One of CEM's first alums offers some insight

Author: Patrick Kelly
For John Frantz, (CEM ’79) construction and engineering were in his blood. So it was only a matter of time before he fulfilled a lifelong goal of owning his own company.

John Frantz (CEM ’79)“I never thought I would not own my own company,” Frantz says matter-of-factly. “My father owned a bridge-building business, so in a way ownership had always been my goal. I didn’t just envision working in the field, but working toward operating my own company.”

Frantz achieved that very goal in 1996 when he took over ownership of Sidney Electric Company, based in his hometown of Sidney, Ohio. Frantz also assumed presidency of the company in 2003, though since he started his career at Sidney directly after graduating from Purdue (and actually interned with the company during his undergraduate years), his role has always been in-the-field and directly involved in on-the-ground operations.

He attributes his hands-on management style to his preparation in Purdue’s Construction Engineering and Management program. “Purdue’s CEM program requires you to take a very broad base of engineering courses that relate to multiple disciplines,” Frantz says. “So while I specialized in electrical engineering, I also studied mechanical and civil engineering, as well as taking business management courses. That kind of knowledge in a variety of fields means you don’t back away from areas you don’t perceive to be your specialty; rather, you’re able to get involved across the full spectrum of a project.”

Frantz makes sure that he—and his entire Sidney team—have capabilities that go far beyond their electrical specialty. “When we enter a construction site, we can’t approach a project in a bubble, as if the electrical installation doesn’t require knowledge of the soil, the concrete structure or the mechanical systems,” he explains. “We have to understand the other systems we interface with, where we can and can’t drill, how the mechanical systems work and how the building is being built. All those factors have implications for our own work, so we need to be well versed across-the-board.”

Frantz has also presided over significant growth at Sidney Electric. Since his ownership, the company has opened two additional offices, one in Lima, Ohio, and the other in Muncie, Indiana. “These locations have increased our regional coverage and helped our sales,” says Frantz. “It’s been important given the recent contraction of the economy.”

The economy, Frantz notes, has played a noticeable effect on his industry. “Our client base, being heavily industrial, has certainly deferred some projects over the past couple years and modified their plans. But that’s also given us the chance to pursue some other opportunities.”

And where do those opportunities lie? “What drives our industry is energy efficiency. When I was a student at Purdue in the mid-70s, we went through a significant energy crisis, and we engineered innovations to be more efficient,” Frantz relates. “We’re going through the same cycle now—looking to solar power, wind power. Pursuing LEED certification in our projects. In engineering, efficiency is a never-ending quest.”

Addressing current and future engineering students, Frantz emphasizes the importance of the Humanities. “Those classes you take in English, composition, and psychology have profound effects on your success in this industry,” he advises. “Ultimately, you’re working with people, communicating with them, trying to understand their personalities and points of view. At the end of the day if you can’t relate to people, it doesn’t matter how good of an engineer you are.”