We love highlighting the outstanding members of our team. This month, we are spotlighting Jeff Sykes, Safety Director and Project Manager/Estimator.
Q: What is your current role at A.F. Smith Electric?
A: Presently, I’m a project manager/estimator, and I’m also the safety director of the shop.
Q: How long have you been with the company?
A: I've been at the company approximately 20 years. When I first started out with the company, I did a year of apprenticeship, but then I came back as a foreman, and I ran the service truck and small jobs. I branched out from there and ran the underground department for quite a few years, and then eventually I came into my current role.
Q: What does your typical day look like?
A: Generally, I'm doing estimation for a good half of the day. The other half, I'm trying to line up manpower, do project management, and I have a lot of time dedicated to safety because COVID has kept me extremely busy as of late.
Q: Can you go into a little more detail about COVID safety?
A: As safety director, it’s my job to provide everybody with safety training documents, keep everybody in PPE and respond to issues. We implemented the COVID Preparedness and Response Plan last year when we came back to work after construction was shut down. Whenever an issue of potential exposure arises, I handle each case according to the individual circumstances to ensure the safety of our workers and our customers.
Q: What is your favorite part of your job?
A: I enjoy the project management aspect. I was previously a foreman, so now I'm inside and I'm directing the jobs as I know how they should be completed. I also enjoy the relationships we have with our customers and the vendors. And bidding is fun, too, because you get to actually design the job.
Q: What led you to your career in the electrical industry?
A: When I was in college, I was also working two jobs. I enjoyed making money, and my classes were taking a hit because I was working so much. Then I was given the opportunity to go to the National Institute of Technology, and I graduated from there. I went on to do loss prevention, CCTV access control work, so I worked for a low voltage contractor for about five years. One day my uncle says to me, “Jeff, you guys are working too many hours and you’re not getting paid well. You need to get in the union and become an electrician.”
I thought about it and thought about it. Finally I submitted my application and got in right away, and that's where I've been ever since. I'm a hands-on guy, so I really enjoy the work, the camaraderie out in the field, and taking pride in building something from the ground up.
Q: What does being on the A.F. Smith team mean to you?
A: The one thing that's most appealing to me is that it’s a family oriented business. There’s mutual trust between employer and employees so that, for example, it’s OK if I leave early one day because I'll stay late the next. You get that with a small shop atmosphere.
Q: What do you wish people knew about A.F. Smith Electric?
A: We employ qualified electricians, and we’ve hand-picked our foremen because we feel very confident in their ability to run our projects. Our journeymen in the field are very well rounded, so they can do many different types of jobs, and they do them well. I want people to know we do high quality work.
Q: Who have been your strongest influences in life?
A: My father and grandfather have been my strongest influences. My dad left Virginia when he was 18 years old and came to Michigan to get a factory job. He didn't want to work in the coal mines. Ever since he’s been in Michigan, he's provided for my family. My dad would work 12 to 14 hours then come home and work at night at the house. So he instilled that work ethic in me. My grandfather was the same way. He was a skilled tradesman, an ironworker, so he worked very hard, long hours his entire life, too. I think that's where I got a lot of my drive from, as well.
Q: What are you most proud of accomplishing, either personally or professionally?
A: You're proud when you get a job under the numbers and you make the company money -- that's a bonus. And I'm always proud to drive by a project I did, even a project from 20 years ago. It's kind of funny, there are some projects I did in the past, and then you go back to the job site because they're going to remodel, and it’s like, “Wow, I did this years ago!”
Q: Do you have a favorite memory of working at A.F. Smith?
A: Some of my biggest memories go back to doing emergencies on primary. So primary would go out on a building and we’d get called in the middle of the night. We’d have to go research the problem, figure out what it is, and fix it. Those would become big, 16 hour days. And to see an old building go down, and you rip out the cable, start all over, place it in and get it back up and running in a day or two was quite an accomplishment. And when I did that primary work, not one guy ever got injured.
Q: Describe A.F. Smith Electric in five words or less.
A: Quality, availability, and family oriented.