Published on April 18th, 2015 | by UC&D Magazine0
The Century Mark
From humble beginnings in 1915 in Logan, Cache Valley Electric has stood the test of time.
Not many businesses survive – let alone thrive – once they hit the third generation in a family tree. Cache Valley Electric (CVE), led by President/CEO Jim Laub since the early 80’s, has bucked that trend and celebrated its 100th anniversary on April 1, 2015.
Laub, whose grandfather Henry Laub started the family business in Logan in 1915, feels a sense of pride at reaching the century mark, but is quick to point out that nobody at CVE is resting on their laurels.
“100 years – it’s rare for a third generation company to survive. Everyone in the company is prideful of our heritage and history, but I’ve been stressing to everybody that I don’t want people to think too much about the past,” said Laub. “Those 100 years are in the bank. I don’t want people to take their eye off the ball. The current year, and the next year, are really the most important.”
“You look back on the past and you have a level of appreciation for the people who helped us get to where we’re at,” added COO Nate Wickizer about the significance of CVE turning 100. “I’m appreciative of that history. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the hard work of so many people. It’s about not forgetting what got us here, and then doing everything we can to ensure the success of the next generation of workers.”
CVE is the largest specialty contractor in Utah, and last year ranked No. 45 nationally in ENR’s Top Specialty Contractors list, up from No. 60 in 2013. CVE’s revenues the past three years reflect the firm’s momentum, as it went from $185 million in 2011 to $258 million in 2012 to $326 million in 2013.
The firm’s diversity and expertise in a number of electrical construction markets illustrates its strength. Besides its Electrical Division, CVE has many divisions and areas of specialization including Teledata, Technology Services, Signal, Utility and Highway, Service, and Systems Integration.
“Jim had the foresight to diversify and start up all the other divisions,” said Carl Hipwell, VP of Field Operations who has been with CVE for more than 33 years. “We try and be a one-stop solution for everything on the electrical and technology side of construction.”
Henry Laub, a native of Illinois, was installing power lines in the Western United States when he first came to Cache Valley in northern Utah. Henry and a few other men ultimately bought a firm called Logan Electric, which was renamed Cache Valley Electric and opened its doors on April 1, 1915.
An advertisement in the Logan Journal newspaper announced the firm’s creation, stating its business (electrical construction, wiring and repair; electrical and automobile supply distributor), it’s policy (honest work at honest prices; promising fair and courteous treatment), and it’s ambition (to have people visit their store and ultimately become a permanent, satisfied customer).
Henry Laub was known for his strong work ethic and passion for sports. A graduate of the University of Southern California, Laub built his company on a reputation of doing anything it took to make clients happy. He was famous for saying, “Give the customer what they want, and then a little more.”
Henry’s son, Jack Laub (Jim’s father), carried on that tradition of customer service after Henry passed away in 1959 at age 75, when he suffered a heart attack while attending a UCLA-USC football game a the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Jim was only 9 when his grandfather passed away, but he remembers him as being incredibly passionate about the family business, in addition to sports.
“That’s the way he would have wanted to go,” says Laub, who admits to being a rabid sports fan himself, particularly Utah State University (USU) athletics. “I don’t have a lot of memories of my grandfather, but he was just one of those icons from the early days (of Logan) and he laid the groundwork for the lifestyle the community is known for.”
Jack, who was born in 1917, earned a degree from USC in electrical engineering and was vital to the firm’s growth and success, particularly during World War II when CVE experienced a substantial growth spurt and worked a lot on projects at Hill Air Force Base. Jim said his father “was baptized by fire on some of those projects,” and ultimately took over the business in the 50’s, guiding the firm through prosperous times in the 60’s and 70’s, before the construction industry began experiencing difficult economic conditions when 1980 rolled around.
Jim recalled starting to work at the age of 9 or 10, doing things like sorting bolts, sweeping floors, and moving boxes around the company shop. “Just something to give you a taste of the work environment and teach you the work ethic,” Laub said. “I remember developing relationships with people – that is the backbone of our company, or any company for that matter.”
Laub attended USU initially before transferring to Arizona State University, where he spent two years in ASU’s construction program. He returned to Utah in 1974 and started working as an electrician in the field for several years, a time he thoroughly enjoyed and remembers well.
