CEO Ryan Lichwell (arrow) with the NEAG warehouse crew

Ryan Lichwell leads a burgeoning business

By Andy Kriege, YSN

A new corner office was needed last year at the New England Appliance Group (NEAG).

That’s because the executive now occupying it, Ryan Lichwell, was hired to fill an entirely new position at the AVB affiliate: CEO.

NEAG’s board of directors said the decision to add the post was prompted by the group’s rapid growth, which necessitated a chief executive to oversee all operations. Lichwell assumed his new role late last year following an extensive search.

Long-Term Vision

“The group has doubled its business in the last three years [and] it is essential that we have the direction to align our strategies with our long-term vision,” said NEAG President and member dealer Arthur Redding. “We felt we needed to add some more backbone strength to our structure [and so] the board decided to add the position of CEO to head up the organization.”

Redding said the board had narrowed the search down to “seven fantastic candidates.” However, Lichwell ultimately set himself apart by emphasizing the need to find efficiencies to move NEAG beyond its growing pains and help it continue to grow, evolve and adapt.

New to the buying group world, Lichwell began his career in public accounting, logging nine years at a mid-size firm in Boston before running a multi-national paper manufacturer as president/COO. In that role, he managed five locations and some 500 employees, which provided the critical strategic, operational and managerial experience needed to oversee a NEAG-size business.

Accounting Counts

Lichwell said working with both large businesses and smaller independents makes him uniquely qualified to lead NEAG. “My accounting career allowed me to work with independent companies of various sizes,” he said. “That experience helped me to understand how smaller businesses operate and will undoubtedly help me to connect with our members.”

In addition, Lichwell also serves on the board of a regional credit union with a member-owned structure similar to NEAG’s. “My position with the credit union makes me constantly think of what is best for the membership when making decisions,” he said. “That experience has translated nicely to this group and our member-first perspective.”

Lichwell has been on the job since last October and early on he proved a great fit for the rapidly expanding organization. “Ryan has really taken a hands-on approach to his new job,” Redding said. “He’s made an effort to get to know everyone personally, while diving into multiple segments of this operation quickly.” What’s more, “He has articulated his vision for where we need to go. Now he is seeking buy-in from all the stakeholders on how to get us there.”

Learning Curve

For his part, Lichwell realizes he still has a lot to learn. “There is a lot to take in, but we are starting to gain traction and make progress in the short time I have been here,” he said. “Making changes requires lots of energy and effort.  We are going through that process now. The employees take a lot of pride in the organization and will do whatever it takes to make it successful.”

The new CEO has already identified several areas for immediate focus. “Right now, we are working on having the right people in the right places while improving our processes and procedures. Our longer-term goals will revolve around organizational growth while keeping our members competitive,” he said.

But Lichwell looks forward to the challenge. “This business is unique,” he added. “I consider myself fortunate to have board members and staff who have lifetimes of experience to tap into when I need to.” 

Ryan with wife Jackie and their kids Gwyneth and Nolan

Outside of NEAG, Lichwell spends most of his time with his wife Jackie and their kids Gwyneth, 7, and Nolan, 4. The family enjoys travel, hiking, camping and sports. “I’ve really enjoyed coaching my daughter’s soccer teams for the past few years,” he said. “It’s great to see how the kids progress as they develop their skills.” Lichwell also enjoys hitting the links when he gets the opportunity. “I love the game, but I don’t play enough to be considered a good golfer.  For me, golf is more about spending time with friends,” he said.

His for yen for hiking is a holdover from younger days. “Back then, all I wanted to do was summit mountain peaks. I even spent a few weeks in Nepal with my brother making a trek around Everest base camp.”

It is in that spirit of climbing high that YSN wishes Lichwell much success in taking NEAG to even greater heights.

YSN publisher AVB BrandSource is the nation’s largest merchandising and marketing co-op for independent appliance, mattress, furniture and CE dealers.

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