Woman-owned electrical contractor delivers on some of city's big jobs.
Aside from changing light bulbs, ballasts and fixtures as part of a Power Authority energy saving program, the five year old company has also lit the scoreboard at Shea Stadium, illuminated the archaeological digs at the Federal Courthouse, powered new subway signals and electrified numerous office towers and Fortune 500 companies.
No one should underestimate Egg Electric's president, Ellen Aschendorf. The spunky blond is making inroads into the male dominated world of electrical contracting by providing hands-on service and personal attention. "We're fair but tough," she said.
As Aschendorf puts it: "You get your foot in the door because of the Women and Minority Business Enterprise program, but my employees and myself have taken it from there. You have to prove yourself . . . and what really counts is performance."
Her company's performance has brought her numerous repeat jobs for companies like Olympia & York, Chemical Bank and Digital Equipment, not to mention invitations to sub-contract for companies like Tishman and Lehrer McGovern Bovis.
By starting with a station wagon full of coiled cable that she and vice-president Pamela Eagle lugged from job site to job site, Aschendorf has developed a thriving company that employs between 45 and 60 primarily male electricians and billed $8 million last year.
You might say, however, that Aschendorf has electricity in her blood. Her dad owns Arctic Electric, where one of her brothers now works. Aschendorf got her start there after obtaining her accounting degree at Baruch. She handled the business end, never expecting to do any field work.
But when no one else was around one day, she skillfully handled crises for three of her dad's biggest clients and decided she liked it. "I was there and made the decisions and just handled it, she recalled.
After spending day after day working together, however, Aschendorf soon realized she wanted her "family back" and together with Eagle, founded Future Memory Communications, an electrical company dedicated to communications wiring for the mushrooming fiber optic industry.
Within two years she changed the name to Egg Electric in order to enhance her reputation as a full service electrical contractor. The Egg stands for new beginnings, as well as how they care for clients and their jobs.
To save money for clients, Aschendorf says Egg does value engineering, basically by re-designing where it would be beneficial for the client. For one six -- story health care facility in Brooklyn, they realized the owner could save a lot of money - and told him so - by going with a standard conduit and wire system rather than the design called for in the drawings.
She also has only one small warehouse and a room in her office dedicated to often-used parts. With good planning, she says, materials are sent directly to the job sites by the manufacturers. "A client comes here, they see a working environment," she said of her office. "No one is too proud not to do anything. We all pitch in and we all wear many hats.
Aschendorf says she finds it very exciting to be involved with the big projects in the city and has worked with Forest City Ratner at 11 MetroTech Center; the Foley Square Courthouse; on the terminal stations for the people mover at Newark Airport; and at a number of hospitals.
Sometimes Egg is a prime contractor and sometimes a sub. She considers her estimators critical to obtaining the job. "The wonderful thing about having an organization is that we discuss it and see where we can do value engineering and what personnel we have available," she said. "That is the backbone of our business and we take it very seriously to come up with the best number."
Aschendorf is very grateful for the Minority and Women Business Enterprise (MWBE) programs, but concerned the new mayor will undermine its effects. "If Giuliani takes a big stand against it, I'm afraid of what effects it would have on everyone else in the city who's been making such wonderful efforts to make this occur.
The programs have "really gotten our foot into a lot of doors," she admitted. "It would have taken me ten years to get where I am today as far as recognition in the construction community. The programs for me work. They do what they were set out to do."
For instance, she said, ten years ago a job like the nearly 1 million foot Foley Square office building and courthouse would have been given to one contractor. "That would have been the end of the story and no one of my size or even larger would have had anything to do with it," Aschendorf noted.
Instead, the government is breaking up these jobs. At the Foley Square office building, Egg literally got in on the underground floor, providing the electrical services on that level. Last winter, they brought in the temporary lights and power for the archaeologists working on the old Negro burial ground. As a result of their experience with Tishman Construction at that job, Egg was awarded the contract for the U.S. Attorney's Office seven-floor 175,000 square foot fit out. Contrary to what one might expect from publicity about the MWBE program in which contracts are allowed to be given to women and minorities even if the bid is 10 percent higher than the lowest bidder, Aschendorf says no project she is aware of has been given that break.
"We have not gotten any work because of the ten percent differential," she added." All these wonderful firms decided to work with the city's goals and have more minority and women's firms involved. None of us got a 10 percent advantage. It was just a way of encouraging us and breaking up the projects small enough for us to be working on."
She obtained the Shea Stadium contract by simply bidding it. "I got it because I was low bid, plain and simple . . . end of story. It had nothing to do with the 10 percent bid. I made it by the skin of my teeth."
This feisty lady also doesn't believe, as she puts it, "have to play the all-female marching band song." While her first employees were female and are the "heart" of the company, in the past year she has hired a couple of male project managers because they were the most qualified for the position. "We don't discriminate, " she noted. Recently, Aschendorf, together with the Joint Employment Office that sends electricians to all the jobs in New York, found a woman apprentice to take into her nest and train. "I thought it would be interesting to get a woman her first day," she explained. "To initiate her with an open mind. If I didn't take the extra effort, who would?"
As part of the new signal program that the MTA is developing since the fatal 14th Street subway accident, Aschendorf's company is handling the powering of the signals.
"We pray a lot and take precautions, she said of the subway environment. For the Jamaica line, Egg designed a special vandal proof cabinet. "We were afraid of them stealing the copper before it was livened," she explained, since there is a period of time when the wire is installed but not yet powered with its deadly high voltage. "We put on extra guards and locks on the equipment and we work with Con Edison to get it powered up as quickly as possible because it is a concern."
Robert Shasha, her husband of a year, is president of the Cotswold Group and is an owner/manager of strip malls. "We both deal with owners and tenants but we're just in different aspects of it," she noted. "We have a lot of common ground but enough space." When they were dating, and even now, it is not uncommon for the Aschendorfs to drop by a job site on their way to a black tie or other event.
"That's why I like construction," she said. "It's so tangible. I can walk outside with anyone and say, 'I worked in this building.' You can see the space, you can see the results. Even though I'm just the electrical portion, I feel that we were involved in it. Egg Electric produces and contributes. "