On Top Of the Family Business

Forty-one years ago, when David A. Hardt sat down with his brother Bill and a friend to discuss his future, he was at a crossroads.

He and Bill were getting their company, Hardt Electric Inc., off of the ground, and he wanted to make the most of his time in the electrical industry. After a few ideas were floated, he suggested getting involved with the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA). He could go to meetings, serve in the leadership, and maybe even one day become NECA president.

Fast-forward to 2015, and Hardt is doing just as he predicted. He will succeed Dennis F. Quebe as NECA’s 33rd president this month.

Hardt intends to focus his attention on small and medium-sized firms, which make up 75–80 percent of the market. He also wants to remain active in labor relations and pursue Category 1 language for the construction wireman-construction electrician (CW-CE) classification.

“My main goal is to have existing NECA members take advantage of their memberships,” Hardt said. “That, in turn, will draw more people into the process.”

Hardt has been involved in electrical contracting since he was young. The youngest of seven children, he started sweeping floors and emptying the garbage at C&H Electric, his father’s electrical contracting company. Upon joining the association in 1956, his father attended NECA conventions regularly.

“NECA has always been a part and parcel of our lives,” Hardt said.

After spending three years as a summer apprentice and graduating from Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., in 1970, Hardt still wasn’t sure he wanted to be an electrical contractor. He thought about becoming a minister, but, eventually, he chose to follow in the family footsteps.

In 1973, David and Bill left C&H with their father’s blessing and started Hardt Electric. 

Today, working primarily in the Chicago metropolitan area with annual sales of $10–15 million, the company does commercial remodeling and has low-voltage, green energy and high-end residential divisions.

Hardt’s suggestion of working with NECA took hold early on. Hardt Electric joined NECA in 1975.

Hardt was appointed to his NECA chapter’s executive board in 1988 and has served on it for more than 25 years, including terms as president and governor. He has also served as a trustee for the chapter’s joint pension and benefit trust, and on the chapter’s arbitration board and negotiating committee for more than a decade.

Experience on the national level is not foreign to Hardt, either. Hardt has been on the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (now known as the Electrical Training Alliance) executive committee for two years and was District IV vice president for four years. He also served as chair of the marketing committee and co-chaired the Council on Industrial Relations for four sessions. He is an Academy of Electrical Contracting inductee and in 2007 was given the Coggeshall Award, which honors a NECA member for making an outstanding contribution to the progress of the industry in the technical and training service field. Finally, Hardt has been a long-term member of the Political Leadership Council, NECA’s political organization.

“It’s amazing that this is where it ends up,” Hardt said. “I feel very fortunate. I’m honored because part of my mission is to represent small to medium-size contractors.”

Hardt said his and his brother’s experience with Hardt Electric showed him the importance of having a sense of partnership with their electricians and with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). Many of his employees have stayed with the company for more than 20 years. One reason for the high employee retention may be that Hardt Electric routinely gives out bonuses.

“It’s a family business,” Hardt said. “We’ve truly been good to our employees. They know we have their best interest at heart, and they have ours.”

Hardt enjoys his time away from work as well. He has been married to his wife, Christine, for more than 40 years. Peter, his son, is set to take over Hardt Electric when David steps aside. At that point, Hardt will get to spend more time with his granddaughter, Arya, who is usually not far behind.

“She’s not quite sure about the mustache,” Hardt said.

In his free time, Hardt sings in the choir at his church and was a board member for the Lutheran Child and Family Services for 12 years. Photography, fishing and golf are among his hobbies. He likes to hunt with Sadie, his 6-year-old Weimaraner.

“I love to watch her work,” Hardt said. “One minute, she’s a trained house dog. The next, she’s hunting pheasants.”

Hardt has come to rely on his community of electrical contractors. He has participated in more than 20 international study missions, taking numerous photos, keeping a travel journal and meeting with contractors in dozens of countries.

“I’ve learned so much from my fellow contractors,” Hardt said. “We compete with each other for jobs, but we also help each other.”

Hardt wants contractors to take advantage of the many services NECA has to offer, and he has long been a strong believer in the value of such associations. He thinks networking with fellow contractors has helped guide his company past many pitfalls and recognizes the rising level of business sophistication.

“In order to survive, you need to run your business professionally,” Hardt said. He encourages contractors to avail themselves of the “fabulous” wealth of knowledge available from MEI courses and ELECTRI studies. 

“The services NECA offers, education, training, safety and marketing would be impossible for a company of our size to have,” he said. 

Hardt sought out former NECA presidents Dennis Quebe and Rex Ferry for advice. He found that different parts of the country want a variety of things. And he knows he has a lot to offer them.

“I’m not sure what God had in store for me,” Hardt said. “It’s unfolding as we go along.”

About the Author

Jason Langbehn

Jason Langbehn is a writer based in Washington, D.C. 

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