Wired for Excellence
Fast-growing Laketown Electric Corporation goes the extra mile to wow customers
In operation for nearly half a century, Laketown Electric Corporation (LEC) is one of the fastest-growing companies in Minnesota today. Since opening its doors in 1975, LEC has evolved from a one-man operation to become the seventh-largest electrical contractor in the state, according to Owner and CEO Matt Bergmann, who leads a talented team of 120+ employees spread across offices in the Twin Cities region as well as Mankato and Rochester.
“Our team has been recognized by Inc. magazine as one of the fastest-growing private companies in the United States over the last six years and as one of the top 50 fastest-growing businesses by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal for the last five years,” Matt says.
LEC’s jobs typically range from small one-hour service calls to $10 million contracts, with a $525,000 average scope for electrical contracts performed last year. The company has experienced remarkable year-over-year fiscal gains in recent years—including gross revenues exceeding $30 million in 2020.
The Waconia-based contractor offers a diverse range of services, including virtual layouts, electrical design and preventative maintenance/service, and performs jobs in areas spanning from central Minnesota to northern Iowa. Its robust work portfolio—which is heavily focused on the commercial and industrial markets—includes health care, institutional, hospitality, manufacturing, multifamily and specialty underground projects, among others.
Design-build is another noted specialty of LEC. The company’s in-house designers and virtual design and construction managers excel at working with owners, architects and builders on this collaboration-intensive work, which accounts for approximately 50 percent of the company’s annual sales volume. Furthermore, LEC’s leadership is proud to have strong relationships with top-notch general contractors, such as RJM Construction, Zeman Construction Company, Kraus-Anderson Construction, Knutson Construction and Adolfson & Peterson Construction.
The company’s explosive growth and expansion efforts include the purchase of Mankato-based Javens Electric, Inc. in August 2018. Matt says this strategic acquisition has more than doubled the location’s staff and gross revenues in just two years’ time.
A closer look at the company’s history reveals that its flourishing success has been hard-earned. In fact, the catalyst that paved the path to its many achievements is tinged with heartbreaking memories for the Bergmann family.
A Leader’s Foundational Values
LEC is a second-generation family business founded by David Bergmann, who passed away nearly a decade ago. Before launching his company, he was a union contractor that rehabbed apartments into condominiums in downtown Minneapolis.
An entrepreneurial spirit—and support from his wife, Christine—eventually led David to establish LEC as a merit shop contractor. “My mother and father were always partners in the business,” says Matt, who is the youngest of the couple’s three children. “She served as LEC’s bookkeeper until 2010, and today is the honorary chairwoman of the board.”
Matt notes that his father’s mentorship was foundational to shaping his character and professional conduct. “The most important things my dad instilled are great ethics and a strong moral compass,” Matt says. “He always acted with honesty and integrity, and treated others as they would want to be treated.”
He also credits his dad with teaching him the importance of living up to one’s word. “He was exemplary at that,” Matt says. “Top craftsmanship was another priority for him. He never left a site without making it look absolutely perfect. Above all, he focused on taking care of his customers and his employees first, and believed that profits would follow.”
Sink or Swim
When David died from a stroke in December 2012, at age 60, it was a hard hit to the Bergmanns. Despite their grief at the sudden loss, his two sons stepped up to guide LEC through the rocky transition. At the time, Matt had been working at the firm just two years, focusing on boosting business development activities. Chris, a professional engineer, had been at LEC for four years.
“It was very difficult at first; we had to keep everybody going while grieving my father at the same time,” Matt recalls. “I had to come up with a business plan to convince the bank to allow us to continue operations right after I gave the eulogy at my dad’s funeral,” he adds, to keep the business—which was mired in debt at the time—afloat.
Strategic decision-making and a strong accounting background helped Matt discern the metrics that LEC needed to hit in order to overcome its financial obstacles. Boots to the ground, he threw himself into a grassroots marketing effort to build a backlog of jobs for the company, which he says had a great reputation but was not well-known outside of its circle of satisfied customers.
“I was knocking on doors in an effort to build new customer relationships. I walked into general contractors’ offices and asked for opportunities, and also did networking at trade shows. That’s kind of what allowed us to spark,” Matt says. To further build brand recognition, he rebranded the company, rebuilt the website, enhanced marketing efforts and boosted social media presence to tout LEC’s achievements online. “Our strategy worked,” he says. “As people started to become more familiar with us, the opportunities continued to grow, and we got more referrals.”
After two years of hard work, LEC was finally in a better financial position to pursue more aggressive growth. “We’ve grown what was once a $2 million company in 2010 into a $30 million company,” says Matt, who along with his brother, Chris, purchased the business from their mother in 2016. Last year, Matt bought out his brother’s share and became the sole owner.
