Case Studies

Joe Connelly – Connelly Electric

Plugging into collaboration on electrical projects

Joe Connelly knew he wanted to earn a spot in the family business since he was a 15-year-old helping Connelly Electric with its deliveries. Yet, when he graduated with his bachelor’s in business administration and management from the University of Iowa, he believed a skilled project manager should have field experience.

Wanting to gain hands-on experience, he joined the company and worked in the field from 2009 to 2014, becoming a journeyman-wireman and electrician as part of an apprentice program at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers-National Electrical Contractors Association Technical Institute. He earned two certifications from the program and also obtained two Occupational Safety and Health Administration certifications from the U.S. Department of Labor, the last in April 2013—and continues earning certifications to this day.

Joe Connelly | Senior Project Manager | Connelly Electric

Joe Connelly | Senior Project Manager | Connelly Electric

By late 2014, he became the project estimator at his family’s Chicago-based company, Connelly Electric, and a little over a year later, he was a full-time project manager.

“My field experience has been invaluable,” he says. “I’m also extremely grateful to my father and his brothers, who guided and mentored me.”

As an electrical contractor, CE provides design-build, installation and maintenance services for electrical lighting, power and low voltage systems in various sectors, including industrial, retail, healthcare, education, senior living and high-rises for residential and office use. On design-build projects, CE is the engineer on record, creating and providing electrical designs.

For such projects, the internal Building Information Modeling department creates 3D, digital models of electrical systems—Connelly is heavily involved in this process, providing insight on what is feasible.

“I bring a perspective one only gains from seeing and resolving issues first-hand, so clients and teams can put their full faith in me” Connelly says.

Electrifying homes to hospitals

Connelly is currently working on a design-build project for a 20-story high-rise mixed residential complex at 1101 West Van Buren Street in the West Loop of Chicago. Construction began in January 2023—and his efforts up to that point earned him a promotion that same month to senior project leader.

In fall 2022, he started collaborating with the Building Informational Modeling and the professional engineering departments on developing and designing the electrical systems for the building, which will hold nearly 300 apartments and at least two floors of amenities. With the opening slated for spring 2024, he’s coordinating between the owner, CE’s engineers and those in the field, such as the staff and general foreman.

He says, on any project, the needs and wants of the owner often change. Collaborating with internal team members, he ensures those changes are met from an engineering, 3D-modeling and installation standpoint to match the owner’s vision while keeping the project within budget.

This project is no different.

Joe Connelly | Senior Project Manager | Connelly Electric

“I like being the bridge between all involved,” he says. “I get to see the whole picture and help everyone work together to achieve the owner’s vision.”

This can be overwhelming at times, even with his years of experience. For him, organization is key, down to the basics like the layout of folders in his computer or how he separates his emails based on priority levels.

“I love the analytics of a project and diving into the details of the accounting,” Connelly says. “Being organized is also how I ensure everyone has the tools and information they need precisely when they need it.”

He brings this same energy and passion to every project, usually tackling several at a time as CE works to expand its portfolio. In fact, he’s currently overseeing and managing a medical office buildout for Northwestern Medical Hospital in Oakbrook, Illinois.

Unlike 1101 West Van Buren, this isn’t a design-build project. Instead, Connelly and others at CE are conducting specialty work in building out imaging, X-ray, MRI, CT and oncology rooms. These require special attention regarding electrical systems, such as “understanding the client’s requirements in each specific room, down to the inch of detail for the medical equipment” he says.

The project should be completed by winter 2023.

“My favorite projects are the design-build ones because we get to be involved right from the drawing stages, but I have enjoyed every project I have managed at CE—and I’m excited about the new ones we have on our docket,” Connelly says.

Sparking lasting bonds

While Connelly loves the work, he loves the family atmosphere more. In 1979, his grandfather, William T. Connelly Sr., started the company in the basement of his home with his two sons, who took over the business in 1989 when he passed away.

Now, in addition to a handful of relatives, Joe Connelly works alongside over 500 highly trained and skilled people—and, despite the growing numbers, he’s kept alive the mentorship spirit that his father, now retired, started.

Connelly says he’d help anyone who asked, from a new hire to a 20-year veteran, something he learned from his father. One of his most vivid memories is when he was a young project manager running his first project and was stumped by an electrical issue. So, he turned to his father, CE’s master electrician, who pulled out a piece of paper and drew the schematics out for his son, making the convoluted issue suddenly seem simple.

Joe Connelly | Senior Project Manager | Connelly Electric

Connelly still has that paper, and it constantly reminds him of the kindness his father showed to him and everyone at the company.

“He taught me the importance of clear and kind communication, of always being encouraging and supportive,” he says. “Just treat people like people.”

At the age of 15, Connelly started driving delivery trucks and managing shipments, working at the company part time throughout high school and college—and has watched CE’s culture develop and become richer with each passing year.

“I love the collaborative side of this work and that it has a positive impact on communities,” Connelly says. “As CE continues expanding, I’ll continue being a mentor and leader while also learning and gaining new perspectives from others and their experiences, whether in the office or in the field.”

View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. VII 2023 Edition here.

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