Midwest Electric Systems pushes through challenging economy
October 19, 2008
Steamboat Springs — If Bob and Fred Grippa woke up one morning and it was raining bricks, they would strap a concrete roof on a pickup and head to work.
At least that seems like the type of thing the father and son would do. The two, who run Midwest Electric Systems, are the sort of men who accomplish tasks without ceremony or drama. They spoke frankly about weathering the lean times and enjoying the lush ones.
“There were times when we barely had enough work to keep the two of us going,” said Fred’s father, Bob Grippa, who started the company.
Bob Grippa, who was born and raised in Denver, has been an electrician since 1960. He and a partner started D and B Electric in Denver in 1983 and later merged with Midwest Electric. Grippa bought out his partner and created Midwest Electric Systems.
The business expanded to Steamboat Springs in about 1985, and the Grippas moved here four or five years later. Fred Grippa began working for the company in 1988 after high school.
Their business has teetered on the brink of death.
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“There were times when I’d say, ‘If we don’t have something by the end of the week, we’ll have to close down,'” Bob Grippa said. “And we’d get a little job to keep us going.”
Midwest Electric Systems has boomed over those decades, going from two to 30 employees. The company is doing the electrical systems for several houses in the Marabou subdivision and worked on Howelsen Place, Alpen Glow and the Strings Pavilion.
It takes years to build trust in Steamboat, Bob Grippa said. Midwest has proven itself by doing good work, he said.
“I think we’ve created all of our own luck,” he said. “I don’t think we ever had any luck bestowed on us.”
TCD has worked with Midwest Electric for eight years, TCD Vice President Joe Jones said. They’ve partnered on projects ranging from several hundred thousand dollars to $20 million, he said.
“Our relationship has been long due to their hard work, responsive nature and honest approach to their business,” Jones said.
But after 25 years as a company owner, Bob Grippa, 67, is on his way to retiring. His son, one of seven children, runs most of the day-to-day operations.
Fred Grippa, 38, started at the bottom and worked his way up. That’s part of Bob Grippa’s philosophy.
“I’ve worked at companies where they laughed at the boss’s son,” he said. “He’d rather be on the side of a mountain writing poetry, so when he tried to run the business, he didn’t know what he was doing. So he was kind of the village idiot. I wasn’t going to let that happen to my son.”
The business might eventually be handed to yet another Grippa. Fred’s son Chase, a senior at Steamboat Springs High School, wants to take over someday. Chase Grippa works with his dad and grandfather outside school and during summers.
Fred is open to the idea of passing down the family company. He’d like Chase to take some business classes first. Bob and Fred Grippa had to teach themselves bookkeeping and other administrative tasks.
“My dad, I remember him being there what seemed like 20 hours a day doing paperwork,” Fred Grippa said.
What’s really important to Bob Grippa, however, are his employees.
“I just kind of believe in treating people like I want to be treated,” he said. “I don’t want you yelling at me and cussing me out. I want a decent environment to work in, and for the
most part they return it with decent work.”
The Grippas’ management style is effective, said Jeremiah Hughes, an estimator and foreman. Hughes has worked for Midwest for about a year and a half.
“They have a very dry sense of humor, which is very entertaining and makes a good workplace, for sure,” Hughes said.
The Grippas treat him with respect, he said, adding that they stand up for their employees.
“I think the best thing that makes it so good to work with them is that they understand what they have with their employees,” Hughes said. “When they have something good, they understand and want to keep you around. It’s nice to be appreciated.”
Now that Fred is at the helm, Bob Grippa could ease his own workload. It isn’t working out that way, though.
“The more I try to retire him, the earlier he comes in,” Fred Grippa said.
Bob, who is engaged, wants to start some retirement activities, such as fishing and riding his motorcycle.
But he doesn’t see himself completely leaving Midwest.
“I don’t want to sit around and do nothing,” Bob Grippa said. “You can only fish so much. I guess then you become a couch potato.”
That’s not his style.
– To reach Blythe Terrell, call 871-4234
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