A Team Effort
Having key people in leadership positions also bolstered LEC’s successful turnaround. Matt immediately points to longtime employee Andy Kerber, who joined LEC in 1996, as a vital member of the company’s executive team.
“Andy is our Executive Vice President and my right-hand man. He was the first employee that I brought into the office after my dad’s passing, and previously ran our most challenging projects in the field as a site foreman. Now, he manages everything that we do operationally and oversees all estimating, scheduling, project planning and so much more,” Matt says.
He goes on to list Jake Radford and Dan Palmer as others who have been instrumental in navigating the company in a strong direction. “Jake is Vice President here and manages our Mankato operation. He also helps me oversee all employees, project teams and human resources functions at our new Rochester office, which opened this past February and handles projects across all of southern Minnesota,” Matt says. “Dan Palmer is a Senior Project Manager who has a very gregarious personality and is excellent with all of our customers. He manages our underground division of work, and his expertise in this area gives us a real competitive edge.”
Senior Project Manager Adam Von Behren is another valued employee. “He’s a very process-driven individual who does an excellent job of coordinating our field staff and implements pre-construction processes and technology advancements. Many of our repeat clients request him because they enjoy working with him,” Matt says.
Other exceptional personnel who are fundamental to LEC’s success include Senior Project Manager Dan Knutson, who oversees the new Rochester branch, longtime Controller Pauline Andresen, and other highly capable project managers, project foremen, journeymen and apprentices.
“Our team has been recognized by Inc. magazine as one of the fastest-growing private companies in the United States over the last six years and as one of the top 50 fastest-growing businesses by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal for the last five years.” Matt Bergmann, Owner and CEO, Laketown Electric Corporation
Commitment to Safety
Along with its focus on having a highly capable and experienced leadership team, LEC is strongly committed to keeping employees healthy and injury-free in the workplace.
LEC’s impressively low 0.67 EMR (experience modification rate) denotes an impeccable safety record, which is achieved through a comprehensive safety program that includes annual safety meetings, safety committee meetings each quarter, and weekly and daily toolbox talks. Other steps to improve safety include: pre-task planning and site analysis; participating in a site-specific safety and health program known as an AWAIR (A Workplace Accident and Injury Reduction); and other specialized training.
LEC’s Head of Operations and Implementation, Mike Lovich, serves as the safety team’s Quality Assurance and Quality Control Manager. “Mike handles all safety communications with field crews as well as daily safety tasks, pretest planning, etc.,” Matt says.
He adds, “We’re an OSHA Level 2 partner with the state of Minnesota and are working to achieve Level 3 certification in the near future.” Additionally, LEC’s robust safety initiatives and impressive safety record have been recognized by the Safety Training and Evaluation Process (STEP) program sponsored by Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). LEC currently holds Diamond-level recognition—the top tier of the prestigious program. According to the 2021 ABC Safety Performance Report, Diamond-level contractors are reportedly 655 percent safer than the industry average.
Developing a Culture of Loyalty
Much like his father, Matt strives to cultivate a family-oriented culture where team members feel valued and empowered. He says the leadership believes in hiring individuals with the highest character who will fit well with LEC’s culture.
In addition to opportunities for upward advancement and professional development, his company offers paid apprenticeships to highly motivated individuals who desire to become journeyman electricians. If it’s deemed a mutual fit, LEC hires these apprentices full time before they are even finished with their schooling.
“There has been a crunch for many companies seeking top talent, and this industry is no exception. However, we have been successful in creating a deep pool of journeymen talent that has really kept us competitive and able to perform large-scale, challenging work,” Matt says.
“Our employee compensation package is second to none,” he adds. LEC provides industry-leading pay, fully funded health care coverage for employees, vacation time, 401(k) and profit-sharing plans, bonuses, tool allowances, company vehicles and much more.
Matt notes further, “We don’t micromanage people here at LEC. We give our people a lot of power to make decisions on their own. As a result, they’re extremely loyal and go out of their way to represent us in the best way to all of our customers.”
He states that LEC’s diverse capabilities, management style and customer-tuned processes really set his team apart. “We strive not to be the biggest, but to be the best. We aim to go a step beyond what others would in terms of communication, workmanship and project delivery. Our goal is to wow our customers,” he says.
Looking to the future, Matt is humbled at the opportunity to continue his father’s legacy by focusing on ways to keep LEC growing and thriving. “If my dad were here today, I think he would be pretty excited to see all that we’ve done with his little electrical company,” he says.
He adds, “It’s a goal of mine to develop a new territory or service offering every two years. I think someday, if everything works out well, we could be a $100 million company. I believe it’s doable because we have a good recipe for building strong industry relationships and treating our people exceptionally well.”