Diversity in Construction: Canino Electric
Canino Electric is a full service, bonded and licensed electrical contractor in the greater metropolitan Chicago area. In business since 1990, the certified Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) has worked with the University of Chicago Medicine on numerous projects. We spoke with Kathleen Canino, president of Canino Electric, to learn more about her business and the impact of her partnership with UChicago Medicine.
How long have you been working with UCM?
Our first project with UCM was in 2008. It was a small project ($17,000.00), and UCM was very happy with our work, so we were invited to bid on other projects. Fortunately, we have maintained our relationship through subsequent projects that have been successfully completed.
What were some of the projects you have worked on?
A project that presented a challenge was the replacement of a hardwired fire alarm system at Billings with a new addressable system. The addressable system allows you to pinpoint the exact location of a fire so that it can be extinguished immediately. The replacement of over 1,500 field devices was performed in the 465,000-square-foot occupied medical office building, without interruption to daily activities. In addition, the existing fire alarm system was kept in continuous operation until the new system was completely functional.
An exciting project is currently underway at UCM. A new cyclotron and state-of-the-art radiopharmaceutical manufacturing facility will be installed in the sub-basement of the Bernard Mitchell Hospital. This is an active hospital and its function cannot be adversely impacted by the construction of the new facility. This is a complex project and UCM has assembled an experienced team to design and manage the project. We are proud to have been selected as a member of that team.
Describe the UCM/Canino partnership and its impact on your business? How many employees do you have?
The University of Chicago is one of our premier clients, and we hold our relationship with them in the highest regard. UCM and UC have played an integral part in the ability of Canino Electric to progress from a small electrical contracting company to a medium-sized one. We currently employ three project managers, two estimators and approximately 40 electricians.
What are Canino Electric’s specialties? How are you different than any other company that provides the same services?
Our mission has always been to offer personal services to each and every one of our clients. Our clients know that they can pick up the phone and reach me at any time. Our employees are the backbone of our company. We have very little turnover among employees, which enables us to put together teams in the field that work well together on project after project in order to bring each one to a safe and successful completion. Our project managers and field personnel develop strong relationships with our clients, ensuring that each project is successful at every level. Many of our clients have provided positive feedback on our field personnel, and that is something of which we are very proud. Workers’ safety resonates with me at a personal level. Our electricians are not just employees, they are family, and it is vital that they return to their homes at the end of the day in the same healthy condition that they came to work. We provide comprehensive safety training and personal protective equipment to ensure a safe outcome to every project. I’d be remiss in not mentioning our administrative office staff, who handle every call or request that comes in from a client in a respectful and responsible manner. They know that we value our clients, and they exhibit care in their response to each one.
What prompted you to start your business?
After staying home for a few years to be with my young children, I became restless to return to the work world. I was in search of a challenge and wanted to build something meaningful. My husband is a union electrician, so I was very familiar with the fundamentals of the industry, and the natural solution was to open an electrical contracting business. I had a background in business, took additional classes at College of DuPage and opened our doors in 1990. It’s tough for any small start-up company to succeed (particularly a women-owned electrical firm) and for the first five to seven years, I was not sure Canino Electric would survive. But with patience, hard work and a bit of luck, over the years our client base has expanded.
What opportunities have you been afforded or what doors have been opened as a certified WBE?
My certification as a WBE is an integral part of the success of Canino Electric. It has allowed me to showcase the core principles of the company. I mentioned that our first project at UCM was in 2008. Joan Archie (UCM’s Executive Director of Construction Compliance) attended a meeting of the Federation of Women Contractors, an association of women-owned businesses of which I am currently President. She subsequently contacted me to bid a project. Of the six electrical contractors that participated in the bid process, Canino Electric was awarded the job. I then began attending every MBE/WBE outreach event the University of Chicago offered. At one such event, I met Roslyn Johnson (Director of Procurement & Economic Impact at University of Chicago). Roslyn is always looking for quality MBE/WBE’s. Though the competition was fierce, we won our first campus project and have continued to work at UC. Without a doubt, there are doors that I would not have even been aware of, had it not been for my WBE certification.
What is next for Canino Electric? Where do you see the company in five years?
We recently moved our offices to a larger space, so expansion is definitely in our future. As our field personnel increase, we will add project managers and office staff accordingly. While we have provided building information modeling (BIM) services on past projects, we do not yet have our own “in-house” BIM operators. That is a goal of mine. Prefabrication is becoming more prevalent in our industry, so that is another goal. As I mentioned earlier, being at the forefront of new technology is important to Canino Electric. We recently hired a number of young professionals, and I believe it will be with their assistance that we face the challenges ahead.
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