The History of Rowan Electric
Paul B. Rowan
Paul B. Rowan was born and raised in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. He and his four siblings grew up on their family’s farm. While Paul B. loved his upbringing, he hated farming. Standard farm life was not something he felt strongly called to – in fact, by his own account, he said he’d never do it.
With a sense of determination and an air of independence, Paul B. left Pennsylvania shortly after completing vocational schooling, which was the last of his formal education. He and a handful of friends set out for Washington D.C. to make new lives for themselves in the big city. When asked, “Why the capital?”, he simply tells me that he just didn’t want to milk cows anymore. But as the story goes, D.C. turned out to be a short-lived, six-month adventure. He was more than happy to get back to Pennsylvania, where the love of his life, Joyce was. As luck would have it, her family was planning on making a move to California, so things were looking up: love and adventure was in the air.
Paul J. hard at work.
Off to the Sierras
Upon arriving in California, he joined an apprenticeship program in the electrical industry – he was a quick learner and had a knack for networking; there was no lack for work and he formed strong business relationships. Life in California seemed to suit Paul B.: he traded east coast farming for sandy beaches and a new career in bustling Orange County. He and Joyce married in the early 1960s and started a family soon after.
After a family vacation to the Sierra Nevada mountains in the fall of 1965, Paul B. and Joyce, along with their sons, Paul J. and Troy, moved to Bishop, a small town, 40 miles south of Mammoth Lakes. During that camping trip, Paul B. met a local electrical contractor and they struck up a conversation. Ultimately, it turned into a job offer with Jack Meadows from Meadows Electric.
Five years later, in 1970, Paul B. borrowed $5,000 from his dad, bought a work truck, general material, and seized an opportunity to start his own business: Paul’s Electric. His oldest son, Paul J., who was all of nine years old, was his first employee. And that’s how it all began.
Electrical Work in Mammoth
According to Paul J., being an electrical contractor in the 70s, especially in the mountains, was like the wild west, in its own right. Occasionally, when safety officers from CalOSHA would come around, local companies would practically run them out of town; the same rules applied to the unions.
Because of the lucrative ski industry, the town of Mammoth Lakes was beginning to grow in population and economic presence. Paul’s Electric started out doing small service projects and some residential specialty remodels. By this time, Paul B. had already built a reputation for being a hard worker, so it wasn’t long before he and his crews started working on condominium developments and custom homes. It was all quality work: stick-built framing, standard Romex for residential, and the commercial work was not unlike projects of today: pipe, wire, boxes. Paul B. was a craftsman, but not everyone looked at electrical installation the same way he did: he recognized that production with quality was going to be a key element in business growth.
Paul's Electric on the Move
Many developers flocked to Mammoth Lakes, drawn by the potential and the perks of building a destination resort town. Tom Dempsey of Tom Dempsey Construction, who would be later known as Snowcreek Development, gravitated to Paul B. and developed a working relationship that ultimately extended beyond Mammoth. They started with smaller complexes like Timber Ridge and Mammoth Point, which lead into multiple phases of a prestigious project called Snowcreek. Soon after, Paul’s Electric expanded their operations to South Lake Tahoe, California, Beaver Creek, Colorado, and Sun Valley, Idaho – all resort towns where Tom Dempsey was developing condo projects; Paul’s Electric was contracted to do all the work with him.
Since Mammoth Lakes is a destination resort town; the development that takes place there is dependent upon discretionary funds. In the mid-70s, business was looking grim. There was no snow on the mountain, no work to be had, no money to be made. There was even a banner over the “Welcome to Mammoth Lakes” sign that said, “Last person out of town, turn out the lights”. Paul J. says, “There were times when things were exceptionally lean.” As the Mammoth economy waned, Paul B. saw fit to expand the electrical business into the other regions where working with Dempsey had availed established opportunities. Using the body of work for Dempsey as the starting point, Paul’s Electric’s presence in the out-of-town-locations evolved into regular operations. In fact, Paul’s Electric – Idaho was a storefront location in Hailey, ID until the mid-eighties.
Paul J. and Whittier
According to Paul J., growing up in the Sierras was a blast. While the Rowan boys were known for working with their dad, the family frequently spent their time water skiing on the lake, cycling through the backcountry roads, and skiing the mountain. That is of course, when the boys weren’t playing high school football or baseball.
After high school, with some financial help and encouragement from his father, Paul J. enrolled in Whittier College with the intent of getting a business degree. “I had every intention of using my education to help my dad run his company and expand his opportunities in electrical contracting.” But his attention was divided between academia and athletic pursuits. He started playing college ball, with the hopes of becoming a professional baseball player.
