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IECRM Contractor Spotlight: Sara Jensen, President, APCO

“There is no substitute for hard work and personal accountability” — Sara Jensen

Tell us about your journey to certification as a Women-Owned Business Enterprise.

As soon as it became a reality that I would become the majority shareholder of the company, becoming certified was a no brainer. Not only do I want to use every tool at my disposal to help my company succeed, but I also want to help shift the discussion for what it means to be a woman-owned business in this industry. Certification is not just a means to an end to gain opportunity on set-aside contracts. Women bring something different to the table and being woman-owned should be a sought-after trait regardless of the contract. Although my company is already well established, it is my goal not only to maintain its positive reputation but to build on it in my own way.

How do you use your IECRM membership?

Our membership with the IECRM has served many purposes for us and some I never expected. I’ll start with the most basic, which are the discounted tuition rates and the OA program that gives us the ability to stay competitively priced on prevailing wage projects. Additionally, we have a member network if we need services, advice, borrowed labor, trade discounts, etc. We use the hire list to find qualified employees and having our employee students in the apprenticeship program at IECRM allows us to be more involved with their training. Our students also like being involved in not just the classes, but also the competitions and social events. There is also ample opportunity for our licensed electricians to complete their continuing education or take specialty classes to further develop their skills. They truly have something for all levels of an organization, including leadership courses suitable for people at any stage. Also, IECRM keeps us informed on topics that are crucial to running our business, especially now in the era of COVID-19. They have brought in many quality experts to give advice, which has been invaluable. 

How did you get involved with the electrical industry?

APCO Electric started as a family business in 2000 by my father, Ken Appelhans, and my uncle, Tim Appelhans. I will never forget the feeling of pure excitement that I felt when I heard that my family was starting the company. Although I was only in high school at the time, I knew early on that I had the spirit of an entrepreneur. From day one, I was eager to be involved with APCO in any capacity that I was needed and I often helped out after school and on weekends until I went on to college at the University of Denver where I studied Business and Accounting at the Daniels College of Business. While finishing school, I stayed involved with APCO as much as possible. In 2007, the company needed an Office Manager, and although I still had one more year of school to finish, I was ready to tackle the job. I worked for APCO between classes and eventually finished both my bachelor’s and master’s degree in Accounting in 2009. Upon graduation, I had a job offer on the table to join a large accounting firm, but I knew in my heart I belonged with APCO. I continued to serve as the Office Manager and Vice President through June 2018 when my Dad decided it was time to retire, and then we negotiated the sale of the company. Owning APCO was not something I ever expected, but I am extremely grateful for the opportunity. I’m further grateful to have two amazing partners, Sam Gluck and Richard Delgado, who are both accomplished Master Electricians. 

APCO was a first-time Summit Award winner. Tell us how that felt when you heard “and the winner is…” 

I was shocked and so incredibly proud of our team for this accomplishment! This project was truly unique and our team did an amazing job in their craftsmanship that seamlessly blended the electrical installation into the artistic Downtown Denver landscape at the Dairy Block. The project consisted of the design and installation of an electric radiant heating system that transformed a seasonal gathering space into something that can be used year-round. The heaters not only provide warmth to visitors, but they also aid in melting snow and ice in the pedestrian alleyways and provide additional lighting. The design and craftsmanship were key to making this project a success. We were honored to have received the Electrical Innovation Award from IECRM!

How has the pandemic affected you and your company?

First, it is important to acknowledge how fortunate we are to be in an essential industry. No matter the impact the pandemic has had on our company, it pales in comparison to those who have lost everything. At APCO Electric, we have experienced a 25% reduction of our backlogged work, project delays, bad debts, labor complications due to quarantines, increased material prices, decreased material availability, added safety protocols, and decreased efficiencies. However, we are thankful to have landed new projects and clients during this trying time and we could not be more blessed. Our team has been loyal and committed to moving forward together and taking whatever steps necessary to ensure safety while getting the job done. This pandemic has given us all perspective about what we value and a renewed appreciation of our success. 

We often talk about Diversity and Inclusion. In fact, IECRM has a D&I committee. Do you think the industry is doing enough to encourage more D&I? What can the industry do to become more diversified and inclusive?

The importance of equal opportunity in any trade or industry is unquestionable. The question is if certain groups are made to not feel welcome, does that still render equal opportunity? Every person deserves the right to pursue any field of study or career path they choose without fear of judgment or rejection. As we know there are protections against discrimination, but perception is reality and I believe that is why the Diversity and Inclusion committees were born. While the opportunities are available to everyone, without specifically addressing the issue of diversity the same groups will likely continue to pursue other careers. Changing the perception on both sides of the table is what it’s all about. There is a lot of effort going into awareness and outreach and if the industry continues this path there will undoubtedly be change, especially if businesses join in the conversation. 

Describe your role as President of an electrical contracting company.

Being involved in a small company means you get to wear many hats, and that is something I enjoy. In my role as President, I am responsible for the company’s financial management, operations, human resources, and administrative departments. I also am engaged in business development, marketing, and guiding the strategic direction of the company. While those are my main responsibilities, I love being involved in every aspect no matter the task. 

What gets you excited about your work?

APCO Electric is involved in tons of exciting projects, which makes our work that much more rewarding. Our main focus is commercial and industrial electrical contracting, but we serve a wide variety of different industry verticals. We have completed many ground-up construction projects, remodels, commercial and industrial tenant finishes, historical renovations and we particularly excel in design-build projects. Here are a few of the many projects we are currently working on:

  • The complete renovation of the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center in Rocky Mountain National Park, which has been designated a National Historic Landmark and used as the primary administrative headquarters for the park that sees over 400,000 visitors annually. Working on these types of projects takes particular care and attention to ensure the historical integrity is not disturbed.
  • A project in partnership with another IECRM member – Magee Electric – involving installing motor controls for a Colorado-based company producing anti-icing materials used in aviation. 
  • Infrastructure for the Aurora Highlands master plan community involving the design-build tributary and site lighting throughout the development. 

What is/are the best business books you’ve read?

Hands down, the most impactful books I have read, which are not just relating to business but can be applied to any situation, are the books written by US Navy Seals Jock Willink and Leif Babin. The books are titled Extreme Ownership – How Navy Seals Lead and Win and The Dichotomy of Leadership

Who is your hero/greatest role model?

My Dad, Ken Appelhans. I have never met another person who is more respected and well-liked, and with a greater work ethic. He taught me to do the right thing and to do things right the first time. His fairness and generosity are selfless. He taught me how to treat people with respect no matter the situation. I could not have asked for a better father and mentor!

 

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