John W. Ducci is Executive Vice President of Ducci Electrical Contractors, which was founded by E. John Ducci in 1949. Ducci Electrical is a family-owned and run electrical contractor that has grown from humble beginnings in a basement in Torrington, CT, to an ENR top-75 Electrical Contractor in the nation, now working on some of the largest and most challenging construction projects in the Northeast.
With the business having started out of the family basement and progressing to a small appliance storefront, the “Flood of ‘55” natural disaster in Northwest CT led to a major influx of tradespeople and work to the area, serving as a springboard for the company to take on larger construction and electrical projects. In 1956, the company incorporated as Ducci Electrical Contractors and continued its growth trajectory in Northwest Connecticut throughout the ’60s and ’70s. The ’80s and ’90s brought greater growth for Ducci Electrical as the company expanded rapidly into more technically challenging industrial, commercial, utility, railroad, and healthcare-related projects. As the scope of projects expanded, so did Ducci’s geographic territory. The company now serves all of Connecticut, Upstate New York, and portions of Western Massachusetts.
Ducci Electrical Contractors is now an industry leader in its field, having diversified dramatically, and taken on some of the region’s most aggressively paced and highly specialized work. Family-owned and operated from the start, the company is flexible, customer-focused, and is committed to keeping a pulse on constantly changing and evolving industry trends.
Ducci Electrical has a portfolio spanning billions of dollars of installed work across some of the most technically, logistically, and architecturally challenging projects in the Northeast region. These large projects include electrical railroad and bridge construction, major hospitals, casinos, power plants, shopping malls, lab and education facilities, national defense facilities, IMS systems, green projects, historic renovations, traffic signalization, and many more. Ducci Electrical Contractors takes pride in an expanding portfolio and satisfied, repeat customers.
Where did the idea for Ducci Electrical come from?
Ducci Electrical was founded in the Summer of 1949 by our grandfather E. John Ducci after returning home from World War II, where he was an electrician and held the rank of Sergeant in the 925th HAM Ordnance. He always had an entrepreneur’s mindset, selling socks out of his trunk during the war and anything else he could think of to make a few bucks, and he chose to stick with the electrical trade he learned in the Army and go into business upon returning home. What started quite literally in his basement as a small service-based electrical business and then an appliance storefront and repair shop, grew over the decades into progressively larger work. Many years later, we are now a third-generation family-owned and family-run company that performs highly specialized building, railroad, and infrastructure work, including complex building projects such as hospitals, data centers, and more. We are signatory with the IBEW Electrical, IUOE Operators, and LIUNA Laborers unions for our craft tradespeople, and we have angled ourselves in the market to be a high-performance specialty contractor that can not only staff the most aggressively-paced projects, but also provide the level of technical expertise and robust administrative support that these demanding customers and projects require, as well.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
At the executive level, we often lament that we don’t get to talk about electrical work nearly as much as we’d like to! The construction business has continually grown more complex on nearly all fronts and especially so on the regulatory front, so when involved in the types of work that we engage in, we need to stay proactive in keeping up with those realities rather than reacting and playing catch up. Our customers include state and federal government entities, private universities and corporations, developers, and more. All projects have their unique challenges and significant regulatory requirements that must be abided by and adapted to if we want to keep performing the kinds of work we do successfully. Our company is only as good as its people and our people can only be as effective as our processes. We put a tremendous amount of effort into attracting and retaining the best talent, putting those people in the right roles where they can be successful, and setting them up for success with the right processes and good support.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Diversification is a frequent topic here when discussing how to best position the company for continued success. We are far smaller than some of the large international corporations we work for and alongside, but as a consistent ENR Top-75 electrical contractor, we have grown to what I would call a medium-sized trade contractor in a fairly small market. I think we sit in somewhat of a unique spot in that we are large enough to be engaged in some very special and interesting work, yet we are still privately owned and are not beholden to a board of directors or a large corporate parent company. This gives us what I believe to be a great combination of capability and flexibility. Given the fairly small market we live in, we have had to decide to grow either outwardly geographically or upwards through diversification to find the work we need to sustain the growth we’ve seen. While we’ve done both of these, we’ve historically focused more on the latter, choosing to get better and more competitive close to home over venturing further away. For example, when we dipped a toe into railroad work decades ago, I do not think that anyone would have predicted at the time that it would grow to be approximately half the business. While there was a time that we were nearly exclusively a commercial building electrical subcontractor, we now often function as a prime contractor on railroad, highway, and traffic work, and we are beginning to self-perform more and more of our own civil work on those projects, as well. There is also a noticeable trend developing in the industry away from traditional “plans and specs” contracting and towards design-build and design-assist project formats, which is something else we need to position ourselves well to participate in. At the end of the day, like all contractors, we are completely at the mercy of what is out there for work, and we simply do not know where the next boom in the market will be or where the next downturn may hit the hardest, so having more lines in the water leaves us in a better position to adapt to whatever cycles the future may bring.
