Donna Kolb Boesl
Sparking a new chapter in the story of a local, multigenerational family business
Donna Kolb Boesl is the CEO of Walter Electric, a full-service electrical contractor that serves customers in the Baltimore–Washington, DC metropolitan area. The company is named after Donna’s grandfather, Walter G. Kolb, who started the family’s original electric company in 1925. Donna established Walter Electric in 2015 after leading the prior family business for almost 20 years. In its current incarnation, Walter Electric has earned recognition as a top service provider in Maryland, winning an ABC Contractors Award for Excellence, and recently placing first in the “Electrician” category in Baltimore magazine’s Best of Baltimore Readers' Poll 2016.
EDWIN WARFIELD: When did you first start working for the family business?
DONNA KOLB BOESL: Right out of high school, I started working at my family’s electrical contracting business and learned the business inside and out. I did every phase of the office side of it. My father had opened multiple branch locations besides our DC office, and in 1993, I helped him open our first Baltimore location. We opened that office, and I was in charge of starting up and getting everything running in that office. In 1996, I became part owner of my family’s electrical contracting company, and just kept growing from there.
Q. What was your grandfather, who founded the business, like?
A. My grandfather had an eighth grade education. He was definitely an entrepreneur, and he saw the trend heading to electrical. When you go back and think about 1925, he put electricity in a lot of people’s homes that had never had electricity before. Today, it’s kind of interesting to go back and think—you can’t imagine it without electricity. Wherever customers in the Georgetown–Washington, DC area had gas lamps, he brought electricity into their homes. He would get on the trolley car with his tools and his wire and run service calls and service his customers that way, before he then started growing and vehicles were involved. Then, he started hiring other employees and growing the company to what it is today. He had a patent on the convenience outlet and it’s interesting to go back and look at the drawings—very similar to what the outlet looks like today. It looks a little antiquated, but it is very interesting to think that he had that creative mind, and understood the electricity inside and out, and had worked on the outlet.
As I researched as I got older and understood him better… Because, as I came into the business, he had had a stroke, so I never worked with him. I didn’t really know him on the business side. As I got into work, my father was very influential with me and where I went—he’s also very entrepreneurial and not afraid to take risks, and I kind of had the same spirit as my father and my grandfather. You know, you have to take risks. Business is not easy and you just have think out what you want to do—and make sure you have a good plan—and then you just have to take the chance and go for it. They both were very much into not being afraid to try something new.
Q. What led you to branch out and start this business?
A. We had gotten into the third generation. There was a difference of opinions, so to speak, on what direction the company was to go in. It was a very, very hard decision—took me three years to make that decision. I didn’t do it hastily. I decided it’s best to open my own company. I saw what items that I felt were important for growing a company and could make those decisions and move forward, so in 2015 we opened Walter Electric.
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