One business, four generations. It’s rare to see and takes both the desire to carry on a legacy and the consistent pursuit of sustained growth opportunities. No one knows this better than the Cooke family.
RISK AND REWARD.
Wetherbee Electric has been around a long time. The company began operations in 1899 and continues to provide contracting services to diverse industries throughout the country. Four generations of the Cooke family have contributed to this legacy including Mike Cooke, the company’s current president. The key to their longevity: Diversification.
“You have to be willing to bend a little, move a little.”– Mike Cooke
In the 1980s, the oil and gas sector crashed hard. Wetherbee Electric lost several longtime clients and experienced a decrease in revenue that threatened the livelihood of the business. Mike’s father took a calculated risk by pivoting to a new market of potential customers, the correctional industry. Installing and servicing control systems in detention facilities and jails provided a steady source of revenue and gave the Wetherbee team the confidence to pursue other unexpected avenues of business.
“We’ve kept our eyes open for markets where there are fewer local players and the potential for growth. That strategy continues to pay off.”– Mike Cooke
The same foresight that helped Wetherbee rebound from the oil and gas recession would continue to guide their decisions. For example, in 2010 Wetherbee became a distributor for a global leader of parking access control solutions manufactured in Austria. That led to further opportunities in the urban mobility industry by becoming a distributor of multi-space parking meters manufactured in France. Having established a sound reputation in this niche, Wetherbee has earned opportunities to work on high-profile projects like the Arts District Parking Garage in Oklahoma City and the upcoming parking garage and surface parking for the Will Rogers World Airport.
Mike takes pride not only in his work, but also in his family’s history in the field. His grandfather was an electrician and his father was an electrical contractor. Now his son is working toward the completion of his apprenticeship at a time when recruiting young talent into the trade is proving to be difficult.
“The majority of skilled workers in America … they’re nearing retirement age.”– Mike Cooke
Perhaps the greatest challenge facing companies like Wetherbee Electric is filling the talent gap. Convincing a younger generation to invest the eight thousand hours of on-the-job training necessary to learn the trade and obtain a license isn’t an easy sell. Watching his son go through the process gives Mike hope for his company and his industry.
No two years have been exactly alike for the Cooke family. However, the common threads of hard work, flexibility and determination that shaped the company will surely create opportunities for the future.
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