But after graduating, Paul J. was not picked in the major league draft. Frustrated, but undeterred, he took his business degree back to Mammoth Lakes and began working with his dad again. Unfortunately, as timing would have it, Paul’s Electric was impacted by the early 80s financial recession. “My hope was that I would be able to help him run his business, but there wasn’t enough business to actually run.”
After Paul B. was successful in contracting hospitality and residential work in Ridgecrest, Paul J. moved there for a year to assist with the project builds: a hotel with multiple restaurants and meeting spaces; the residential development included a community center and park. Rowan Electric’s own Rick Robinson worked on the hotel.
Just as the electrical work in Ridgecrest was closing out, Paul J. was given an opportunity to play professional baseball in the Dominican Republic, but unfortunately, due to food riots and currency problems, it became unsafe for the team to travel to that region of the Caribbean. A month later, he signed with an independent minor league team and played the 1984 season with the Gold Sox in Helena.
Establishing North County
After the summer ended, Paul J. packed his bags and moved to North County San Diego to work with another Mammoth developer transplant on a 60+ unit apartment complex and a 100+ unit apartment complex. He admits he wasn’t really that sad to not be heading back to Ridgecrest. What a shock. With his dad’s blessing, Paul J. took to task setting up a shop in San Diego.
In the fall of 1984, Paul J. started an official division of Paul’s Electric in North County.
Paul J., Troy, & Paul B.
Paul’s Electric – San Diego continued to pick up work. Paul J.’s younger brother, Troy, who was still in college, would spend his spare time working on any newly acquired contracts. After he graduated college from Cal State Northridge, Troy moved to San Diego to work full time with Paul’s Electric – San Diego. Most of the work consisted of custom homes in Fairbanks Ranch and Rancho Santa Fe.
Both Rowan brothers split their time between the field and their office in Oceanside. Their workspace started out with 450 square feet of office space and less than 200 square feet of “warehouse” space. In no time at all, they expanded to over triple that size.
“Back in 1990 or so, we thought we were pretty ‘uptown’, because we had over 2,000 square feet of warehouse, storage, and offices. We had estimating, purchasing, reception, office management, business development, and executive space.” Paul J. laughs.
In 1991, the San Diego chapter was growing at a “meteoric rate”. It seemed like a fitting time for Troy to move back to the Sierras to establish Paul’s Electric – Bishop. He also had the opportunity to work in Mammoth Lakes with his dad. About the same time as Troy was reestablishing in the Sierras, Mark, the third Rowan brother, was finishing college and joined the Paul’s Electric – San Diego team. He began his tenure with the family business by working in the field, but his cheeky and personable nature was reason enough to switch his role to Business Development
Struggles of the 90's – business and personal tragedy
But by 1992, in an extremely unfortunate turn of events, a handful of established clients disappeared in the middle of multiple prominent projects.
“They disappeared with our money.” Paul J. states, and adds, rather matter of factly, “It was a very frustrating time. It was a very humbling time.”
To put it frankly, the business was in clear jeopardy. A decision was made to leave their office space in Oceanside. Any inventory that they could not sell was moved to Paul J.’s house. A downstairs bonus space was converted into an office area, large enough to accommodate six key business personnel. They worked at that location for 3 years while doing their best to remedy their new circumstances.
Paul J. and Mark bid more and more work. They put their bags back on and took on night work: four evenings a week, they would work from 9:00pm to 5:30am, installing sensormatic systems in Home Depots around the county. By 7:00am, they were on to the next job site. This grueling work schedule went on for close to a year. Slowly, but surely, things were starting to look up – the business was sustaining itself.
Then, tragedy struck the Rowan family in December of 1994. The youngest Rowan brother, Perry, passed away in a skiing accident. Paul J. recalls being with Mark at a project walk in downtown San Diego when they received the call with the terrible news.
“From a family tragedy perspective, it had a huge impact; from a business perspective, we really reevaluated our priorities. We had to be there for one another. Those kinds of things have a way of bringing to light what’s truly important. And what’s not.”
Welcome Rowan Incorporated
Paul’s Electric – San Diego began to shift their focus from residential and development to commercial, tenant improvement, ground up construction, and design-build. As California became more litigious with the majority of condominium home owner associations filing post construction lawsuits , – many General Contractors and Developers found themselves in court more often than the job site – regardless of there being any legal validity to the cases. With Paul’s Electric – Mammoth and Paul’s Electric – Bishop focusing on mostly residential work and Paul’s Electric – San Diego pursuing mostly commercial, it became increasingly difficult to insure the multi-location corporation.
