Thanksgiving, personally taking their calls to help smooth rough patches or pave the way for future growth, and collaborating with them to optimize current sales and profitability. And that’s not just with the big-box nationals. He gives equal or, in some cases, more time to the independent and regional dealers that help fuel to Samsung’s growth engine.
He is also known as one of the more thoughtful executives in the CE industry, as effective at helping a retailer forecast sales, choose the right product mix and articulate a clear vision of Samsung’s goals as he is in in lending a hand to harried sales associates trying to juggle orders on a busy holiday shopping day.
“You always try to measure any executive with the level of execution of the company they represent. Samsung is one of the best out there in the terms of how they execute, and Tim is a reflection of that. He’s one of the most approachable executives in the industry,” said Dave Workman, executive director of the PRO Group. “When you’re managing a ship as large as Samsung, some executives can become a little removed. But with Tim, if you ask any dealer they’d say they know him and can call him whenever they want. Tim has solid view of the market and a balanced view of how dealers and Samsung can work together. He possesses incredible vision and exceptionally strong management skills.”
Baxter developed that vision and those skills working in management and marketing for 13 years at ATT Lucent, where he helped to establish new retail channels and partner programs (and had a chance to work in the same division as his father). He then spent 10 years at Sony, where he managed the CE and telecom divisions, developed corporate strategies and lead his team during the Blu-ray/HD format war. Seven years ago, Baxter landed at Samsung, starting off as executive vice president of sales and marketing and becoming president in 2009, assisting the CE giant in transitioning from a fast follower to a market leader in the U.S.
Despite his success, Baxter said the most important lesson he has learned and continues to follow at Samsung is to “stay hungry.”
“At Samsung, that’s ingrained in your DNA,” Baxter said. “There’s the view that staying hungry means staying in a bit of a perennial-crisis mode, and that drives the behavior that keeps you on top of your game.”
Other than managing Samsung’s CE channel and the company’s key strategic projects in the U.S., Baxter spends a good chunk of his time today recruiting and developing talent. It requires “soft skills” and, going back to the lessons learned from his father, an ability to connect with people on a professional and personal level. “You have to be willing and comfortable rolling up your leaves to deal with the tactile and strategic things,” said Baxter, who practices an open-door style of management that requires honest communication from both sides.
Baxter takes the same approach when working with dealers, no matter what size they are. “The partnerships we have with retailers and distributors are grounded in openness,. We continue to find areas of improvement and make recommendations, as our dealers do with us,” he said. “We’re quite frank with each other.”
Gregg Richard, president of P.C. Richard & Sons, said that style has fostered a successful and valued partnership between the retailer and Baxter for nearly 20 years.
“Even though Tm’s a big executive, he’s still down in the trenches,” Richard said. “I’m sure he has great relationships with the big national players, but he still finds the time to work with the local, regional dealers. He’s still very grounded and strives to understand your point of view from all of the different aspects of retail, not just one segment. He’s very connected to local retailers” DS