electrical capabilities at asf electric

It’s a Family Affair: Electrical contractors value working with relatives

FAMILY-OWNED BUSINESSES produce nearly 60% of America’s GDP. They also make up 63% of its workforce, according to the latest available 2020 U.S. Chamber of Commerce statistics.

While competition compels family-operated electrical contracting firms to grow in new ways, many continue to be led by family members. Family and generational dynamics play an important role at ASF Electric Inc., Daly City, Calif.

ASF’s CEO Andrew Ferrari established A.S. Ferrari & Son Inc. in 1971, with the help of his now deceased wife, Louise, who worked for the FBI.

Wearing a suit jacket pinned to a maternity blouse at the sides, Louise Ferrari kept her supervisor at the FBI from noticing she was pregnant. She also defied late 1950s tradition by continuing to work while raising her four children.

Fast forward to 1975: her oldest child, Cathy (Ferrari) Lagomarsino was married for one year, in college and working. She told her supervisor she was pregnant and was fired. So, she approached her parents about joining the family business.

“I started as a sort of Girl Friday, answering the phone, typing, doing a little accounting … even [restocking] electrical materials,” she said. “I did basically everything [involving] estimating and project managing, but not electrical work. There are still women today being fired or passed over for promotions for being pregnant. I never had to deal with a glass ceiling. There was no one saying you couldn’t be project manager or president.”

In 1983, she earned a C-10 Electrical Contractor License from the state licensing board. Now, she leads ASF as president.

Her brother, John Ferrari, third oldest, entered the family business as a light fixture washer while in high school. He became a journeyman in 1986.

“I started working for another company because, back then, they wouldn’t let you work for family,” John Ferrari said. “That business closed down, so I went back to work for my father in 1989. I’ve been there ever since.” Now he’s a senior estimator and project manager.

Caren Ferrari, the youngest, serves as treasurer and director of operations.

“We all fill a lot of different roles, but I’ve always enjoyed the service department aspect,” she said.

Other family members involved in the business include a sister, Jayne, who owns a one-fifth share of the business; Lagomarsino’s husband Steve; her son Jimmy, project manager and estimator; daughter Nicole, A/R service director; daughter-in-law Nicole, Qmerit service/social media coordinator; cousin Marc Leveroni, service director; and Leveroni’s son Jake, who is a pre-apprentice.

In 1996, All State Electric Inc. and Ferrari & Son Inc. merged to become ASF and Caren Ferrari became treasurer. The change facilitated the company’s transition from a C-corporation to an S-corp, which allowed more flexibility and for succession of the business to younger generations, she said.

While the Ferraris value flexibility, they insist on honest communication.

“We’re Italian,” Lagomarsino said. “Some of our employees say we need to have an electrical contractor reality show. Our father encouraged us to express our opinions. In fact, he likes it when we’re all debating. He loves the back-and-forth.”

Besides weekly meetings, the family gathers with a moderator for annual meetings in a hotel conference room.

“We’re making big decisions, and we do this off-site because things tend to get heated,” Lagomarsino said with a laugh. “We may go at each other, but we’re family and we know we’ll be going out to dinner afterward. We get over it, but we don’t want our employees to be upset.”

In 2020, ASF posted annual revenues of $21 million. The company steadied itself through the pandemic by serving schools and taking on public works projects, as well as by focusing on existing customers and following Andrew Ferrari’s direction to “Do what you can each day.”

ASF kept all of its electricians working, Lagomarsino said. Family members assumed a supportive role for employees, providing free food packages for pickup at ASF locations.

ASF specializes in lighting, maintenance, electric vehicle charging installations and emergency backup power.

Like others in the industry, the company must grapple with new challenges, including supply chain issues and bureaucratic permitting processes.

“There’s so much constantly coming at us, we’re being more strategic, going after selective work that’s more profitable,” Lagomarsino said. “We don’t necessarily want to grow bigger, either.”

That savvy approach requires passing on industry knowledge to new generations. For that reason, and for the love of their work, the Ferrari siblings, who are in their 50s and 60s, do not plan to retire anytime soon.