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: What do you anticipate the future of the company will look like?
DONNA KOLB BOESL: We will continue to grow at a pace that we can hire, but the problem is that, in today’s world, electricians and service people are harder and harder to get, so we don’t want to over-promise our customers and not be able to get to them. So, we will grow at the pace at which we can make sure we can continue to take care of our clients as well.
Our first year was $2.6 million, and last year was $5.3 million. This year, we’re not doubling! This year, we’ll just take care of our clients, make sure our processes and everything are running smoothly, and then continue to grow in small increments each year.
Q. You’re a female CEO in a predominantly male field. Do you face any challenges related to your gender?
A. It’s definitely a man’s world in this electrical contracting business. My husband’s a master electrician, so he and I work very closely together on running the company, and without the people that we have in place. I wouldn’t be where I am, but it is challenging. It’s gotten better over the years, definitely. I think more and more people know me, but it’s kind of odd that a female owns an electrical contracting company. It’s just getting the name out there and getting the relationships out there, so that they can see the type of quality work that we perform.
Q. How would you describe your leadership style?
A. What I’m doing a little differently is being more open to change. I work with coaches and am very open-minded and am willing to try something new, and to be open to new technology—open to new business ideas. Electrical is electrical. I mean, there’s new LED lighting and all that, but wiring is wiring. But we’re focusing on being open to how we handle the business, and where we go for our customers, looking at what types of processes we have in place to make sure that we’re able to do the best work for our clients most efficiently and in today’s world.
Q. How do you reach your customers?
A. For the residential market—because obviously the homeowners didn’t know us at all; you don’t really have those relationships, one-on-one, with them—I have an amazing marketing director who helps me with the direction and suggestions on where to go to look for homeowners, and get the name out there so that the residential market will know us. The property management market, my husband and I both do a lot of networking. I’ve known these people for a lot of years. I go to a lot of networking events, and get to know them that way, so that’s been very helpful. I belong to several different types of organizations that deal with property management and I stay in touch with them. We also have business development employees, so they go out and are able to keep the name out there, and talk to people and make sure that they know that we’re around.
Q. Have you considered expanding the business into other areas?
A. We have just the one office and we realize we don’t need another office because we can do everything from here. Our electricians go straight from their home to the job site, so it doesn’t matter if it is in Virginia, or Baltimore County, or Anne Arundel County/ We handle everything out of this office. We’re getting close to 50 employees now, so we are growing—and always looking! We’re still looking for great electricians and supervisors.
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