Four Lessons on Leadership From Van Meter CMO, Karmen Wilhelm
- January 16, 2024
What kind of skillset does it take to lead the marketing department at one of the largest electrical distributors in America? Despite holding formal degrees in public relations, marketing and journalism, Karmen Wilhelm’s true expertise lies in cultivating relationships. Throughout her career in the hospitality, healthcare and utility industries, she has excelled in networking, serving and establishing trust. In 2011, she was asked to spearhead the creation of Van Meter's inaugural solar division. Four years later, she took on the role of Chief Marketing Officer, where she is responsible for shaping Van Meter's brand, market position and customer experiences.
Here are some of the lessons she’s learned along the way:
1. Strive for the right message, at the right time, to the right person.
For Wilhelm, there’s never been a more exciting time to work in marketing. “I feel like marketing has really arrived. Technology, use of data and our ability to personalize and direct our marketing efforts in strategic fashions has never been greater,” she said.
Wilhelm is quick to use words like “dichotomy” and “on fleek” in the same sentence (true story!), but just like her ever-evolving vernacular, navigating innovation requires staying cutting-edge without outpacing the industry or the organization. Wilhelm’s team has a keen ability to dial in on the right level of sophistication, while still serving the traditional needs of the industry.
She added, “We're making sure that our marketing efforts focus on relevant business challenges facing our customers, and we’re not just flooding their inbox. That means being disciplined enough to develop content and strategies that are personal and add value.”
2. Pay it forward.
The best part of leading Van Meter’s marketing efforts for Wilhelm is building her best team. “I take great satisfaction in seeing the ideas that appear when they collaborate with each other. It's about developing people and celebrating their successes.”
Over time, Wilhelm has honed her delegation skills, ensuring she's there to support and guide her team to align their work with the organization and brand. In her words, “I can now focus on strategy rather than the day-to-day and really allow growth opportunities for the people that I work with.”
Wilhelm strives to offer the same level of support and advocacy for her team that others have done for her. “Personally, I've been lucky to have good development opportunities, good mentors and people in my life that genuinely cared about me. When I think about Van Meter – we operate a ‘pay-it-forward’ mentality of leaving it better than we found it,” she explained.
This commitment to fostering a supportive culture reflects her dedication to creating an environment where everyone can thrive and contribute positively.
3. Always looks ahead.
Wilhelm is proud to work for a company that has intentionality and discipline around planning for the future. Not only does Van Meter have a comprehensive plan in place for the upcoming year, but the company is also rolling out plans through 2030. In addition to focusing on financial goals, Van Meter places emphasis on what type of employee-owner experience to deliver on.
She explained, “I’m a planner, and I love that we have a roadmap set out for us on what we need to do, and some of the key focus areas.”
Although 2024 will likely bring its set of economic challenges, Wilhelm remains confident. In her words, “We have this winner mentality, this ‘get after it’ mentality. We’ll do what we need to do to outperform the market. It’s one of the things we’re known for.”
Some of the upcoming projects she is most excited about in 2024 include a re-platform of the Van Meter website and developing new and innovative ways to communicate with Van Meter employee-owners and customers.
4. "Bake in" service.
Wilhelm grew up in a family-owned restaurant and started working around the age of 12. That meant cleaning the restaurant in the morning, prepping food and getting things ready for the night before going to school.
She said, “I think working in the restaurant taught me good work ethic and the importance of serving others, and making people feel comfortable and invited and included.” These days, Wilhelm enthusiastically volunteers on various industry advisory boards, actively participates with Junior Achievement and holds a position on the YMCA board of directors.
Wilhelm and her sister dressed up to work at the family restaurant.
Her dedication to serving others seamlessly extends to supporting internal teams at Van Meter, ensuring that every department is equipped with the tools necessary to enhance the overall customer experience. For example, by creating educational materials and content for the sales team, internal processes are strengthened and customers benefit from improved service. Throughout all initiatives, the central focus remains on creating lasting value.
Wilhelm enjoys spending time with her family, is an avid reader and knows her way around the kitchen. “I'm a pretty decent cook. My family gives me a hard time, though, because I have an inability to cook for just a small number of people. It's like, ‘feed the neighborhood’ kind of quantities!” It’s just another way she is serving others.