As one of Chicago’s oldest family-owned electrical contractors, Taylor Electric Co. attributes its staying power to communication and quality work. The company focuses on vertical commercial and residential/hospitality projects, along with facilities maintenance of large-scale venues such as sports arenas and malls with complex electrical components.
“It’s always been about doing a good job and working well with others,” said Bryan K. Taylor, an electrician and foreman for Taylor Electric.
Bryan is a grandson of company founder Sam Taylor.
“It’s definitely about the quality of our work,” said Karen Michele Dinkins, COO and great granddaughter of the company’s founder. “Work done with integrity. That’s what accounts for customers who’ve been with us 30, 40 or 50 years.”
Taylor’s longevity also relates to resilience. The company survived the Great Depression and several recessions. It plans to seize opportunities related to Chicago’s billion dollar commercial/residential projects as well as airport and mass transit expansions.
In the early 1920s, an IBEW apprenticeship would have been difficult to obtain for most African Americans, but that didn’t stop Sam from learning the electrician’s trade.
“He picked up what he needed to know by working for others,” said Kendra Dinkins, president and CEO of Taylor Electric and great granddaughter of Sam Taylor. “He realized if someone feeds you, they can starve you too. It was important to take charge of one’s destiny, to establish independence, to have a company that could stand on its own.”
In the early years, Sam worked in Chicago, traveling home to Bangor, Mich., to see his family on weekends.
In 1922, he started his company in a wooden shack on Chicago’s South Side. As the business grew by word of mouth, success sometimes invited peril. Vandals pillaged job sites, costing him lost labor and ruined materials.
“Sometimes he slept at job sites with a shotgun to protect his work,” Dinkins said.
Sam’s tenacity enabled him to continue building and bring his son, Rufus Taylor, on board in 1958.
“That’s when things really took off,” said Taylor, Rufus’s son. “My dad was quite the politician and networker. He really made a name for the company.”
Rufus earned journeymen certifications with IBEW 134. Under his leadership, Taylor Electric used only union labor and gained status as a strong player in Chicago’s construction market, landing contracts with hospitals, stores, manufacturing plants, schools, housing projects and apartment buildings.
The second-generation Taylor made sure the company became a NECA member in 1974. He was the first African American man to sit on the board of ECA, the Chicago and Cook County chapter of NECA. Today, ECA boasts 700 Chicago-area electrical contractor members.
Taylor Electric approaches its 100th year with two women, the Dinkins sisters, at its helm. Both worked their way through the ranks at Taylor Electric, holding previous administrative positions in accounting, management and HR.
“Women are prominent in the firm, but we didn’t set out to make it that way,” said Kendra Dinkins. “It sort of happened organically, but the men don’t seem to mind.”
Martha Taylor, Rufus’s sister, led Taylor Electric as president and CEO from 1995 to 2015. Her portrait appears with portraits of Rufus and Sam near the entrance.
Expanding from 60 employees in winter to 100 in summer, Taylor operates with two female and two male project managers as well.
Taylor’s third- and fourth-generation leaders offered the following advice for sustaining success:
- Quality work speaks for itself. Employ union labor only.
- Embrace training. Kendra chairs the research and education committee for ECA.
- Consider new approaches. Taylor Electric employs Agile Construction to gain efficiency through prefabrication.
- Consider what’s sustainable. Don’t over-extend your business.
- Find your niche. Focus on what you’re good at and what you enjoy.
- Listen to your customers. Never overpromise just to get business.
- Collaborate with other contractors. “Chicago’s electrical contracting field is like no other,” Kendra Dinkins said. “A lot of competitors are friends.”
- Pick up the phone. Get out of the office and see your customers. Find out what they need and stop by with food.
- Give back to your community. Contact customers and fellow contractors for charitable donations, and it offers the excuse to check in.
Rufus raised thousands for the March of Dimes, which in 1995 established the Rufus Taylor Award to honor businesses who follow his lead. Since 2018, Kendra has co-chaired the annual March of Dimes Construction and Transportation Award Luncheon. Since 2016, Taylor Electric’s “Go Pink” campaign has raised breast cancer awareness as well as donations for the University of Chicago’s Cancer Research Center.
For now, Taylor Electric’s succession plans are to ensure family members and employees stay informed and share company knowledge. Bryan Taylor may one day invite his children into the company, just as his father drew him in.