One of the most interesting things about covering the electrical business is learning about the family businesses that make this industry tick. Entrepreneurs that start electrical contractors are often colorful characters with interesting tales to tell, and these stories make for great reading in CEE News. Successful entrepreneurs have that certain spark - that fire in the belly. They are leaders who make things happen.

The owners of electrical contracting firms and their families live, eat and breathe the company 24 hours a day. The company often surfaces as the main topic of discussion at the dinner table. The vice president of one family-owned electrical company said they have spent more than one family gathering immersed in discussions about the company with his cousins who work in the business. "We can't get away from it. I get tied up talking about every little detail. The wives hate it and try to get us to stop. We are in it 60-70 hours a week and then on the weekends, too. It's inescapable."

When the company scores with a big bid, the family rejoices together; when times turn tough and jobs don't come in for the company, they shed the same tears. As anyone who has lived through a family-owned business can tell you, it's an intense experience. The family relationships and sibling rivalries between "sons-of-bosses" (SOBs) and "daughters of bosses" (DOBs) bind tight and cut deep.

One of the most important chapters in the saga of any family-owned business is the story of succession. As owners approach retirement age, they must decide whether or not to groom a son or daughter to take over the reins of the company, sell it to a group of interested employees or sell out to one of the large national firms that have acquired so many family-owned electrical contractors over the past few years. It's not an easy decision for any owner, and experts on succession planning all emphasize the need for a well thought-out plan that should begin well before AARP starts sending those oh-so-humbling mailers.

A third-generation electrical contractor that has successfully plotted its succession course is the subject of one of the main features of this issue. The oldest independently owned electrical contractor in the U.S., 101-year-old E-J Electric Installation Co., Long Island City, N.Y., is featured in Staff Writer Amy Fischbach's article "Towering Security," (page 14). The article covers the security system that E-J Electric installed in the World Trade Center. Tony Mann, company president, is the grandson of company founder, Jacques Mann, and son of Bob Mann, E-J Electric's chairman and CEO.

While dozens of electrical contractors have sold their businesses to large national consolidators such as Integrated Electrical Services, Encompass, Bracknell and Quanta, independently owned electrical contractors like E-J Electric outnumber the nationals by far, and stand to play just as important a role in the electrical construction industry's future as they have in the past.

I would also like to call your attention to our new "Home Networking" department making its debut in this issue. The editors of CEE News see structured wiring for the home as one of the biggest business opportunities to come along in some time. To help you learn about this market niche, Paul Rosenberg, CEE News datacom consultant and contributing editor, will be writing a monthly correspondence course on home networking in conjunction with Iowa State University. Enjoy!