The bloodlines run deep at O’Connell Electric

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Tom Parkes has been with O’Connell Electric since he was a teenager working under his father, Walter Parkes, who purchased the Victor-based business in 1968. 

Tom Parkes moved up the ranks, reaching the position of president and chief operating officer in 2006. In May, he took the reins from former CEO Victor Salerno, who stepped down after 50 years with the company.

Tom Parkes, left, with his sister, Susan Parkes-McNalley, his father, Walter Parkes, and his son, Michael Parkes. (Photo: O’Connell Electric)

Founded in 1911, O’Connell Electric has grown to be among the area’s largest private businesses, with more than 1,000 employees, and one of the top electrical contractors in the country. 

Parkes is a fourth-generation IBEW electrician, and now leads an O’Connell Electric management team that includes his father, who serves as chairman; his sister, Susan Parkes-McNalley, executive vice president, human resources director and treasurer; and his son, Michael Parkes, who succeeds Parkes as COO.

“It’s a family company, and I think our employees appreciate that,” Tom Parkes says, “We have fathers and sons working for us. … We got people in the offices, they bring their son, daughter and nephew into it, and, you know, I think that that’s been great.”

During Salerno’s tenure as CEO, O’Connell Electric experienced a period of growth. Salerno’s goal to reach $250 million in revenue was surpassed in fiscal year 2019, and the company reached a new revenue peak of $364 million for the fiscal year ended Feb. 28, 2021. For the 2022 fiscal year, revenue topped $348 million.

Tom Parkes and Salerno worked together for decades. Salerno guided and prepared him for this role, Parkes says. 

“Vic is always out in front for our customers,” Tom Parkes notes, “We need to be there for them–and they’re usually there for us there too, so it goes a long way.”

Salerno will continue to serve the company and its customers as a member of its board of directors. 

Though the COVID-19 pandemic has hurt many businesses, O’Connell Electric has managed to ride that wave. However, supply chain issues and a possible recession could pose significant challenges.

Steel and aluminum prices have risen due to high demand following the pandemic, as have transportation and energy costs driven up by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Electric panels and switchboards, for example, are hard to come by because of the high prices of steel and aluminum. A recent report by Raiven Marketplace calls it the largest price increase in 30 years for electrical materials. 

“We’re dealing with more issues like supply chain issues, delivery issues, you can’t get material, and inflation is killing us. …. It’s gotten ridiculous, and fuel costs are out of sight. So, yeah, some interesting times we’re in for sure,” Parkes says. 

A labor shortage is another concern for O’Connell. 

“The workforce shortage is huge (and) union halls are getting smaller,” Parkes says. “You got 50 guys retiring, but we’re only gonna bring in 20 new electricians or apprentices. The math doesn’t work.”

As much of the management team nears retirement, O’Connell Electric is preparing for more leadership transitions in the years to come.

“We’re trying to fill out (our ranks) with some younger people before the older people retire so that they can mentor (them),” Tom Parkes says.

Jess Williams is a Rochester Beacon intern and a student at Ithaca College. The Beacon welcomes comments from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name.

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