Ducci Electric’s beauty of small: How to Dominate by Growing Upward?

Instead of expanding geographically outward, the company opts to remain nimble by growing upward. How has its unique position in the scene granted success for this game plan and the leadership's hidden gems? Read on to discover!
Ducci Electric staff assemble power station
Courtesy: Ducci Electric
By | 9 min read

The Farmington, Connecticut-based Ducci Electrical Contractor is known for its service since the World War II. With a humble beginning as a small and appliance storefront, the company then operated exclusively as an electrical subcontractor on traditional building projects. Then later day, making rampant expansion into transportation infrastructure projects and serves as the prime contractor to self-perform much of its own civil work.

Ducci’s work includes railroad, highway and bridge construction, and complete electrical construction of major healthcare facilities, casinos, data centers, academic buildings, power plants, high-end shopping malls, and state-of-the-art laboratories, among others.  

Founded in 1949 by E. John Ducci, the company remains privately owned by the family’s third-generation. How this historical growth has happened and the industry’s story from Ducci Electrical’s angle!

The Roadmap for Growth – How It Wins with Diversification?

In a recent interview with IdeaMensch, the company’s Executive Vice President John W. Ducci discourses the origin of the family business and the trajectory of how it gets to today’s position as an ENR’s top electrical contractor in the Northeast.

In retrospect, the business started out in Ducci’s grandfather’s basement as a repair and appliance shop. Over decades, it first earned the corporate name as Ducci Electrical Contractors and continued to go Northwest-ward with heavier and more technically challenging projects. While the scope of works expanded, so did the company’s geographic territory with presences across Connecticut, Upstate New York and portions of Western Massachusetts.

According to the president, the company is an old oak that is far smaller than some of the international corporation it works for and alongside. However, with consistency and small steps the company has positioned itself as a medium-sized trade contractor in a fairly small market – that is ripe for domination.

Having a portfolio spanning billions of dollars of installed work, the president says, ‘diversification’ is key for its continued success.

“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 the team a great combination of capability and flexibility, Ducci explains, in such a small market the company live in, it has had to decide to grow either outwardly geographically or upwards through diversification to find the work needed to sustain the growth it have seen. While both are experimented, the company has historically more concentrated on the latter – to go vertically with a diverse sphere of projects and customers, or as the president puts it “choosing to get better and more competitive close to home over venturing further away.”

For instance, when the company first dipped a toe into railroads, nobody thought those work could enable the business to grow approximately a half bigger. Subsequently, there was a time Ducci, and his team were nearly an exclusive electrical subcontractor in the commercial building space. To recently, it functions as a prime contractor on the highway, traffic work, railroad and beginning to self-perform more and more of its own civil work on those projects as well.

A Collection of Expertise

Ducci Electric frontline staff inspect at the railing facility
Courtesy: Ducci Electric

Evidently, the railroad works are marks of the company’s dominant position as an industry leader. According to TechGYD, Ducci Electrical and its team has completed in excess of $500 million in critical railroad infrastructure projects for Metro-North Railroad, Amtrak, and Shoreline East Railroad alone, with over $250 million in current open contracts for the same. This work has included complete replacements of the above 100-year-old and highly specialized auto-tension catenary train electrification systems on Metro North’s New Haven Line.

To show the depth and complexity of its expertise in railroad:

  • Department of Transportation (DOT) Section C1a/C2 Catenary Replacement, in process, $88.85 million
  • Department of Transportation (DOT) Section C1B Catenary Replacement and Bridge Reconstruction, completed in 2014, $87.82 million
  • Department of Transportation (DOT) section B catenary and Bridge Rehabilitation, completed 2012, $48.52 million
  • Metro-North Waterbury Line C&S Improvements, in process, $37.36 million
  • Metro-North Harlem Line C&S Infrastructure, in process, $59.6 million
  • Metro-North Harmon Yard Phase V, Stage 2, in process, $49.5 million
  • Norwalk to Danbury, Conn., railroad control and signalization, completed 2012, $22.47 million
  • Amtrak Albany signal upgrades, completed 2016, $15.94 million
  • New Haven Rail Yard East & West End Improvement projects, in process, $41.1 million

It has been about twenty years since the company first pursued work on the rail site. And to be among the most logistically challenging and specialty equipment-intensive, railroads were not easy to dominate. They have captured the healthcare, hospitality and other commercial sectors to diversify their revenue stream. The list below shows their capability from completed projects.

