2015 California Family Business Award Winner

Excerpt from The Business Journal

Bakersfield’s A-C Electric wins 2015 California Family Business Award

By Ben Keller

In a trade as complex as electrical construction, it takes many years to prove one’s worth. For A-C Electric in Bakersfield, there’s six decades and three generations of family behind the name.

The company didn’t earn its reputation by standing still, moving quickly from wiring new homes to doing street light installations and then large public works projects like the California Aqueduct, Edwards Air Force Base and the U.S. Air Force Hospital in the Azores.

Now, A-C Electric — winner of the 2015 California Family Business Award — has its hands in all types of electrical wiring projects throughout Central California, from hospitals, schools, office buildings and retail stores to traffic lights, oil fields and solar installations.

Staff Photo

The company’s automation division relies on the latest hardware and software platforms to meet the particular demands of agricultural and food processing customers when operating their machinery.

It all started in 1945 when electricians Joseph Alexander and Tom Corr decided to venture out on their own after finishing up work as superintendents of China Lake Naval Test Station in Ridgecrest.

Soon after opening a small electricians shop in Delano, the two relocated to Bakersfield and moved from a focus on residential service to bidding on larger jobs in the public and private sectors.

By the 1960s, however, the business had so much work that it grew to six divisions throughout Central California. Unable to keep up with the demand, A-C Electric was forced to close several of its offices and recentralized to underserved or niche communities to build a closer connection to its customers.

At the same time, Tom Corr retired, leaving principal ownership to the Alexander family, who moved toward a more disciplined and fiscally conservative approach to business.

That meant building a savings surplus in the prosperous years to hedge against future peaks and valleys in the economy.

It also meant the ability to take risks on immerging electrical applications that other companies might have shied away from.

The latest examples were the creation of its automation department and taking on large-scale solar installations as an EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) contractor in the early 2000s.

Kirk Ring, director of the Kansas Family Business forum at Wichita State, and one of three judges for the family business award, noted A-C Electric’s drive to succeed.

“Rather than moving around for work, they commit to a community and build it from the ground up,” Ring commented. “This style of work has permeated throughout the company and the family.”

While adopting a new policy of more thorough and early planning on every project, A-C Electric is also preparing to open a new division office in 2016 and another in 2018.

Another secret to its longevity is a leadership structure similar to large corporations that includes a general manager, president and vice president of operations.

The arrangement was tested as Joe Alexander transitioned out of his role of general manager in the 1970s in favor of his son Tom.

The same gradual transition was repeated in the 1990s when Tom’s son Daren, a graduate of UCLA, trained under his father before being appointed current general manager in 1999.

Joe Alexander’s sons Terry and Dan Alexander are both actively involved in the business after having both served in various positions in the past.

Regardless of family affiliation, however, the company strives to treat each employee according to their merit and with impartiality, as evidenced by the first profit sharing program for union workers. Started by A-C Electric for its employees in 1952, the program now has 135 active members and funds totaling $9 million.

The company also has stock offerings with many employees holding shares, although the Alexander family holds the majority of the shares.

Outside of the job, employees and families from all three of A-C Electric’s divisions come together for an annual company picnic, along with Christmas parties, barbeques and other get-togethers.

While such events are meant to encourage comradery between employees and loved ones, the company also strives to promote family values in its operations, based on principles that include honesty and character, dependability, best-in-class workmanship, safety, personal improvement and treating customers and colleagues with respect.

Just as noticeable are A-C Electric’s philanthropic endeavors, seen in its countless contributions to community efforts such as Relay for Life, Multiple Sclerosis walks, Junior Livestock, Camp Keep, donations of land for parks and sporting venues, preservations of the historic Fox Theater in Visalia, high school robotics competitions and others.

Many community service organizations have also benefited from A-C Electric’s involvement over the years.

Daren Alexander, for example, is a member of the Young Presidents’ Organization, while others are involved with rotary clubs or boards for community fundraising projects such as the annual Go Red for Women event and the Housing Authority of the County of Kern.

And from Joe Alexander’s passion for education came the Joe Alexander Scholarship Foundation. Started in 1975, the foundation is supported by the Bakersfield East Rotary Club and provides college scholarships to deserving high school students in the Bakersfield area.

2015 Family Business Award Finalists

  • De Young Properties
  • Wildwood
  • Rosa Brothers
  • New England Sheet Metal
  • Family Tree Farms

2015 Family Business Rising Star Award Winner:

  • Snowflake Designs