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Home | DALLAS / FORT WORTH | Spotlight | Spotlight - Keith Bell, Intex Electrical Contractors

Spotlight - Keith Bell, Intex Electrical Contractors

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DALLAS/FT WORTH - Tell me about your background and how you got started in the industry? My first job was a sacker at a Winn Dixie grocery store in Mesquite. My best friend called me on a Friday night before I was going to start that job on Monday because his cousin owned an electrical contracting company called Vernon’s Electric in Dallas. Vernon needed a few electrical workers for the summer and wanted to know if I was interested.

 

    I was 15-years-old so that sounded a lot more fun than sacking groceries.  I showed up that Saturday morning. I loved the work and it was a great fit for me. I later enrolled in industrial cooperative training at Mesquite High School and worked half days. We would get out of school at 11:30 and I worked on The World Trade Center downtown for nearly two years. Later I went to work for a few other places and passed my journeymen’s license in 1980. I hired a master in Oct. 1983, started Intex Electrical Contractors, Inc. and obtained my masters license in early 1984.


What were those first years like at Intex?

    We started out doing anything!  I had projects from Greenville to Lake Palestine to Lake Kiowa. You had to do what ever you could.  One of my first customers, Maffco Construction, which is still in business today, introduced me to a gentleman named Rick Tavern at Rosewood Properties. I did many of the retail finishes in the shopping centers in Plano which were developed by Rosewood.  Early in my career I was fortunate to do some work for Trammel Crow Co., which would become one of my biggest breaks! Back then, they had four construction companies in the Metroplex and in a few years, I was working for three out of four of these companies.  Crow started office/warehouse industrial work in Dallas and this led to relationships with Security Capital (now Prologis) and Duke Realty.

How did you handle the rough times of the ‘80s?
    Well, Crow shut down their construction companies in Dec. 1989. We were so embedded with Trammel Crow that we went from 33 to nine people in one day.  This was Jan. 1990 and we’d grown significantly over a six-year period.  The hardest part was qualifying the nine people that I would keep.  There were some that started with me and I had to tell them they didn’t have a job. It was then, I decided, I would do my best to understand business cycles, try to recession-proof my business, and be keenly aware of concentrations. It was the worst day of my career!

Let’s fast forward to today.  How many employees do you have now and how is your revenue?

    Two hundred twenty five employees.
    For fiscal 2018, our budget is $48 million.  We did $44 million last year.  I decided in 1995, we would be all divisional and diversify.  I bought the assets of a plumbing company that year and also separated our service department into a standalone division. In 2001, we created a residential division, in 2003 the institutional division, and in 2012 the design build division including a professional engineer.  In 2013, our service division was restructured to a special projects group which includes commercial service, tenant finish and aerial lighting maintenance.

What do you think you’re most proud of in your career?
    Without a doubt it was helping the Independent Electrical Contractors of Texas get a state electrical license in Texas. This was something that had been attempted since the ‘50s. For years, the IEC of Texas was small, legislatively defensive, and we didn’t have an executive director. Over time, we really grew and started working hard to make it happen. In 2002, I was Chairman of the IEC Governmental Affairs Committee and we formed a coalition to create a statewide electrical license initiative. I had IEC of Texas, IBEW, and some other independents at the table that were interested in that process. I had a PLA with IBEW which helped build the trust on both sides to negotiate a state license for Texas since we were open shop and they were union. We teed that up in 2003 in the 78th legislative session with sponsors in both the Senate and House.  The electrical industry and our association really stepped up both in effort and financially. It was signed into law on my 41st birthday June 22, 2003. They issued my masters license #2501 which was the first electrical license issued in the State of Texas.  I was appointed to the Texas Electrical Safety and Licensing Advisory Board, made me the chairman, and was reappointed to two more terms, so it’s been 14 years as the chair. Today, there are 148K licensed electricians in the state.  I couldn’t have lined that up any better. It was a God thing!

What else are you proud of?
    I’ve had five employees retire with 25 or more years of service at Intex. I have several that are still here with that kind of tenure. My CPA once described me as a benevolent dictator!  You have to be a boss and a leader but you also have to be humble enough to appreciate your people.  You cannot lead people where they don’t want to go and they can spot narcissism and incompetence a mile away! For people to work here that long I’m very prideful and appreciative.  For many, these people started working for me when I was a kid.  They give me the biggest and best part of their career and I’ve made a great living as a result.  I hope it’s been as rewarding for them as it has been for me.  At 225 employees there are more than a thousand people per week that depend on the decisions that I make. I don’t take this lightly. It’s a huge responsibility! 

What do you think has made you successful?

    I’m a lifelong learner, passionate and driven to make a difference. As a young boy, I always had odd jobs like mowing lawns, throwing newspapers, etc. It seems that I have worked all my life and have always enjoyed being too busy. One of my better qualities is my work ethic.  Though successful, I always strive to be humble. I’ve had my head handed to me a few times so it takes humility. Will Rodgers said it best, “If you get to thinking you’re a person of influence, try ordering somebody else’s dog around.” In addition, as a lifelong learner, education is a really big deal for me.  I didn’t go back to get my bachelor’s degree until I was 48 and graduated from Dallas Baptist University in 2013. I’ve been elected seven times to my local school board, served for 20 years and have been elected board president 14 times.

Speaking of being elected, you’re running for office now, right?
    I’ve always been involved in government affairs for the electrical industry and served as the IEC Government Affairs Chair for over two decades. Our State Representative in House District 4 decided that he was going to run for congress. It’s the first time the seat has been open for decades. So on Dec. 11, I threw my hat in the ring to run for House District 4. I have three opponents.  I’m running because we need to have more business people, entrepreneurs and CEOs in Austin.  Seven thousand bills will be filed in the next legislative session and about 3,000 of those will turn into new laws.  Who needs to be sifting through that?  A business owner or CEO, that’s who. I think it takes years of experience to handle the risk management, understand unintended consequences and have a vision of what’s coming. In politics there aren’t enough statesmen concerned with the next generation. For the most part, they are only concerned about the next election. When I look at the district that I’ll serve, it is my belief, they are passionate about their taxes, regulations and education. I feel that I have the practical experience over my career to bring some value to the sausage making process in Austin.

Who’s someone that has been a big part of your career?
    I’ve been a member of IEC for a long time. I joined in the mid ‘90s after dealing with salting issues because someone recommended I needed to reach out to IEC. I met Jerry Thomas who’s been the patriarch here in Dallas for that organization. He just celebrated his 30th anniversary last week.   I owe a great amount of gratitude to IEC and Jerry Thomas.  

Tell me about your family.
    I’ve been married to my wife Annette for 35 years.  We have two daughters, 30 and 28.  I have four grandchildren (three grandsons and a granddaughter) from 11 months to 5-years-old.

In the construction industry we find that many owners sons, daughters and other family members take over the companies when the original owner retires, how will that look at Intex?
    Good question. My oldest daughter has an MBA and she’s in the cattle business. Her husband is one of our estimators. My youngest daughter is a BSN, RN whose husband is a CPA.  I’d love to one day have them involved but I also have a great group of leaders that work here currently. At this point in time, I can’t tell you if they will even be interested but I do suspect there will be some hybrid model between my family members and the leadership that exists at Intex today. I’d never want to exclude my leaders at this company from a future ownership opportunity. I’ll tell you what we won’t do, it’s not for sale. There has been too much sacrifice for them not to be rewarded. My family fully understands that too. -ja


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