By Paul Pendergast
This interview, an ongoing series, is part of the GGBA’s commitment to build relationships and share our members’ successes. If you’d like to be highlighted, don’t hesitate to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get your business’s story heard.
It was in November 2015 when Sandra Escalante, owner of Laner Electric, became a member of the GGBA attended her first GGBA event. It was at a GGBA Business ‘Pop Up’ when she and several of her team members made their way into the Kabuki Hotel where she had multiple rooms of LGBT and Allied businesses, entrepreneurs and employees to meet. From that point forward — it has been a great ride! Some key facts about Sandra and Laner Electric:
- Offices in San Francisco (Treasure Island) and Richmond, CA
- Made the Top 50 LGBT List for 2016
- Made the Top 50 Minority-Owned Business List for 2016
- Made the Top 100 Women-Owned Business List for 2016
- Certified as an LGBT Business Enterprise with the NGLCC
- Certified as an SBE with the State of California
- Certified as a MBE with the Minority Supplier Diversity Council
Here are segments of a recent conversation with Sandra:
Before you purchased Laner Electric in 2014 — were you already working in the electrical supplies/materials industry?
Oh yes! I’ve been in the electrical business for over 20 years where I held executive positions with a number of incredibly successful companies that were generating hundreds of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of revenue. It’s a great industry full of some very smart people. It was exciting. It was full of challenges and I learned a lot from people I worked with.
What made you decide to Purchase Laner Electric.
Well, I had a life-altering situation occur when I was 38 that made me stop and take stock of my life. Here I was at the top of my game as an executive where I spent as much time developing relationships with clients after 5:00pm as I did during the traditional work day. As a Filipina, family is incredibly important to me and following ‘the event’ I decided it was time for a change. I needed to step back. Take some time off and recharge my batteries. Well, you can imagine how long that lasted before I had to jump back into business — but I did it differently. I bought Laner Electric and decided to be the master of my own domain!
So, as soon as you bought Laner Electric it was smooth sailing, right?
Oh my gosh. Nothing could be further from the truth. We’re a small business and that comes with millions of challenges and hundreds of decisions that need to be made daily. I bought Laner as an existing business so there are always pluses and minuses with that. It takes tenacity, focus, and discipline every day to make a business grow. We’ve got ten employees — that means we’ve got payroll to make, benefits to fund, taxes to pay, and an ever-changing industry that has razor thin margins.
When you joined the GGBA in 2015 was it an instant success?
Let’s be realistic here. To me GGBA gives me the opportunity to build meaningful relationships that are built on integrity and trust. One of my mantras from the beginning of my career has always been to be more interested in the person I’m talking to than I am about promoting my business. The GGBA has tons of interesting, dynamic, and authentic people. The people I have met through the GGBA have literally transformed my business. Instead of thinking about what the GGBA could do for me and my business — my approach was more like: who should I invest my time/energy in getting to know where we can benefit mutually benefit each other’s business.
So no overnight success?
This isn’t the lottery. Building relationships is a lot like construction. You build a great foundation and you can build anything on top of it. But yes — the GGBA to me means success. I will say that in my experience having been in the GGBA for just over a year — the key relationships which have led to my success have taken shape very rapidly. They are a very warm and welcoming group of business people.
So you were just given the $14 Million in contracts on the Transbay Transit Center and Central Subway Projects because you joined the GGBA?
Absolutely not. Once I met the people in the GGBA who had access to these projects it was about developing another layer of relationships with the people who actually had the contract opportunities. From there it was about building trust, demonstrating our business acumen, and about being the solution to their challenges. I don’t think I’ve worked harder than I have creating the environment where I would be asked to compete in the competitive bidding process. Then, and only then, when Laner was the lowest bidder, were we successful.
So the keys to using the GGBA as a tool to win new contracts were what, exactly?
This is an easy one. First, I identified the people within the GGBA who understood the value my business could bring and then I got to know them well. And I mean really well, so that they could become a champion of our business. Second, we didn’t have an effective tool to showcase our business so we took the GGBA up on their offer to create our company line card. We use that line card everywhere now and everyone should have one!! Third, when I was introduced to the key people who have the actual contract opportunities I continued to work with the GGBA to identify new banks that we could work with to increase our financial strength and gain access to business mentors and different resources fast-growth companies need.
So joining the GGBA has been worth it for you . . . .
$14 million and growing worth it! Let me say this again — without the GGBA these contracts would not have happened. We never would have been able to navigate our way through these enormous public works projects. It has been ‘life-changing’ for my business. If there is one thing I’ve learned in life — it is about seizing the opportunity. The second thing I think I’ve learned by this point is that the GGBA makes me feel a part of a real and authentic community. My wife adores the people she has met through the GGBA. I enjoy being a lesbian owning a construction company which is typically male-dominated and for the most part straight. I feel that I’m an advocate for the LGBT business community. It’s a quadruple win!
Any advice for others?
Yes! Join and jump In. This is not a spectator sport. Use the GGBA as a leveraging tool and be sure you’re always ‘giving back’ to the organization by participating. I love the GGBA and the people who are moving forward this movement of economic equality. The best money I have ever invested! Ever!!