When Gina Addeo goes to work, she enters a man’s world. While more women are entering the electrical industry, few pioneers like Gina have blazed trails for them. For her, it is not a matter of breaking into a boys club—it is a family affair. After all, a good percentage of electrical contractors follow in their father’s footsteps. What makes the Addeo family unusual is that it is not just the boys doing the following or leading. For ADCO Electrical Corp. and GMA Electrical Corp., both in Staten Island, N.Y., electrical contracting is a family thing. Gender has nothing to do with it.

Gina Michelle Addeo is the first female electrician licensed by New York City and is also founder and sole owner of GMA Electrical Corp. Today, with a medium-sized business, she garners respect from her colleagues in the industry, nearly all men. The New York business is 12 years old and a major player in New York’s electrical projects.

There are significant advantages to being a minority or female in the industry. Gina has her company certified as a Women-owned Business Enterprise (WBE) by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the city of New York, and the state of New York. That status has helped the company thrive. The Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises program was developed to ensure minority and women-owned firms have an equal opportunity to participate. It offers incentives to hiring a percentage of women- or minority-owned businesses during a construction project.

Her interest in the business began decades ago when her electrician father, Richard Addeo, opened his own small business, ADCO Electrical in Staten Island in the mid-1970s. It amounted to a few office staff and a handful of electricians; several employees were family members. Starting at age 15, Gina came into the business to answer phones, help around the office and learn how the business worked.

“I was there every chance I could get,” she said.

After school, weekends and summers, the teenager was learning the basics of electrical contracting and running a business. Not only did she learn some of the technical side of electrical contracting, she watched her father’s company grow.

“I knew I wanted to do something in the electrical industry, and I found it interesting. I admired my dad, and I wanted to help him,” she said.

ADCO was a family business. As the company grew, Richard Addeo’s father and father-in-law joined its ranks. When it came time for college, Gina said her mind had already been made for her.

“I was good at math and science and was interested in electricity,” she said.

That led her to Stevens Institute and electrical engineering. Addeo graduated from Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, N.J., with a BSEE. Straight out of school, looking for work in Manhattan, she joined the former Rich Inc., where she spent two-and-a-half years working with customized computer systems.

When business lagged for the company, she looked for a position at ADCO and found one in 1986. She also joined the IBEW Local Union 3. ADCO had been growing steadily as Gina worked on her education. By 1986, it had grown to be one of the largest electrical contractors in New York City with between 500 and 700 electricians and an office staff of about 70. Robert Harper, now senior vice president at ADCO, was project manager when Gina came on board, and she served as his assistant.

“She took everything seriously,” Harper said. “Once she got to work she was great.”

In 1992 she decided to take another step.

“I don’t know who, how or what put the idea in my head,” she said, “but I decided to get my license.”

She pointed out that most men, especially those whose father owned the business, would take that kind of step after several years on the job, and that was what she wanted to do. When she entered the classroom in New York City she discovered two things: there were no women in New York City with an electrical license and she knew more about the electrical business than she had realized. She was enrolled in the first class that included women—there were three of them—and was the first to get her license.

Gina quickly came to the conclusion that she could open her own business. The IBEW Local 3 chapter had room for more electricians, so she rented out a storefront in Staten Island, named the company after the initials of her name, and got to work. The office consisted of several desks for the different functions of the business, although Gina said she sat at all of them. There were initially no office employees. Her first electrician and foreman was John Reilly who went on to become the company superintendent.

“I was really fortunate because I had John,” she said. “He’s someone who thinks outside of the box. He doesn’t wait for me to tell him everything.”

GMA’s first job was for the New York/New Jersey Port Authority at the World Trade Center. She secured the job, she said, because her company is a WBE. By 1998, she added a bookkeeper and a handful of electricians. Meanwhile, ADCO also continued to grow, becoming one of the largest contractors in New York City. In 2003, ADCO built a new 75,000-square-foot building on Staten Island. GMA became ADCO’s first tenant and the two companies became neighbors.

“We do similar types of work,” she said of GMA and ADCO, but she is keeping GMA purposefully small. Today, the company sales average $15 million annually with about 35 electricians and an office staff of four.

“We try to keep [bids] at $1 million or below,” she said. “I find there’s a comfort level.”

No matter where she is, Gina is likely to be in the minority among the men of the electrical industry. That didn’t bother her when she began the job as a teenager and it doesn’t bother her now. If anything, she finds there is a significant advantage to being in the minority.

“I find I’m lucky to be here in a time when it’s unusual to be doing what I’m doing,” Addeo said.

GMA’s designation as a WBE has brought her more work. And as far as other electricians and construction people go, even the “tough” ones, she said. “I found they treated me more as a niece or a sister or a cousin. Everyone I have dealt with has been encouraging. [Being female] has only been positive.”

GMA wiring is installed in all five boroughs of New York. Some recent installations include a fire alarm upgrade at Verizon in the Bronx, a lighting and power job for Ernst & Young in Times Square, and many port authority jobs at the World Trade Center for fire alarm upgrades. GMA has also wired lighting, power, telecommunications and security for American Airlines at JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports. In the past year, ADCO has had its hands in some of New York City’s larger projects, including Steiner Studios, Queens; the Brooklyn Navy Yard; the Associated Press on 33rd St. in Manhattan; Bank of America on Broadway; USTA, Flushing, Queens; Lehman Brothers, 6th Ave.; and Deutsche Bank, Park Ave.

Despite her unique career path, she is still modest, according to those who work with her. Some, such as Mike Miglino, vice president at ADCO, recalled her since her youth, working with her father in the contracting business. Much of what she learned came from her early years at that company, everything from routing cable to working with union negotiations and accounts payable.

Usually surrounded by her male counterparts, Addeo is comfortable in that setting.

“She has their respect,” Miglino said, in large part because of her professionalism. “I think it would not take a long time in any conversation with her—especially in a technical conversation about a job or the global industry—to know she is a real professional.”

Addeo said there never was a master plan for her life, and she still doesn’t have one.

“It’s been one small goal to the next small goal,” she said. Throughout each goal, Gina’s father has “stood back and let me do it on my own.” He has allowed her to learn from experience. “Believe me, there’s no better experience than making mistakes,” she said.

In 1998, Addeo earned the National Electrical Contractors Association’s (NECA) leadership award that is given to women in the industry. She is now vice president of the New York City chapter of NECA.

She is also a member of Professional Women in Construction, the Women Presidents’ Organization and serves on the New York City Department of Small Businesses advisory committee. One of the tasks she enjoys most is being entertainment chairperson for her local NECA chapter where she helps put on the chapter-wide annual dinner-dance.

As for Richard Addeo, “He’s pretty proud,” she said “And I am even more proud of him.” EC

SWEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at claire_swedberg@msn.com.