Electrical contracting, perhaps more than any other type of contracting work, offers a wide variety of subcategories, each of which requires specialized expertise. As such, it can be difficult to locate a single contractor that is knowledgeable in all aspects of this vital service.
Across New England, however, McDonald Electrical Corporation has built a track record of top-quality electrical work delivered from its headquarters just south of Boston. Celebrating twenty years, this one-stop shop for any electrical work has expanded from a two-man team to a staff of over three hundred highly-trained, experienced professionals.
Co-founder and President Mike McDonald and Co-founder and Vice President Tom Cooney were friends since high school, and the two had already gained valuable management experience before writing their business plan and beginning the company. “We had a lot of experience working big jobs and big crews,” Cooney recalls two decades later, noting that the experience proved vital during the company’s early years. Thanks to this experience, the fledgling company managed to attract industry veterans within its first months of operation. “It was just great to see how quickly we could build a team and build as a company,” he says.
The company made a name for itself in 2006, when it landed a prestigious and ambitious contract to renovate the Boston Opera House. “That was definitely a game-changer for us as a company,” McDonald recalls. “For a young company to take on such a large project with such a challenging schedule, there were a lot of skeptics out there in the industry, and we knocked it out of the park.” McDonald Electrical has now become one of the primary electrical contractors in the Boston area.
Today, the company has annual revenues of over $60 million and a workforce of approximately three hundred people, the vast majority of whom have been rehired following COVID-related layoffs. Cooney estimates that over two hundred of these employees have worked with the company since its founding. This, both he and McDonald believe, reflects the company’s positive work culture, which is among the duo’s proudest achievements. “We’ve established a good company culture and a family atmosphere,” Cooney states, “and we were able to grow quickly because of our experience and the people that we knew.”
A measure of this growth is reflected in the company’s MEC 360 business strategy, which hopes to provide clients with all manner of electrical contracting under one roof rather than the hassle of working with multiple subcontractors. As Cooney explains, this enables the company to present a more competitive package to its clients. “We can package the electrical with the audio-visual, with the telecom. We can get them an overall better buy,” he explains. “We can offer more competitive pricing because we can package different divisions – different aspects of the jobs – together.”
To facilitate this, the company has taken steps to diversify throughout its history. Subdivisions within the company include telecommunications, security, audio-visual equipment, and utilities, among others. These provide not only additional job opportunities but also economic lifelines in the event of industry downturns.
Finally, despite the company’s multiple departments answering to a small leadership team, McDonald Electrical’s cofounders have always enjoyed a clear division of responsibilities, ensuring minimal muddling of corporate management styles.
In addition to this diversification, the company has worked to stay at the forefront of technological innovation, eager to apply tools like computer-aided design (CAD) to make electrical contracting safer, easier, and more efficient. “We have our own CAD department now,” Cooney comments, “and we didn’t starting out.” This drive for technology complements McDonald Electrical’s mission to be a one-stop shop.
As the company has expanded and evolved, the projects with which it is involved have grown larger and more complex. One of its latest endeavors is a large renovation of Boston’s South Station, a vital part of America’s oldest continuous subway system. “South Station is an extremely exciting project, not just for us but also the city of Boston,” McDonald says, elaborating that the challenge was not only in the project itself but also in coordinating with multiple government agencies. He refers to it jokingly as a ‘mini Hudson Yards,’ referring to the twenty-eight-acre development over a large train storage yard currently under construction on Manhattan’s West Side.
A second project involved the renovation and electrical work in Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross. Formally dedicated in 1875, with a seating capacity of 1,700, the cathedral is the largest Roman Catholic Church in New England. The company’s engineers worked to install next-generation LED lighting and audio-visual and security systems while working around highly sensitive cultural artifacts at elevations of up to 120 feet.
A final example is its work on the thirty-three-acre Encore Boston Harbor, a $22-million convention center with restaurants, hotel rooms, shops, and a casino. The company completed its electrical work in only nine months, which Cooney notes is reflective of the team’s willingness to respond to ambitious work. “We can do the challenging projects,” he affirms. “Throw us a tight schedule; throw us a high level of detail, and we have the people who can handle it and thrive in it.”
McDonald Electrical’s expertise and activism have won it praise and recognition, including an ‘Above and Beyond’ award from the U.S. Department of Defense for the company’s work with veterans. “If a veteran knocks on our door and we have the opportunity to give them a job, we’re going to do that,” Cooney explains simply. Both Tom and Mike have spoken at Boston’s own Wentworth Institute of Technology, which has given the company several honors over the years. The coveted Wentworth Co-op Career Employer Award, bestowed by Wentworth’s own students, exemplifies the company’s efforts to provide pathways to new workers and trade professionals. “Those awards,” McDonald admits, “are the nearest and dearest in our hearts.”
Its work with students extends beyond the post-secondary level. Acknowledging the growing problem of America’s aging workforce, the company is heavily investing in many such educational programs and pre-apprenticeship programs to cultivate the next generation of skilled American workers. McDonald Electrical’s leadership staff has sat on and have financially contributed to numerous leadership boards over the years, all dedicated to fostering new electrical workers and trades professionals. The company is heavily involved in Boston’s own Madison Park Vocational School, as well as its co-founders’ alma mater, the Blue Hill Regional Technical School. “We’re looking for people who want this as a career,” Cooney remarks of the company’s workforce development programs. “It’s an investment.”
These social outreach and educational programs endure despite the ongoing fight against COVID-19 and its resulting economic downturn. While halting most construction work did lead to layoffs, McDonald affirms that ninety percent of the company’s employees are back on the job at the time of this writing. “That unemployment period was short-lived,” due to thorough safety procedures and experience in worksite safety.
The company’s swift recovery is a testament to its professionalism, efficiency, and safety records, as clients understand that its specialists can get the job done even with fewer workers on-site due to social distancing. And Massachusetts’ various labor unions and trade organizations know that the company will continue to honor contracts without sacrificing worker safety.
As McDonald Electrical looks to another twenty years, the company hopes to maintain its pattern of steady growth and further diversification. The company is currently expanding its footprint which will require extensive time and reinvestment. “We are looking to develop the future and reinvest in our company, whether it’s the people, the technology, or the equipment,” Cooney says. “We’re going to continue to do that well into the future.”
But its leadership team recognizes that its heart lies in its employee culture, which must be cultivated. To that end, the company is committed, now more than ever, to acquiring the latest technologies and hiring America’s best and brightest. Both of McDonald Electrical’s co-founders recognize that the company’s core staff has largely enabled its success, and remain committed to it. “We realized that this is a people-driven industry,” Cooney states, “and if you take care of your people, they’re going to take care of you.”