What’s one trend that excites you?
There’s a lot to be wary of in this industry and not knowing where things are going on a lot of fronts. It has always been a high-risk environment and good people go out of business all the time. We don’t see that changing anytime soon. One thing that does get me excited, though, is seeing young talent emerge and the eagerness to grow. While that’s rarer than we’d prefer, and good problem solvers are anything but an easy find, young talent combined with the right attitude often brings with it valuable new perspectives that help shape ideas over time. We often talk about how we’ve had former employees who were brilliantly effective in their time, but whose game just wouldn’t play as well these days. That’s just because, as the industry evolves, so too does the way people communicate and do business within it. Time fixes inexperience, and provided egos are kept in check, there is a ton of value in what talented new personalities bring to the team as we continue to move forward and push towards our goal of being the best-performing and safest electrical contractor in our market.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Learning to tell the difference between what’s most important and what’s not so important, and seizing opportunities, and picking your battles accordingly. That’s often far less clear than it may sound, and it’s common for otherwise very bright people to miss opportunities they didn’t recognize or pick the wrong issue to dig in on.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Slow down. Spend at least twice the time thinking through every corner of a problem, including knowing your own truth and the faults in your own convictions, before you react.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I’ll tell you an uncomfortable truth if that’s close enough—that absolutely everyone is replaceable, me and other leadership included. That’s not a negative thing; it’s just a reality, and to me, that serves as a reminder to live with a sense of gratitude for being able to do the things we do. Even more so, for me it serves as a reminder to get up, grind, and find ways to improve and re-earn my keep every day that I get to be here.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Be a problem solver, not a problem maker. Being able to concisely articulate complicated issues, and not get lost in the weeds, is an important first step to being able to think and communicate through them effectively.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
We are where we are as a company because of our people, period. The longstanding philosophy here (starting long before my time) is that our collective success hinges on our ability to attract and retain the best talent, and that means giving them a reason to want to be here and stay here. This is a company that’s been built on the sweat and smarts of those who seek opportunity and want to go the extra mile, and we take pride in that. We are a company that has accountability on every level, and I believe we also offer an uncommon amount of support up and down the chain. We do our best to create paths to grow for those who are deserving of it, and when things go well, we share in the rewards with those who helped get us there in ways that most companies don’t. We try hard to foster an environment that people will see as worth investing themselves in, and while we’re far from perfect and are always working at that, it’s also clear that we’ve succeeded in garnering an uncommon level of buy-in and commitment from our employees. I think it says a lot, especially considering we’ve sustained that during times of considerable growth. The vast majority of our overhead employees leave here when they retire, and that’s telling. It is still a family-owned and -run company, and I think if you asked people who work here, most would tell you it feels more like that than any other company they have worked for. And similarly, for our craft tradespeople and union partners, you will most commonly hear that when you work for Ducci, you know you’ll have the tools and materials you need to do your job effectively, the company pays its bills, and that safety, compliance, and pride in our work is taken very seriously at every level of the company.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
It’s not enough to be the low bidder. Your customers have to want you. Adopt the mindset that you have to continually earn your reputation, not fall back on it.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
While I haven’t loved having to shift to using them rather than meeting people in person during the pandemic, I will admit it is hard to argue against the fact that Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and the like have made our lives much more efficient. What used to often be two hours in the car and back for an hour meeting is now simply an hour meeting that I never left my desk to attend. There is definitely a human connection factor that is lost through these platforms compared to being in a room together, and with negotiations or other potentially difficult conversations that difference is felt; however, for the majority of meetings I think those platforms are fine, and in fact, offer a lot of advantages to make our days more productive. That, and the advent of tablets and cloud-based information-sharing software has done wonders for putting the most accurate and up-to-date information in the hands of our project teams and foremen in the field, helping make their days significantly more efficient.
What is your favorite quote?
One of our favorites that a customer of ours used to use often is “There is no one person in this room that is smarter than the rest of the people in this room.” The industry is highly collaborative, and we consider these wise words to remember.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.