In the past, Arrow Electronics was often called the “biggest company no one has ever heard of.” Back then, you never heard commercials about Arrow. You never saw advertisements about Arrow. But through the years, whether you knew it or not, Arrow was quietly growing and becoming a dominating force in the electronics industry—all with very little braggadocio.
Recently celebrating its 80th anniversary, Arrow has grown into a strong Fortune 500 company that spans the globe. Headquartered in Centennial, Colorado, Arrow specializes in distribution and value-added services relating to electronic components and computer products.
Every year, Arrow receives industry, partner and distributor awards for outstanding service and offerings. In addition, Arrow continues to acquire new companies, build new distribution centers worldwide, negotiate lucrative joint ventures, support technological experimentation, and continually keep looking Five Years Out.
But where did Arrow come from? How did this industry-leading company get its
start? Well, keep reading. We want you to know the whole story. And when you are done, we invite you to view our timeline infographic and take a walk down Arrow’s “Memory Lane.”
Arrow was founded in 1935 when a retail store named Arrow Radio opened on Cortlandt Street in the heart of lower Manhattan’s “Radio Row,” the birthplace of electronics distribution. Arrow Radio, established by Maurice (“Murray”) Goldberg, sold used radios and radio parts to retail customers.
By the 1940s, Arrow was selling new radios—manufactured by RCA, GE, and Philco—and home entertainment products, as well as surplus radio parts that were retailed over-the-counter in a parts department at the back of the store. Soon the firm started seeking franchises to sell new parts; the first manufacturers to franchise Arrow were RCA and Cornell Dubilier. In 1946, the business was incorporated as Arrow Electronics.
In the early 1950s, armed with additional franchises and a small field sales organization, Arrow began selling electronic parts to industrial customers. A second storefront/sales office was opened in Mineola, New York, in 1956.
By 1961, when the company completed its initial public offering and listed its shares on the American Stock Exchange, total sales amounted to $4 million, over half of which came from the industrial sales division, with the remainder from the traditional retail business. During the 1960s, Arrow moved its headquarters to Farmingdale, New York, and opened additional branches in Norwalk, Connecticut and Totowa, New Jersey.
In 1968, three recent graduates of the Harvard Business School—B. Duke Glenn, Jr., Roger E. Green, and John C. Waddell—led a private investor group that acquired the controlling interest in Arrow. With Duke Glenn as chairman, the new leadership foresaw an opportunity to transform the electronics distribution industry.
Entering the 1970s with $9 million of annual distribution sales, Arrow ranked #12 among U.S. electronics distributors. And by winning key semiconductor franchises and opening sales offices in over 20 U.S. cities, Arrow assertively rose through the ranks, growing its electronics distribution business at an average annual rate of 34 percent. At the end of the decade, the company’s electronics distribution sales had climbed to $177 million, establishing Arrow as the country’s second largest electronics distributor.
The 1970s also saw Arrow discontinue its retail operations and inaugurate electronics distribution’s first integrated online, real-time computer system to provide up-to-the-minute inventory positions and facilitate remote order entry.
The year 1979 brought Arrow’s listing on the New York Stock Exchange, as well as its acquisition of Cramer Electronics, the U.S.’s second-largest distributor and the company’s first major industry acquisition.
In 1980, a fire in a hotel conference center killed 13 members of Arrow’s senior management, including Glenn and Green. Waddell assumed leadership and, in 1982, recruited Stephen P. Kaufman, formerly a partner of McKinsey & Company, to join Arrow as president of the company’s electronics distribution division. Kaufman succeeded Waddell as CEO in 1986 and as chairman in 1994.
During his nearly two decades of service, Kaufman was the architect of Arrow’s bold consolidation of the U.S. electronics distribution industry, as well as the company’s pioneering expansion into Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. Under Kaufman’s leadership, Arrow reshaped the landscape of worldwide electronics distribution, completing over 50 acquisitions of electronics distributors.
In 2003, William E. Mitchell, former president of the Global Services Division of Solectron Corporation, joined Arrow as chief executive officer and, in 2006, became chairman. During Mitchell’s six years at Arrow, sales climbed to $17 billion as the company increased shareholder returns, achieved record operating efficiencies, and completed 17 acquisitions. With the acquisition of DNS.int AG in Europe, Arrow’s computer products business expanded outside of North America in 2005. Arrow’s computer products business was renamed: Arrow Enterprise Computing Solutions or Arrow ECS.
Michael J. Long became chairman of Arrow in 2010. Since Long’s appointment, Arrow has completed 35 strategic acquisitions that further expanded its global components and computer systems businesses, projected the company into the unified communications arena, and added reverse logistics and end-of-life management to Arrow’s product-life-cycle services.
In 2011, Arrow relocated its global headquarters from Melville, New York, to Englewood, Colorado. That same year, Arrow achieved $21.4 billion in annual sales. The company now had more than 390 locations in 52 countries with more than 15,700 employees and 120,000 customers worldwide. Arrow’s market capitalization advanced to the $5 billion level for the first time in the company’s history.
In 2012, Arrow launched the Five Years Out brand, the creative expression of Arrow’s unique vantage point across the entire technology landscape and ability to see trends before they appear on the market.
In 2013, Arrow became the first company in the industry to launch a national TV advertising campaign. The “Innovators Club” commercials were broadcast nationally on the CBS during the NCAA Division I men’s basketball finals and soon after went viral.
Also in 2013, Arrow partnered with Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Schmidt Peterson Motor Sports, Craig Rehabilitation Hospital, Falci Adaptive Motorsports, and the Air Force Research Laboratory to create a semi-autonomous motorcar, called the SAM car. On May 18, 2014, former IndyCar driver and quadriplegic, Sam Schmidt, drove the SAM car using only head movements. He completed a lap for the first time since being paralyzed from the neck down in a racing accident 14 years ago—reaching a top speed of 104 mph—at the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
In 2015, Arrow’s combined total consolidated earnings hit $23.3 billion, and we were ranked as #131 on the Fortune 500 list. Other highlights of 2015 include the launch of the DigiTruck project that provides orphans in sub-Saharan Africa with their first computers and the primary sponsorship of the No. 5 car on the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports INDYCAR team during the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season.
By 2016, Arrow has grown to more than 460 locations, over 18,500 employees, and over 100,000 customers worldwide. The future is definitely looking bright for Arrow.
And now you know our story. You’ve learned that we grew out of the early days of Radio Row and then slowly and carefully expanded throughout the years. Each step of the way was carefully and strategically considered. The decisions that were made have not only strengthened Arrow, but also turned it into one of the major electronics players in the industry.
Looking forward, Arrow will hold strong to our corporate philosophy of constantly transforming and evolving to meet the needs of our customers. And this is because we are always thinking Five Years Out.