“It was challenging for our insurance broker or an insurance carrier to cover us across the board, there was too much latitude and too much risk for them. And it was extremely cost prohibitive for us.”
With a vague blessing from Paul B., on January 22, 1998, Paul’s Electric – San Diego became Rowan Incorporated.
“He [Paul B.] was extremely gracious: he basically gave us the book of work that we had already procured under the name “Paul’s Electric”; the equipment we had purchased under “Paul’s Electric”; there was just an unprecedented kindness.”
They continued doing business as Paul’s Electric, but with a different corporate structure. In 2000, the name was changed to “Rowan Electric.”
“We put out a press release to announce the name change. At the time, we didn’t really think that there would be any huge change in client perception. As a matter of fact, 20 years later, some folks still call us ‘Paul’s Electric’.”
Location, Location, Location
From retail office space to commercial tilt-up buildings, Rowan Electric has been everywhere. In 1997, after the years of working in the bonus space in Paul J.’s house, the Rowan brothers along with their dad, built a new office for Paul’s Electric – San Diego on Paul J.’s property. They stayed in those offices for about seven years. Around 2005, a client approached them with an offer: lease new office space in Carlsbad and any of his new projects in the Carlsbad region would be theirs (he was true to his word for about 2 and a half years). From that arrangement, Rowan Electric worked on three substantial developments with that client. In 2012, Paul J. and Mark were presented with the opportunity to buy a larger office building, which is where their current corporate offices are today: 2778 Loker Avenue West in Carlsbad.
Big Wins and Growth in the 2000's
The transition from Vista to Carlsbad created a growth spurt and new opportunity for the business.
“We had some employees and clients who were truly visionaries; they pushed our envelope.” Some milestones that come to mind are Callaway Golf Headquarters and the SeaWorld San Diego Manta attraction.
Growth in the recent decade, Paul J. says, was intentional and strategically planned.
“It was calculated, but it wasn’t some crazy, innovative business plan. Mark and I are not that original, but we do listen and adapt.”
Having done business through at least five economic downturns, Paul J. says that with each one of them, he’s learned something new. A key element? When operating in a low economic phase, Rowan Electric chose to be decidedly present in the dwindling market. They focused on bidding by putting together extremely detailed proposals: essentially putting a face to their name in the industry.
“We were hoping for a whip effect. Things were eventually going to shift in the economy, when it did, we wanted people to know that Rowan was there, and Rowan is still here. That’s more or less what’s taken place. We made an identity statement and stood by it.”
Where Rowan is Heading
In order to keep up with the changing market and the clients that they serve, Rowan Electric had to grow. And so they did.
“Growth for growth’s sake is a waste of time. Growth that is controlled and managed and has a definitive purpose makes sense. A foundation was established, by my dad, and we’ve been blessed to build on that foundation. We haven’t had to sacrifice morals, relationships, or reputation to get here.” In fact, you might say that Rowan’s commitment to integrity is an essential stepping stone to their success. They endeavor to live out their mission statement: Rowan is a ministry.
The Rowan Motivation
Paul B., by his own admission, notes that vision statements and business plans were not his preferred motivation – he’s a Pennsylvania farm boy who was more interested in making sure his family was cared for, and that the people that he worked with were happy and sustained. He never clearly defined it as his intention, but that’s how he lived. It’s easy to see that Paul J., Mark, and Troy have held to that sentiment over the years.
“We are carbon copies of the man who raised us. He’s the real deal.”
Paul B. is battling Alzheimer’s disease now. Although his daily life and routine has changed drastically over the years, the character of the man is still the same. For the Rowan brothers, when they walk into the office or step onto the job site, they maintain a genuine character and hold fast to Christian values and standards that the Rowan family have always surrounded themselves with.
Where is Paul’s Electric today?
Paul’s Electric still maintains a strong presence in Mammoth Lakes, California. Troy Rowan took over the company in 2006 and runs the business just as his father did: with integrity, quality, and incontestable hospitality.
Original Paul’s Electric Office
“I think everyone embraces a sort of sentimentality, over time, for seeing things come together, especially if it’s a multi-generational company. It’s gratifying that we have an occupation that allows for tangible, measurable accomplishment, not only to me, but hopefully to the many people who are contributing to it and benefiting from it. Truly, by the grace of God, my dad’s legacy, almost 50 years later, is thriving. I think it’s pretty neat.”
– Paul J. Rowan
Indeed, it is.
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2778 Loker Avenue West
Carlsbad, CA 92010
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