Pearls of Wisdom From a Thriving 57-Year-Old Integration Company

A Midwest staple since the late 1950s, Electronic Contracting Company shares customer service, vendor partner, organizational and other values.

They say that with age and experience come wisdom. It’s pretty easy to see then why Electronic Contracting Company has become as respected and dominant as an integration firm can become to its Lincoln, Neb., home and surrounding Midwest branch office areas.

The company’s years of installation and service success in low-voltage integration, steered by sage veterans at the helm, can’t help but evoke images of another Lincoln pillar of sustained excellence — Nebraska Cornhuskers football under legendary coaches Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne.

In the case of Electronic, the founder and mainstay at head coach is president Adam Karavas, who likely never expected to be a magazine cover boy little more than a month after celebrating his 80th birthday.

Karavas has plenty to say about the commercial integration industry that readers can learn from. And yes, it is a little like pulling up a chair and sitting by the fireplace listening to stories of yesteryear, but don’t misrepresent that into envisioning Abe Simpson.

If anything, it’s clear from a long chat with Karavas and Electronic vice president of finance Bruce Petersen that this “hobby” of maintaining a leadership role with the company Karavas has run since 1958 helps keep this freshly minted octogenarian as sharp as other integration firm presidents — only with the additional bonus of that inherent wisdom.

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“I’m surrounded by the best people in the world and the innovations that my people come up with excite me,” Karavas says. “It’s to the point now at my age that my working is really a hobby, but I enjoy it. I’ve got terrific people around me and that’s what keeps me going.”

While discussing vendor relationships, recruiting and retaining talent, recurring revenue, customer service and more, Electronic’s management team has a story to tell about the company that embodies the message behind this month’s Business Mentoring column (see page 28) and speaks to common integrator issues.

Keeping Employees Satisfied and Ambitious

The company’s present name has been in place since 1978, but its roots began as Hy-Gain Electronic Systems, which Karavas joined as a part-timer in the TV services department when he was a freshman at the University of Nebraska.

It held the name of Electronic Equipment Supply Company in between, and has been under the ownership of local business family Duane and Phyllis Acklie since Karavas sold the company to him in 1986.

Electronic Contracting Company
eccoinc.com

Primary Location: Lincoln, Neb.
Additional Locations: Kansas City, Mo.; Omaha, Neb.; Wichita, Kan.
Principals: Adam Karavas, president; Bruce Petersen, VP finance; John Dodds, EVP
Total 2014 Revenues: $26.8 million
Years in Business: 37 as Electronic Contracting Company (57 overall)
Number of Employees: 96
Top 3 Verticals: Healthcare, Educational, Corporate
Top 5 Brands: Siemens, Edwards, LG, Crestron, Ascom

While not quite the tenure of Karavas, Petersen also came aboard in 1986 to round out a management trio along with executive vice president John Dodds, who had joined Electronic in 1984. If you’re scoring at home, that’s roughly 117 years of combined experience from the C-suite guiding a firm whose employee ranks are nearing 100.

“I think the continuity in the management team and also our sales staff and engineering staff is critical, because employee turnover in any company is a killer,” says Petersen. “What happens is you make the same mistakes over and over because there’s nobody there long enough to remember not to do something incorrectly. So that’s one of the biggest advantages we’ve got going for us is our longevity.”

Petersen estimates that the average Electronic employee has been with the firm between 12 to 18 years.

“That’s the key to our success,” Karavas says, adding, “Also, we’ve outlived the manufacturers in our industry — seriously.”

That point about manufacturers is one Electronic does not take lightly. The firm touches upon all walks of low-voltage solutions with the exception of data and telephony, so its many vendor relationships are far-reaching into the company’s four main solutions categories of communications, AV, security and life safety.

Within each, there are at least a half dozen specific technology services as well as its own integration software piece that Electronic can offer its customers, which tend to fall into larger-scale, more enterprise types.

Within the organizational hierarchy, management notes that it does not tell the sales team what products to sell; the sales team has leeway to bring product recommendations to Dodds, Petersen and Karavas.