  • Vassar Medical Center. Completed in 2020, Ducci handled the complete electrical scope of this nearly 800,000 square foot state of the art medical center expansion, performing over $60 million in electrical installations.
  • UCONN Medical Center. Ducci Electrical did the complete electrical construction on this 422,000-square-foot, 12-story building with 169 inpatient beds, 11 operating rooms, and a 37-room emergency room suite
  • Resort World Catskills Casino. Completed in 2018, Ducci performed in excess of $30 million in electrical work in less than 15 months.
  • KLEEN Energy Power Plant. Completed in 2011, Ducci performed in excess of $58 million in work on this combined-cycle power plant.
  • UBS Data Center. This $30.6 million project included a 248,000-square-foot, Tier 3+ data center with two separate data halls
  • Yale University Residence Colleges. Spanning an entire city block and 550,000 square feet, the two residential colleges were the first the university built in 50 years. Ducci’s work included switchgear, power distribution systems, branch circuitry, mechanical equipment power, lighting fixtures, and finish work, fire alarms, data, intercom, theatrical lighting and security, and closed-circuit television systems

On top of that, the company’s experts also notice a developing trend in the industry to be away from ‘plans and specs’ contracting and toward design-build and design-assist project formats, which is another territory the company is looking forward to.

“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.” – the president addresses.

What Success Hinges On?

Ducci Electric staff inspect data center
Courtesy: Ducci Electric

Regardless of how promising it may sound, diverse scopes of work come along with the quest for a diverse talent pool. According to Ducci, starting before his time, the longstanding philosophy here is how the company’s success hinges on its leadership capability to attract and retain the best talent. “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.”

What the leadership team does is to foster an environment that people see as worth investing themselves in, to stimulate teammates who are seeking opportunities with their sweat and smarts. On top of that, leadership must hold accountability on every level and offer uncommon support up and down the chain. Particularly for union partners and craft tradespeople, the company has to make sure they are equipped with the tools and materials that are needed to deliver jobs effectively. That is a way to show your consideration and support to your talents – by paying bills as well as taking safety, compliance, and pride in every small work very seriously.

 “While we are 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.”

In addition, the president brings in his outlook on the one trend he is seeing.

It has always been a high-risk environment with good people go out of business all the time and that is not changing anytime soon. Yet the upside of this, he says, is to see young talent emerge along with their eagerness to grow businesses.

Good problem solvers are anything but an easy find, young talent combined with the right attitude often brings with them valuable new perspectives that help shape ideas over time. They might be lack of insights but time fixes inexperience, and provided egos are kept in check, he believes, there is a ton of value in what talented new personalities bring to the team as they continue to move and push company forward.

In brief, to keep business intact with the pace of market trends, being able to cultivate and captivate talents should be prioritize and put into consideration.

Principles On Being a Leader

More from the conversation, Vice President Ducci talks about his personal view upon the job and what is driving the C-suit at the company.

“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!” Ducci explains – as the construction business has continually grown more complex on nearly all fronts, especially on the regulatory front, therefore, when involved in the types of work that they engage in, they need to stay proactive in keeping up with those realities rather than reacting and playing catch up.

Ducci Electric staff inspect healthcare facility
Courtesy: Ducci Electric

For example, because the company’s customers vary from the public sector of the state, federal government entities to private universities, corporations, and developers. Each field has its own unique challenges and significant regulatory requirements that must be complied with and adapted to if the company wishes to perform successfully.

There are two personal principles, he says, has remained essence in his day-to-day operation.

First of all, is the uncomfortable truth of how everyone is replaceable, including him or other leadership. And that is anything but a negative one, as it serves as a reminder to work and live with a sense of gratitude for being able to do the things we do. On the other hand, as a service provider, the Ducci team living up to that principle yet knowing “it is not enough to be the low bidder.” Because customers have to want you, he believes, try adopting the mindset that you have to continually earn reputation, not fall back on it.

Second, a principle for productive performance – learn to tell the difference between what is most important and what is not so. Seizing opportunities and picking your battles accordingly. Simple as it may sound, the real problem often is not that obvious and in such a competitive and crowded time – you cannot miss opportunities just to dig into the wrong issue.

New and Major Investments

The company announced to be armed with more than 130 registered vehicles, not including dozens of excavators, drill rigs and other similar off-road equipment. According to the BBNTimes, among its recent purchases are specialized drilling rigs that are capable of drilling massive caisson foundations in tight quarters and in loose soils or in wet subsurface conditions. In addition, the company has also begun taking delivery of four brand-new hi-rail bucket trucks, which to be revealed at a quarter-million dollar each.

The company sees these major investments as virtual for its future work on the railroad as it allows for increased productivity through full customization, increased reliability and the flexibility to more-easily rotate vehicles out of the field – for preventative maintenance and repairs without sacrificing work capacity.

The Bottom Lines

In such a high-risk industry, Ducci and its team continue to seek future success through expansion and diversification of work – which has proved to be a practical, effective, and sustainable strategy. Especially, as considerable as the cost of new investments, the company has made its clear statement to boldly push forward its position in the Northeast.

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