As Reliable as Family
Powered by employee trust and unity, Reliable Electric celebrates 75 years
Despite its recent rapid growth, Reliable Electric, Inc., a full-service electrical contractor based in Dayton, Ohio, has retained a tight-knit family atmosphere among its employees. In fact, the resulting camaraderie and sense of shared purpose within the company’s ranks are recognized by Reliable Electric’s owner as the keys to his company’s success.
Family-Owned for 75 Years
Founded in 1942, Reliable Electric is now celebrating its 75th year, an impressive feat for a family-owned business. Joe Ryan, the President of Reliable Electric, bought the company from his wife’s uncle in 1998, when it had five employees. Today, Reliable Electric has approximately 80 employees divided among the business’ three main areas of focus: residential service, commercial service and commercial construction.
A graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, Ryan served as a commissioned officer in the military before entering into the business. He drew on his military background as he began filling leadership positions within his company. “I grew up with a service-leadership-type mindset,” Ryan says. Servant leaders, he explains, focus more on the people reporting to them than on themselves. So, he sought other servant leaders. “I wanted to hire people of a similar mold,” he affirms.
This approach has paid off, producing leaders who know how to engage well with their staff and who can bring out the best from their employees. “I knew early on it would be my goal to find and develop a team that I would both like and respect,” Ryan says. “Life is too short to do otherwise, and I have been greatly blessed with talented people. Great people attract other great people, and our success is due to each individual.”
Fostering a Sense of Family
Reliable Electric takes various approaches to foster family-like camaraderie among its employees. For example, the company trains its foremen and project managers to discuss with their staff personal issues, such as family, relationships and kids, Ryan says. Such conversations, he explains, help employees “break down barriers and engage like a family would, to make sure that all needs are being met.”
Marc Westfall, the company’s Senior Project Manager and an Estimator, has seen the benefits of this approach. “We try to stay in contact with the guys and what’s going on in their families, what’s going on at home,” Westfall says. The company also seeks to help employees balance the demands of work and family life. “We try to keep the guys working close to home, and that’s difficult in construction,” he adds. “We try to keep the commute down, so they have more time at home.”
Such consideration contributes to a positive atmosphere that helps Reliable Electric attract and retain quality employees, Westfall says. He notes that many on staff once worked together elsewhere, but over time they migrated to Reliable Electric. The company “has brought the best people together again,” he shares. This shared personal history among many of the employees helps ensure that everyone has similar goals and expectations on the job. “We trust each other,” Westfall says.
The attention that Ryan devotes to his employees also elevates the sense of family at work, says Mike Gerlaugh, the Director of Finance and Administration for Reliable Electric. From promoting from within to helping staff improve their skills so that they can tackle new challenges, Ryan works diligently to bring out the best in everyone. “He truly has employees’ best interests in [mind],” Gerlaugh says.
In turn, Reliable Electric’s relatively small size helps promote a sense of cohesiveness and purpose among the staff, Gerlaugh notes. “Everybody here feels we’re making a difference,” he says. “There’s no big corporate entity here. Either we make things happen or they don’t happen.”
Reliable Electric sponsors several “morale events” each year for employees, ranging from a formal Christmas party to informal cookouts. “I think it’s important for the company to get together off-hours. We get to know people on a personal basis,” Ryan says, explaining that this includes spouses and children of employees. Such events “allow conversations to take place that just don’t happen at work,” he adds.
Ryan’s enthusiasm for such events illustrates his commitment to making Reliable Electric a great place to work, Gerlaugh says. An accomplished chef, Ryan frequently mans the grill at cookouts. Each fall, he smokes delicacies such as brisket, ribs, salmon and chicken for one of the company’s gatherings. “Joe wants to do it,” Gerlaugh shares. “He truly cares about us as people.”
Just as importantly, employees at Reliable Electric care for each other. As an example, Ryan cites a time when a child of one of his workers was diagnosed with cancer, resulting in significant medical expenses. Within two weeks, co-workers had pitched in and raised several thousand dollars to help defray the cost of treatment. “It was one of my prouder moments as an employer,” Ryan says.
Community outreach also is a focus for the team. In keeping with his Christian principles, Ryan has sought ways to ensure that he and his employees have opportunities to transcend day-to-day business concerns. “We need to be bigger than just a good electrical contracting company,” he says. “Life’s bigger than our own work. We are the hands and feet that serve a higher purpose.”
Each year, the staff participates in the March of Dimes Foundation’s March for Babies. Additional charities supported by Reliable Electric include Ronald McDonald House Charities, Shoes 4 the Shoeless, and Agape for Youth, a Dayton-based organization specializing in adoption and foster care services.
High Morale Promotes Success
Good morale among staff helps ensure a positive atmosphere on the job site, Ryan notes, and project owners and general contractors notice. Reliable Electric has received “so much recurring work from companies just because they enjoy working with my staff,” he says.
A few years ago, one such owner requested Reliable Electric’s help on a major project in Cincinnati. With urban revitalization increasing demand for housing in or near the city’s urban core, developers have begun converting underperforming office spaces into residential units.
Reliable Electric was brought in as part of the AT580 project, so named because of its location at 580 Walnut Street in downtown Cincinnati. The effort entailed converting a twin-tower, 14-story office building into more than 200 apartments. As Reliable Electric’s first foray into the Cincinnati market, the $3.8 million project stands as the company’s largest completed venture to date.
Since then, Reliable Electric has been asked to participate on another prominent job in downtown Cincinnati, the conversion of an eight-story office building into a mixed-used development that includes nearly 300 apartments. Known as 309 Vine, the ongoing $5.5 million project is Reliable Electric’s biggest job yet.
For Ryan, such success results in large part from the bonds shared among his staff. “When you’re all invested in a common goal,” he says, “when you want to build something great and when you genuinely believe in your colleagues, it’s amazing what can be accomplished."