Sam Kim

Vice President, U.S. E-Commerce Group
W.W. Grainger, Inc.

What is your definition of leadership? A great leader is able to harness the power and wisdom of a diverse team. You need a vision and a strong imagination that enables you to transfer innovation from outside the box into the box. A leader needs to listen, observe, and question.

What advice can you provide for young leaders? I tell young people to be the best at what you do right now, but always think like an owner or CEO. You need to anticipate the needs of your colleagues, and it’s very important to invest in yourself with further education, seeking help from mentors, and reading books.

Headquarters: Lake Forest, Illinois
Web Site:
Primary Business: Distributor, Maintenance, Repair, and Operating Supplies
Employees: 18,000

What was the defining moment in your life in which you understood your leadership? I was in college when my mother died in a car accident, and that was when it really sunk in to me that I had a promise to fulfill. That moment of realization still influences how I act every day, reminding me of my obligation to further better myself.

Given the chance, would you do anything differently? Life is funny when you think back upon what could have been if you had made different choices. But I have no regrets, I feel privileged to be where I am, and I just wish my mother were still alive.

Education: B.A., Northwestern University; M.B.A., Northwestern, Kellogg School of Business
What I’m reading: The Tipping Point, and Outliers, both by Malcolm Gladwell; The Innovator’s Dilemma, by Clayton M. Christensen
My philosophy: Leaders come in all different styles, but what they all have in common is people who are following in support of their vision.
Interests: Coaching my two boys in baseball, woodworking, water activities with my family.