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Close-up: Tim Dudek

New NECA San Diego president's goal to keep worker training up-to-date

As the new president of the local chapter for the National Electrical Contractors Association, Tim Dudek said he plans to push an atmosphere of preparedness within the organization's membership.

That preparedness is aimed in a number of directions: at a dynamic and technologically advanced electrical industry; at the continued use of social media in business; and at the industry's next wave, whatever it might be.

"Even though I am the president, I don't have a radical agenda," he said.

Dudek, who outside the NECA boardroom is president of the electrical subcontractor Saturn Electric, explained that because of the relationships with the board's past presidents and the organization's membership, he already understands what's important to NECA.

What's on his agenda as president, he said, is typically what's already on the minds of those around him.

"In our board meetings, we're pretty vocal about what we want to do," Dudek said. "We pretty much move together as a unit."

Making sure NECA contractors "stay on the forefront of the market" is his first priority.

That means an emphasis on training in areas such as solar technologies or new Title 24 energy codes.

"We have to train ourselves to understand what the laws are, the products -- how to move into those markets," Dudek said. "If you're a small company, maybe with five to 20 employees, it's really hard to stay on the forefront of these items. When are you going to have time to go to class and learn?"

NECA, with its partnership with the San Diego Electrical Training Center, has the resources to create those training opportunities, he said. He intends on making the most of it.

Advances are so pervasive, he said, that even embracing social networks such as Twitter (NYSE: TWTR) and Facebook (Nasdaq: FB) -- which he said helped Saturn when it began in electric-vehicle charging stations — is a must for contractors expecting to compete.

"In the old days, we used to just be pipe and wire, power and lighting," Dudek said. "We have to be able to do (more), or we're just going to be archaic."

NECA held a six-hour seminar in early February on understanding the breakdown of a San Diego Gas & Electric bill.

For the uniformed, that can be complicated enough to understand, given the emergence of smart meters and various rate structures.

But Dudek said understanding it is the only way NECA contractors can accurately plan projects with customers expecting a savings on their bills.

He wants savings projections to be better than guesses, so contractors can compare alongside customers the tiered rates to the product labels of the items being installed.

A year ago, NECA San Diego and the local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers announced an additional investment in the Imperial Electrical Training Center, which nearly five years ago began offering the same apprenticeship training provided at the San Diego center.

The continued investment in both centers is a must for NECA, Dudek said.

Dudek's presidency at the organization follows a long line of associations with NECA. His father, Ron, who bought Saturn Electric in 1977, was involved with the organization since before the family moved to the San Diego area from Illinois.

Dudek has been on the NECA San Diego board since 2004. He began his term as president Jan. 11, when the chapter held its annual executives installation at the Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines.

Installed into the supporting executive roles, Bob Davies of Davies Electric, Tim McBride of Southern Contracting and Earl Restine Jr. of Fuller Electric each began terms as vice president, treasurer and governor, respectively. McBride was the organization's most previous president.

Dudek attended the University of Southern California, earning his bachelor's degree in economics in 1988.

The delicate situation that comes with family-run businesses, he said, kept him from joining his father's company for many years.

"I grew up in the business," he said, noting that his mother worked the books while his dad performed estimating on weekends when the company was smaller. "I learned how to do it by watching my parents do it. As our company grew, I would hear about all the problems. And I worked on the jobsites in the summer -- delivery person, utility tech. Support."

His first job was many years earlier, though, and had nothing to do with the industry: He caddied at a Chicago-area country club in the fourth grade, working 36 holes of golf in the summer.

Once in San Diego, Dudek's father always wanted him to eventually work at Saturn, he said, but wanted him to work somewhere else first.

"It's not always a positive thing for kids to come into a family-owned company," Dudek said. "There's been a lot of reports -- talk to any family-owned company that's out there, and you'll know that some kids can come in, but many cannot."

It wasn't until his father was in his 60s that Dudek accepted an offer to work at Saturn, after years in other industries, including sales, money management and time as a senior account executive for Minolta.

"I accepted a job working somewhere else and he was like, 'No, I don't think that's gonna happen,'" Dudek recalled. "That was in '96."

He went to work for Saturn full time the next year, and after eight years became its president.

"I had to learn all the facets of the business," Dudek said, making special note of things such as liability insurance, cash flow analysis, worker's compensation and OSHA standards.

Certain things he encountered took him back, mentally, to his time at USC. That was especially true when the Great Recession was building, he said.

He said he could see things coming even before the slowdown hit the industry.

"I could see it by reading the economic indicators," Dudek said. "Understanding a business cycle, I knew we were in for a rough road."

It wasn't a turn to a doom-and-gloom mentality, he said, but rather a reading of reality. He proactively trimmed his payroll.

"It's the hardest thing that I ever do," Dudek said. "It still is. These people have families. They have responsibilities. You become friends -- it's the hardest thing you could ever do."

Saturn had cut back about 70 percent of its staff by the time the layoffs were complete. The company is still small -- the new norm, Dudek said.

From 2010 to now, sales are roughly the same, as is the size of the payroll.

While he knows Saturn's never been one of the biggest subcontractors, Dudek said, it's still too small.

"I don't have any aspirations of being 250 men, but I'd like to get back to where I used to be in 2005, ’06 and ’07."

Turning back to the economic indicators of today, Dudek said there are some bright spots, with residential building picking up in San Diego and development starting around new homes.

"You're seeing some other, bigger projects starting to go -- like this Kaiser hospital starting up," Dudek said. "You've got some big projects at UCSD going, which is nice to see. But some of the municipalities, they're not spending much money now. But maybe they're going to. We're hoping."

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