“I enjoyed every second of it,” said Laub. “I remember getting up in the morning, packing a lunch in the old lunch bucket, meeting our guys at the warehouse and driving to Hill Air Force Base. It was a great learning experience and it gave me a chance to relate to and gain a great deal of respect for the guys who carry the load in the field. They were some of the smartest people I ever dealt with and I tried to instill in my boys to have great respect for our employees.”
In 1982, the Laub family had to deal with the tragic death of Jim’s younger brother, Stan, who was killed in a car accident at age 23. It set the wheels in motion for a change of leadership within the company.
“It was a devastating blow to our whole family,” Laub said. “That was when the recession was at its peak. My father was 65, and a lot of employees were retiring – we had a huge turnover with a lot of key employees leaving within a 2-3 year period. My older brother Jack Jr. and I split
the responsibilities of the company (Jim bought him out in 1996).”
Laub remembers his father as a champion of the industry, someone who did the right thing all the time.
“He meant everything to me,” said Laub. “What made him stand out was his unbelievable integrity to do the right thing no matter what. Anybody who knew my father would understand what I’m saying. He taught me everything and steered the company through some rough times, quite honestly.”
Expansion and Progress
Despite difficult economic times in the early 80’s, CVE caught a major break at the beginning of the decade when it had the chance to work for Nucor Steel, which was building a steel mill in Plymouth, Utah. Laub said it was a key point in the firm’s history, as Nucor was in full-blown expansion mode and invited CVE to work on many other steel mill projects in six states in the nation, and even overseas in Thailand. CVE performed valiantly for Nucor on that first job, and it essentially opened up doors in the heavy/industrial market, which has proven to be one of the firms most consistent market segments.
Hipwell remembers Jack Laub’s persistence with Nucor in those early days ultimately paying big dividends.
“Jack was persistent in getting us the opportunity,” said Hipwell. “(Nucor) was having a hard time getting (the Plymouth mill) built, and within a few month we were the only contractor still out there. Jack told me when I was an apprentice, “I want everything you do when you’re working for us to be something you’re proud of. Do the job right, treat the customer right, be professional, and it will lead to more opportunities.”
Laub cites the firm’s decision to open an office in Salt Lake City in 1986 as another key milestone in its history.
“We were no longer just a small electrical contractor in Northern Utah,” said Laub. “It was significant and it created all kinds of opportunities for us. From our Salt Lake office, we opened our Teledata Division, our Service Division, and really expanded our footprint. That changed us as much as
Besides its headquarters in Logan and office in Salt Lake, CVE has offices in Beaverton, Ore., Blytheville, Ark., and Dallas, Texas.
One thing that hasn’t changed over the firm’s 100 years is how it values its employees. Laub says his grandfather and father both went to great lengths to show its workers how much they appreciated their hard work and dedication, and made sure they felt like part of the family. Even though the firm now has over 1,300 employees, they still try and maintain the atmosphere of a family-run company.
“We have a great workforce, a great staff and team,” said Laub. “No way I could do it alone. One of my favorite sayings is, when you’re out hiring, good people tend to attract other good people. At one time I knew all of our employees, I knew their families. That’s one thing I miss now that we’re bigger – it’s impossible to know everyone.”
“We have a family culture here,” said COO Nate Wickizer, an 18-year veteran at CVE who met Laub when he played basketball at USU from ’92-’95. “We’re a decent sized company but everybody feels like part of the family. We value what people have to say. No question that Jim and the Laub family have set that tone. They care about their employees and treat them exceptionally.”
“One thing about Jim, you always have the support you need,” added Hipwell. “We have gotten bigger and it’s not quite as small of a family as it was, but it has always been a very tight family. Very few people leave Cache Valley Electric. They’ve been more than generous for all these years, not only monetarily, but in other ways too.”
Wickizer said he and other CVE executives feel the mantle of responsibility in making sure the company maintains its prosperous ways.
“I’m appreciative of our history,” he said. “It’s a huge responsibility to provide for the ones you love and you take it pretty darn seriously. There is a lot of pressure on us to make sure we’re doing the right things.”
Laub, who is 64, says he has absolutely no plans of stepping away anytime soon.
“Retirement doesn’t even enter my mind,” he said. “I love what I do. I love the people I associate with. My wife would go nuts with me around all the time. I know and enjoy a few things: family, work, athletics. I’m excited where we’re at as a company.”