While the economy may be tough on the construction industry in recent years, Fenton, Mo.-based Kaiser Electric is celebrating 60 years in business, having seen its share of ups and downs throughout its history, but ever evolving to suit the times and maintain a positive outlook. From the humblest of beginnings, Kaiser Electric has successfully survived 60 years of economic challenges and advances in technology and electrical trends to become one of the St. Louis region’s most recognized and respected electrical contractors. Robert Kaiser, chairman and general counsel for Kaiser Electric, attributes the company’s success to its ability to attract good people and having developed niches in the hospital and water treatment industries.
“Kaiser Electric has a reputation for being a good place to work,” says Kaiser. “A lot of electricians have loyalty to Kaiser and want to do a good job. Having good relations with customers, treating them well and being honest is what we really do best. My father founded the business on those principles and they remain true today, 60 years later.”
Kaiser Electric has come a long way since its founding in 1952, with the company’s earliest financial records from 1958 indicating sales of $231,500 and a modest staff. Kaiser Electric currently employs about 150 electricians and a fleet of 60 vehicles with divisions in Central Missouri and Southern Illinois. In 2011, Kaiser Electric reported sales of $30 million, an increase of $4 million over 2010, and is projecting sales of $24 million in 2012. And, like most construction companies, Kaiser Electric has weathered the recessionary times by maintaining core beliefs and strategies.
Kaiser Electric was founded when electrical engineer and entrepreneur Robert B. Kaiser purchased a small electrical contracting company, Chapleau Electric. In its beginning, Kaiser Electric was run by Ed Belt along with Kaiser, still working for Moloney Electric, helping out on weekends. The company, named E.R. Belt and Associates, had a staff of five and a small office in South St. Louis. Business thrived, and by the 1960’s Kaiser was able to buy out Belt’s share of the company and begin working full-time for Kaiser Electric. The business continued to grow at various locations on Hanley Industrial Road, and in 1988, Kaiser retired and passed ownership of the company to his four sons, Robert, Tom, James and John.
Tom Kaiser served as the company’s president for several years before leaving the business for other pursuits. Lynn Laws was hired as his replacement and worked with the remaining brothers to further grow the business. In 1997, Kaiser Electric moved its headquarters to its current location at 1552 Fencorp Drive in Fenton, Mo.
Laws retired in 2003 and was replaced by the company’s VP George Azzanni, who served five years in the president’s seat until his retirement in 2008. The company’s executive VP Steve Giacin was then promoted to president. That same year, the three Kaiser brothers, each beginning to reach retirement age and with no third-generation Kaisers to take over the company, sold 70% of their stock in the company to four long-time and trusted Kaiser employees: Steve Giacin, who purchased the majority of stock; Mike Lundry, CFO; Mike Murphy, vice-president/project manager and Ken Naumann, VP/project manager. Robert Kaiser currently serves as the company’s chairman and general counsel and James Kaiser serves as vice-president.
Since taking over as president, Giacin has faced some tough economic times and decisions that included employee lay-offs and cuts to keep the company profitable. Giacin was also able to expand Kaiser Electric to areas in Missouri and Illinois where the type of projects that Kaiser performed were more plentiful and opened offices in Central Missouri and Granite City, Ill. Giacin said diversification and employee dedication have made Kaiser Electric strong during these difficult times.
“Moving into different markets is a very difficult thing to accomplish, unless you are able to hire the right people that fit your culture,” says Giacin. “When you have good people working for your company, they are the difference makers through the good times and bad. We have a culture that allows for flexibility and we don’t try to be everything to everybody, just the best that we are capable of day-in and day-out.”
Giacin said Kaiser Electric is now more focused on health care and design-build, higher profile projects where Kaiser’s engineering services can expand to a broader customer base and promote growth. “Kaiser Electric was never as visible in the marketplace as it is now,” Giacin said. “The profile of projects has also changed and we have changed with it. By bringing in a well-rounded management staff and securing top flight field supervision, we can now secure those types of projects.”
Examples of Kaiser Electric’s major projects over the years include:
- Historic Peabody Opera House Renovation
- University of Missouri at Columbia Power Plant Upgrades
- Dave Mungenast Lexus of St. Louis’ New LEED Silver Dealership
- St. Louis City’s Citygarden
- Lemay Waste Water Treatment Plant
- Lighting of the Gateway Arch
- Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital Addition/Renovation
- Metropolitan Sewer District’s Lower Meramec Lift Station in St. Louis County
- SSM St. Joseph’s Hospital Expansion in Lake St. Louis
- St. Charles Community College Expansion
- BJC O’Fallon (Progress West)
- Westar Headquarters in St. Charles
- St. Luke’s OSB
- Vatterott College, North Park
- Emerson Auditorium
- Collinsville Waste Water Treatment Plant
- Staunton Waste Water Treatment Plant
- Granite City Waste Water Treatment Plant
- University of Missouri - Columbia Dormitory Renovation