meet the integrator
BY WILLIAM ATKINSON
Success Through Efficiency
REDWOOD CITY ELECTRIC
When small companies promote
their businesses, they often mention that their size
makes them more efficient. One electrical contrac-
tor that would take exception to that claim is Santa
Clara, Calif.-based Redwood City Electric. While it
has more than 1,500 employees in five Northern
California offices, it sees itself as the epitome of
efficiency and works hard to stay that way.
Founded in 1974, Redwood City Electric got
involved in low-voltage work when it found itself
doing a lot of traditional electrical projects and
some fire alarm projects, but it had to sub out
other types of low-voltage work.
Group leader Richard Yeadon started the
technology division about six years ago. He had
been in the telecommunications industry for
about 20 years before that.
Currently, low-voltage projects represent
about 15 percent of the work for the company,
which consists of two divisions. One deals with
fire alarm systems/installations, and the other
handles teledata cabling, some security, audio-
visual, paging, distributed antenna systems for
cellular enhancement, and first-responder sys-
tems for emergency radio coverage.
To gain such a competitive edge on efficiency,
the company uses several strategies. The first
is hiring and keeping high-quality, well-trained
“Selling work is easy, but finding the talent to
fulfill those commitments can be more difficult,”
Besides hiring employees who have been
through the Electrical Training ALLIANCE pro-
gram, the company ensures employees attend
different manufacturers’ certification training
program to stay as current as possible. How-
ever, not all training programs are equal, so the
variety of choices ensures employees get what
they need from each program.
“A lot of the manufacturer training on the
teledata side is more of a sales pitch,” Yeadon
said. “However, when you get to more special-
ized systems, such as security systems, CCTV,
etc., the training is more in-depth, and the guys
actually learn something.”
In addition, the company’s superintendents,
who handle quality control and field monitoring,
also do on-the-job training.
Redwood City Electric’s low-voltage divisions
also stay abreast of the latest technology that
“Being part of a large electrical contractor,
For example, a current project involves do-
we have access to the latest construction tools
and technologies, such as building information
modeling,” Yeadon said. “I even have some 3-D
modelers on my staff.”
Whenever possible, the company works on
projects where it can handle all, or at least most,
of the low-voltage work. That way, it can coor-
dinate these activities itself, rather than having
to accommodate other contractors doing other
segments of the work.
ing virtually all of the low-voltage installations
for a 500,000-square-foot children’s hospital at
“We are doing the teledata cabling, distribut-
ed antenna systems, paging systems, audiovisual
systems, security systems, nurse call systems,
and more,” he said.
To ensure it doesn’t overcommit itself, the com-
pany is extremely diligent about its business plan.
“The last thing you want to do is fail after you’ve
made a commitment to a customer,” he said.
One way to ensure it will meet its commitment is to focus on larger projects and, whenever
possible, not take on smaller projects that could
get in the way. While the company has some
maintenance contracts with certain end-users,
it is not something it considers a niche.
“We’re really good at building things,”
Yeadon said. “When you’re doing a $25-million
technology project, it’s difficult to find time for a
$500 service call.”
Redwood City Electric works hard to coordi-
nate with other contractors on the job.
“On the low-voltage side, specialized systems
are sometimes contracted directly to the owner,
and there is a GC [general contractor] managing
all of the other MEP [mechanical, electrical and
plumbing] subs,” he said. “Ultimately, though,
these other contractors and subs have an effect
on our bottom line as well. Just because the end-
user may be paying us, if the GC and its subs
aren’t meeting their deadlines, it can impact us
and lead to inefficiencies. The more we can cut
that off up front, the better off we are in the end.”
As a result, representatives from Redwood
City Electric attend GC meetings, coordinate with
their schedules, and keep them in the loop as
much as possible.
The company’s commitment to efficiency dictates the kinds of customers it prefers to work with.
While it serves customers in almost all industries,
it tends to do the lion’s share of its work for tech
companies, data centers and healthcare facilities,
given the options located in Silicon Valley.
However, in many cases, it avoids public projects, especially K– 12 schools. Part of the reason
is that the work generally needs to be performed
in the summer, which would lead to a big spike
in the company’s summer activity and throw its
annual project schedule off course.
Yeadon credited the company’s diligence as a
factor of its success. He said relationships matter
in the private sector.
“This is what gives us the repeat business,”
“We have an excellent track record on proj-
he said. “In the public sector, it’s based on ‘low
bid wins.’ As such, our added value doesn’t have
any effect on that market.”
About 80 percent of the company’s business
is from repeat customers.
ects of all sizes and durations, and we don’t miss
deadlines,” Yeadon said.
ATKINSON has been a full-time business magazine writer since 1976. Contact
him at email@example.com.
“The last thing you want to
do is fail after you’ve made a
commitment to a customer.”