The Michels Corporation has been delivering high-quality construction projects for more than 50 years. Dale Michels established the business in 1959 and operated the business until his death in 1997. Today, Dale’s son, Pat Michels, has taken over the family business as president. Alongside Pat, his three brothers serve as company vice presidents to ensure the Michels’ tradition continues.
The Michels Corporation has 14 divisions, one of which is Michels Power. The corporation purchased the division, the former Superior Electric Company, in 1997.
Jerry Schulz, vice president of electrical engineering and project development for the corporation, is joined by Mark Harasha, vice president of Michels Power; both are proud to be part of the team.
“We are a privately owned company, ranked No. 24 in Engineering News Record’s [ENR] Top 400 Contractors for 2014,” Jerry elaborates. “At our peak we had more than 6,500 employees between all of our divisions and more than 10,000 pieces of heavy equipment. We do not lease any equipment with the exception of certain specialized machinery. Within our division, we employ around 550 people.”
Michels Power’s main office is located in Neenah, Wis., approximately 25 miles from corporate headquarters in Brownsville, Wis. The corporation has division offices throughout the United States. With the support of a strong corporation, Michels Power has seen explosive growth during the last 27 years. The crews work nationally on diverse energy, infrastructure and power distribution projects.
A growing portfolio
Working in a similar vein to other divisions within the corporation, Michels Power is a major utility contractor for private companies and municipalities throughout the United States. The team’s niche is in the energy and infrastructure markets. Capabilities include transmission lines, distribution projects, substations and renewable power, as well as service work and installation for industrial and health care clients. The team specializes in comprehensive design-build contracts.
Over the years, Michels Power has completed a broad range of high profile, challenging contracts across the country. Recent work includes a project for Minnkota Power Cooperative in North Dakota, where the team installed a 250-mile, 345 kilovolt transmission line to run power throughout the region.
The division has also been involved in several renewable energy projects. Michels Power has been working on a wind farm development project in Concordia, Kansas. The farm in north central Kansas will provide power to run thousands of households while pumping clean energy into the grid. Scope of work included interconnecting transmission lines, a collection system, the substation, switch station and erection of turbines.
The Michels Power team has also been busy with a solar power contract in California, developing a 150-megawatt solar farm. Scope of work also includes utility development for Michels Power.
The diversity of services Michels Power offers is unmatched by many large competitors. As a large business, the division is able to perform all electrical scopes in-house. “We do not use subcontractors,” Jerry explains. “That allows us to offer better value. A customer sees only one markup for labor as opposed to having a prime markup then a sub markup. There is one project manager for the whole contract. We offer accountability and our clients can count on us to perform a quality, efficient project within a strong culture of safety.”
As a leading national contractor with a diverse reach, Michels Power has a strong relationship with NECA. The support from the association lends the business credibility and advocacy, as well as opportunities for education and networking. Jerry serves as the organization’s District 4 vice president.
“The greatest benefit to NECA membership is labor relations hands down,” Jerry explains. “The real value is the ability to rub elbows with other contractors and learn from the things they do and their respective management styles. Labor relations are a big part of what the organization represents, but a company of our size could negotiate directly with the unions and do just as well. We value the educational aspects and the interrelationship of meeting other contractors to network. That’s one of the things our chapter in Wisconsin emphasizes in particular. I have been on the board for many years and education has been a huge emphasis. We want to make sure the next generation has the opportunity to learn the latest and greatest to succeed in this industry.”
Jerry recognizes and appreciates the opportunities to meet with other contractors within NECA, but notes that making those connections has to be self-driven. “Members tend to associate themselves with similar people in terms of relationships they create,” he elaborates. “There is a huge opportunity to get to know people within NECA. Most NECA contractors are the best of the best in terms of being professionals in this industry. We are often in competition for the same projects but we all have strengths and weaknesses in what we bring to the marketplace. By building those relationships, contractors can glean that information and learn from it in order to improve their businesses. I have made good friendships, even though we are fierce competitors on the playing field. We respect each other and learn from each other.”
Michels Power’s strong capabilities and broad support systems have the business on track for steady growth in the coming years. The team has been willing to evolve over time, a factor that has contributed to continued success for the business. As a larger national company, the division faced different challenges than other contractors throughout the recession and as a result, has taken a unique approach to staying stable.
Diversification has been critical in the business’ growth over the years. The marketplace has shifted from a local to a global focus. Many of the company’s customers are international corporations, based across the country or overseas. The business’ size and strong financial backbone has allowed Michels Power to follow the market, traveling to serve large clients throughout the United States.
“We have reinvented the company eight or nine times since I first became involved,” Jerry says. “We diversify to meet the needs of the marketplace. We can always change our model, so we have an advantage. The idea is to have flexibility built into the structure of the business.”
As a company that’s shape shifts to meet customer needs, customer feedback is Michels Power’s primary key performance indicator. The operation relies on referrals and repeat business to maintain a strong reputation and pull in new contracts.
“It is a lot easier to keep a customer than to seek out a new one,” Jerry notes. “Our strong safety and productivity records help us to keep them coming back.”
The same commitment to please holds true in-house, as well. “Our ability to retain employees is another litmus test for success,” he continues. “We take great pride in having long-term employees. The key to that is not money; it is being able to offer them a satisfying career and the feeling that they are part of a team. We want employees who get up every morning and want to work for us. We really enjoy seeing our younger employees grow with the business. We see them make mistakes and manage their way out of it. We have started a scholarship program for people coming up through NECA through our foundation.”
Jerry’s dedication to his team will ensure long-term success and growth for the division. By supporting clients, employees, the community and the industry, the division is ensuring that the market is healthy and there are opportunities not just for the home team, but also the team’s peers in the business. Going forward, Michels Power, a division of Michels Corporation, continues to build opportunity within the electrical construction industry.
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