The Way to a Bright Future

Mark Burnham knows that for a plan to come together, one first must have a plan

Mark Burnham joined Hegeman Electric Inc. out of New Hampshire Vocational Technical College. As the business grew, so did Burnham’s part in it. In 1995, he became vice president, and on Jan. 1, he bought the business from his mentor, Bob Hegeman.

by Liz Schick

Mark Burnham might have become the owner of Hegeman Electric Inc. in Essex Junction on Jan. 1, but he has been an integral part of the company for nearly 25 years. Buying the company was the culmination of a five-year plan he and Bob Hegeman had put into place. “Everything worked out just as we planned it,” Burnham says with a smile.

That’s no surprise. Making a five-year plan was nothing new for Burnham. Even his marriage has thrived because of planning, he says.

They were in high school when Burnham, a Winooski boy, met Donna Lancaster, a Burlingtonian, on a blind date arranged by his best friend. “We dated for seven years while we both went to college,” he says. After college, they lived in their parents’ homes and saved money to buy their own home. “Then we got married in 1985,” Burnham says. “That worked, and 20 years later I’m still on track with my life’s plan.”

Jim Dastalto, purchasing agent, joined the company less than a year ago after working as a salesman at Yankee Electric for six years. Burnham is training him to do estimating and bidding. Heather Shea is the office manager.

Burnham’s new five-year plan is actually part of a 10-year plan on which he is working. “My goal is to purchase the HEI building within three years, because, so far, I’ve only bought the business,” he says. “Then, I plan to move employees up, as Bob Hegeman did for me, so I can spend more time with my family.”

Hegeman did, indeed, bring Burnham along after he hired him right after Burnham graduated from New Hampshire Vocational Technical College with a degree in industrial electricity and applied science. It was 1982, and HEI was being run out of Hegeman’s garage and basement. As the business grew, Burnham received his journeyman electrician license from the state, and in 1988, he earned his master electrician license.

The business was moved to Park Street, Burnham became vice president in 1995, moved to inside work and helped the business grow enough so that nine years ago, the company moved a second time, to 16 Gauthier Drive.

HEI has 18 employees in the field and three in the office. The scope of work encompasses most types of construction taking place within Chittenden County: residential — single- and multi-family dwellings; commercial; and light industrial. The company wires entire buildings for everything from main service distribution and lighting and power distribution to its own design-build electrical systems.

One very good customer who contracts for new construction, remodeling projects and service is Skip Williams, project manager of Investors Corporation of Vermont’s construction division. He began working with Hegeman Electric seven years ago. For the last four years, Hegeman has handled virtually all of ICV’s electrical work, he says.

“While we use HEI for new construction and renovations for our commercial and residential property clients, most of our need is for service. For our company, key to keeping our customers happy is service, and Hegeman ‘s 24/7 emergency service is, bar none, the best,” says Williams. “There isn’t another vendor that can do it. Weekends, nights, whenever a fire alarm goes off or there is a power outage, we call Hegeman Electric and someone is at the site pronto. Their response time is phenomenal.”

Naturally, supplying “exemplary” service is part of Burnham’s plan, but he admits the company has no service contracts, “Most are handshakes,” he says. “Even with our largest direct customer, IDX — now GE Healthcare — there is no signed contract.” Burnham believes that “if the customer is happy, they’ll call you back.”

Hegeman wires buildings for everything from main service distribution and lighting and power distribution to its own design-build electrical systems. Dave L’Ecuyer, residential foreman, hangs a light fixture over a vanity.

HEI maintains a 24-hour emergency service, which is much appreciated by its customers. Each of the company’s licensed foremen is allowed to drive a company van home in exchange for being on-call for emergencies. The responsibility rotates weekly throughout the year, and employees are paid appropriately, at time-and-a-half or double-time, when they make emergency calls.

Finding employees who can move up within the company is part of Burnham’s overall plan for the company.

Jim Dastalto, who joined HEI less than a year ago as purchasing agent, replaced an employee who retired. “We are slowly teaching him to do bidding and estimating, which is part of the purchasing agent’s job. In a few years, it would allow me to leave on vacation with my family for a week or whatever, and feel comfortable there’s somebody competent here in the office.”

For six years, Dastalto was the salesman at Yankee Electric who called on Hegeman “practically every day.”

Dastalto says that in considering the transition to HEI, the company’s ethics played a major role. “Under Mark and Bob, HEI was a great and loyal customer and as ethical as anybody can be,” he says. “Mark was forthright and honest and the same holds true now that I am working for him. It’s a company where you don’t ever have to worry about how business is being done, because everything is done right.”

Burnham understands the transition Dastalto is making. It’s similar to the one he made when he came in to the office from managing jobs in the field when he was named vice president. “I’d been in the office for six years before I actually took over the business, so the transition was slow and I had time to learn what I needed.”

Family time is the driving force behind Burnham’s plans. His oldest son, David, graduates from the Center for Technology in Essex this year, but as a senior he was able to work in the field. He attended night school to complete the first year of his electrical apprenticeship.

“He’s doing great,” says his father, with pride. “When he joins us full time in September, he’ll be ready to take his second-year apprentice training.”

Burnham’s three other sons, Michael, 15; Jacob, 13; and Jonathan, 11, don’t see their dad as much as Burnham would like, although, he reports, “The other night Jonathan and I took a hunter safety course together, because he is interested in coming with me when I go out during bow and rifle seasons.

Hegeman Electric has 18 employees in the field and three in the office. Kevin Daigle, commercial foreman, installs a light fixture at Essex Town Center.

Burnham also pursues other interests. He’s been in a men’s bowling league for two years, which he really enjoys, but isn’t sure he’ll have time to continue in it. A NASCAR fan, he tries to attend one race a year. “So far I’ve been to New Hampshire and Delaware, and this year I’m going to Bristol, Tenn., to see the night race.”

Burnham finds the upside of being his own boss is that he really likes being his own boss. However, he says, “the main reason I did all this was so I can do better for my family. I could only make so much money doing what I was doing before. I knew I wanted to climb that ladder so I would be able to afford to go places and do things with my family.”

The downside? “Well,” he says, “I’m not putting in any more time because I’ve been putting in a huge amount of time planning for this for the past five years, and I’ll continue doing that until I hit my next five-year goal. From there things should start turning around.”