For me, it all began with a guidance counselor meeting.
I knew in high school that I wanted to be an electrician. One day, meeting with my guidance counselor, I mentioned that interest. The counselor happened to know the electrician who handled the electrical work around the school and connected me with him. When I graduated, I went to work for him and officially got my start in the industry. The rest, you could say, is history.
This year marks my 36th year at Windemuller. I started here in 1986 – my third job out of high school – and took on a project manager role working out of the Grandville office. As Windemuller began eyeing expansion to northern Michigan in the early 1990s, the owners offered me the opportunity to lead the new branch office. I took the role and have been happy to call Traverse City my home ever since.
2005 brought another big change in my career. Ever since Ed Windemuller had started the company in 1954, it had been led by a Windemuller family member – first by Ed himself, and later by his sons, Mike and Mark; and by his son-in-law, Chuck Alles. By the mid-2000s, Mike and Mark were ready to retire and they made me an offer: How would you like to be the next president of Windemuller? It was a dream come true, a major challenge, and a difficult decision, all in one. On the one hand, I’d always wanted the opportunity to lead a company. On the other hand, I would be the first non-Windemuller family member to lead the business (big shoes to fill!) and I knew that taking the job would mean a lot of travel – a lot of time away from home and away from my kids, who were in high school at the time.
Of course, I ended up taking the opportunity, and so began a 16-year tenure as president. Those years have seen both a massive recession and a global pandemic, both of which have posed existential challenges for our business and our industry as a whole. When things got hard, I always tried to keep in mind what I’d told myself when I took the presidential role in the first place: that I wanted to find a way to leave Windemuller better than I’d found it. Things got very tight in those years – especially during the recession, when there were times I didn’t even take a paycheck – but I tried to prioritize what I thought was best for the company in the long run. For Windemuller, that meant avoiding mass layoffs and trying to maintain our staff, given how many veteran employees we had – in the office and in the field – and how detrimental it would be to lose all that experience and institutional knowledge. I’m proud that we were able to make it through those years, and that we kept a lot of good people to boot.
There are other big accomplishments that I look back on fondly, as well.
I’m proud, for instance, of our safety culture, which I think has gotten tremendously better over time – not because of me, but because our people have committed themselves to a higher standard.
I’m proud of growing our company in terms of revenue, geographic reach, and diversity of services – most notably with the acquisition of Hovey Electric in 2014. When I took over, we had two branch locations and were primarily an electrical contractor; today, we have seven locations and offer a wide range of different services, from electrical to automation to communications to renewable energy.
I’m proud that we were able to start a scholarship program for our employees, and of how that program has helped our families put kids through college, trade school, mission trips, and more.
Most of all, I’m proud of our team and how we’ve weathered the storms to come out on the other side – twice – looking as strong as ever. I suppose that’s why I feel like now is a good time for me to pass the baton to the next generation. Could I have stuck around for another few years? When you’re leaving a company that feels like home, the answer to that question is inevitably a “yes.” But I’m happy to step aside and provide opportunities for others – including our new president, Steve Alles – and to watch from a different vantage point as this company continues to grow and thrive.
I’ll still be around. At this point, Windemuller is in my blood, and I’ll always be there to advise Steve if he needs it, or to offer any other assistance when I can. But I’m ready for a breather, and to pay back some of that time I missed with my kids when I first took the president job in their high school years. Those “kids” live in other parts in the country now – in Detroit, in Wyoming, and in Texas – and some of them even have kids of their own. My wife and I look forward to being in their lives more.
But I’ll never forget the years I spent at Windemuller. It really has been a tremendous gift to count myself as a part of this team at all, let alone to lead that team. I am humbled to have gotten that opportunity. When I sat down with my guidance counselor all those years ago and said that I wanted to be an electrician, I knew we were talking about career options. What I ended up finding at Windemuller was a family. So, thank you all for a wonderful 36 years. Here’s to whatever comes next.