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Leadership role in family business working out for Maloney

Jackson — At age 54, Eddie Maloney has already had a long business career. The president of Cowboy Maloney’s Electric City 12-store chain began working in the family business at age eight by answering the telephone on Saturday afternoons.

“It wasn’t bad,” he says. “Like a lot of things in life, if you start young you don’t know any different.”

He is the middle son of the business founders, Cowboy and Dollie Maloney. Younger brother Johnny and older brother Con have always been involved, too.

“I describe this as a large family business in electronics but it’s not like a national chain,” he says. “We have over 200 employees and still run it like a family business. We have a number of employees who’ve been here quite a few years.”

One salesperson has been there 40 years. Maloney remembers when he made deliveries for that employee’s sales. After graduation from Ole Miss in 1972, the young Maloney returned to run the company when Con Maloney was elected to the state senate.

“I was the eyes and ears for Con,” he said. “In a short time I was buying and doing many things. There might have been some thoughts of ‘Why is this young guy telling me what to do?’ but I had no problem being accepted. The three of us have done all the jobs we ask employees to do.”

The biggest challenge for Maloney, who’s been company president for 25 years, is making decisions he knows are right that affect people and their families. “We know these people and their families and feel a great responsibility to them,” he said. “Major corporations don’t look in those people’s eyes.”

Of course competition is and has always been a concern of family businesses. Maloney says the names have changed but success is still about giving good value. He’s seen even more focus on prices in the past 10 years.

“We’ve always tried to be a price leader,” he said. “We have mirror plus pricing. That means someone can shop our competitors and we can match it. Plus we’re local and they can call us with issues and suggestions.”

Part of Cowboy Maloney’s ability to be competitive with prices is due to their membership in a large national buying group. They are the smallest of 12 members who do $3 billion in sales annually. Some members are public corporations. Eddie Maloney says the family has discussed going public but the odds of doing that are slim.

The company is also a member of the National Association of Retail Dealers of America, which provides beneficial information.

Being able to reach the company owners he feels is important for customers. All three brothers’ phone numbers are listed, their calls are not screened and they still work on Saturdays unless they’re out of town.

He leads by example and says all three brothers have different personalities, each complementing the others.

“There will always be a place for family businesses, and there’s nothing new about the problems you hear for these businesses,” he said. “It’s a little different with electronics and appliances. We carry 40 to 50 brands and the products are distinctly labeled so we have to have competitive prices.”

But he admits that leadership succession within the family is a hard issue. “That’s the tough part,” he said. “Our mom and dad taught us how to do it but I’ve always heard the third generation is the toughest.”

Maloney is the father of three daughters and has a son-in-law working in the business. As for other family members joining the company, that remains to be seen. There are also employees in leadership positions who have invested a lot of time with the company.

He thinks Mississippi is a great place to do business. Cowboy Maloney’s Electric City sold the first DirecTV system in the nation 11 years ago and also had the distinction of launching satellite radio.

“Those are pretty special things, and we were lucky to do those here,” he said. “We’re proud of them.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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