Making New York Wireless Means Safety First for this Unstoppable Team

J.A. Lee Electric

Based in New York City, J.A. Lee Electric offers electric and wireless infrastructure for commercial markets and is most famous for finding cost-effective ways of dealing with complex challenges.
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Since its inception, J.A. Lee Electric’s growth has been staggering. Its wireless division holds much-coveted contracts with America’s greatest and best-loved carriers like Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile, as well as neutral host real estate investment trusts (REITs), network integrators and other players in the cellular industry. Growing even faster than its sister department, the company’s electric division works closely with the wireless team and is also contracted by other large commercial entities and general contractors. J.A. Lee Electric provides electrical services for many technology sectors, including wireless, LED, solar, and electric vehicle charging. The company is also brought in for consulting by many A&E firms to design and build electric service and distribution at venues of all shapes and sizes.

Looking to expand its capacity, the company acquired Elite Building Service Inc., a New York-based, wireless infrastructure service provider, in February last year. The acquisition has contributed a host of radio frequency (RF) technicians and other prize assets like expert management and enhanced abilities to the J.A. Lee Electric team. Its service area covers a generous tri-state radius, mainly operating in the Big Apple’s five boroughs, Long Island, Westchester and Rockland counties, all of New Jersey, and Western Pennsylvania, but it has won awards for projects as far afield as Maryland and Delaware.

With the need for good coverage spreading rapidly, the company is seeing a new move toward using streetlight poles as small cell sites, in addition to in-building systems and larger towers and cell sites that are traditionally installed on rooftops. While J.A. Lee Electric has two strong and clearly delineated divisions in its wireless and electrical departments, there is a lot of cross-pollination between the two, as new cell sites naturally need electrical power and backup, either in the form of generators or batteries. This is all set up by the electric team, either by bringing in a new utility power line, or tapping into the landlord’s power by installing sub-meters.

Once a site is powered, the company’s team of wireless technicians steps in to install and test antennas and data cables according to the required specifications. Commercial coaxial cables are frequently used to connect the antennas with onsite carrier base station equipment, while fiber optic cables and sometime microwave dishes are typically used for higher bandwidth and long distance data transport. Due to this merging of services on sites, J.A. Lee Electric offers each carrier its own dedicated team of expert technicians. This ensures that each team knows and understands each carrier’s unique technology and protocols exclusively, ensuring superb, consistent service. President and CFO, Keith Maddox, kindly gave us an overview of this dynamic firm’s offering.

The company came about in an ingenious way. Prior to its founding in 1991, its founder and CEO, John Lee, ran his own electrical contracting business in Long Island, New York. It was during this time that a great demand for electrical and high-end audiovisual systems installations led John to create a unique niche. His highly discerning clients knew exactly what they wanted and John made sure that they got exactly that – and more. Working in white gloves and boot covers, he gave them every bit of detail they demanded and, as a result, his mobile phone still rings 24/7 to this day.

This is the culture that John Lee has instilled throughout the company and is also the reason why J.A. Lee Electric’s staff is always ready to assist. Being the creative trailblazer that he is, John was not perturbed when he was met by the unions who represent New York City’s building trades when his non-union technicians started laying out networks and cell sites on rooftops during the 90s and 2000s. In a stroke of genius, he pioneered a wireless agreement with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ (IBEW) Local 3 Chapter, which controls New York City, thus establishing a new division for cellular technicians. This was good for the customers who had to use the union labor as they now had a friendly union vendor who shared their budget and schedule concerns. Harmony was maintained as the work got done at a reasonable rate while workers received fair remuneration and benefits for their labor.

President Keith Maddox invested significantly in the company when he joined in 2015, after seeing a great opportunity to not only contribute capital but also to share his entrepreneurial expertise, which brought about swift growth and increased success. He now runs all the back-office functions, heading up the finance, human resources, IT and legal departments. This allows his business partners to focus on new business development such as bidding, issuing proposals and nurturing client relations. “It’s been a successful formula. My team’s greatest asset is the experience and efficiency that come with their tenure. They operate very effectively,” he says.

With nine members, Maddox’s immediate team might be on the lean side, but they sure know what they’re doing – and so does the rest of J.A. Electric. Founder and CEO, John Lee, is a licensed master electrician and all the company’s field electricians are certified as well. Safety is one of the company’s greatest concerns and wireless technician training includes rigorous, Gravitec, Comtrain and/or National Wireless Safety Alliance (NWSA) certified tower-climbing safety training. The company also has a number of safety initiatives in place to make sure that its valued team members are protected. These include rigorous site safety inspections and a Crew of the Month award program that incentivizes and motivates people for staying safe by following the correct protocols.

Judging by the size of its contracts, J.A. Lee Electric’s staff members aren’t the company’s only safety consideration. Its clients are also safe in the knowledge that the team will complete even the most challenging jobs on time and within budget. That is why J.A. Lee Electric is trusted by many of the greatest names in the city. The company installed one of New York’s largest distributed antenna systems (DAS) in Grand Central Terminal (GCT) and the Metro-North Railroad (MNR) platforms, which tracks from GCT up to 96th Street. Taking just over two years to complete, the project was started in 2015 and finished in 2017. J.A. Lee Electric has also installed DAS systems in many of NYC’s highest profile buildings, including the MetLife building at 200 Park Ave. and venues like the Javits Center and Barclays Center.

Of course, the city’s growth means new opportunities for business. For the past ten years, the company has seen healthy double-digit growth spurred by the strong U.S. economy and wireless carrier capital expenditure growth. After a number of years of only maintaining systems, companies like Sprint are expected to invest greatly in network upgrades this year – a welcome upward trend considering the mercurial nature of the industry.

With a product like wireless, staying ahead of technology is the best way of meeting the future head-on, and for J.A. Lee Electric, the future is bright with the nationwide arrival of 5G. The company will continue to focus on the New York metro area, but will also consider selectively expanding its footprint next year. “I expect our growth to accelerate in the years ahead. I also see service diversification as part of our growth plan,” says Maddox. When it comes to the secret to success in business, he believes that one should never underestimate the importance of hard work and perseverance. That and building a strong, motivated, empowered team – very wise words with which to lead a visionary industry leader into the future.

Building the Next Generation

As thousands of experienced workers retire across North America every day, it is small wonder many industries are concerned about the future. It has been a decade since the oldest members of the baby boom generation started leaving their jobs, removing from the workplace decades of experience and skills that are tough to replace. The situation is so dire that, when younger workers are not available or knowledgeable enough to take over, retired staffers are often called back to work on a part-time basis.

November 12, 2019, 9:59 PM EST