A growing enterprise
When Brian Braaten was growing up on a farm near Wolford his parents repeatedly told him he could do anything he wanted to do if he applied himself.
He took that encouragement to heart, worked hard, and today he and his wife, Julie, are the owners of three electrical contracting companies in Colorado. The businesses cover all aspects of electrical wiring services.
West Electric Group is a commercial contracting company which has helped build numerous non-residential projects. Operating out of several Colorado cities, it has won contracts to wire schools, hotels, resorts, government buildings and attractions such as the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. Most of the work is in Colorado but they currently have projects in Wyoming and Nebraska.
A second business, West Systems Group, is a low-voltage systems company which the Braatens formed to operate as a sub-contractor for West Electric Group. The work done by West Systems includes data cabling, fire alarms, telephone and computer wiring systems.
A few years back Brian and Julie bought Peak to Creek, a high-end residential electrical contracting company in the small luxury community of Telluride, Colo. According to Julie houses in Telluride routinely sell in the $10 to $20 million range and include electrical features such as lighting that that will match the mood of the person who flips the switch.
Brian was born in Rugby and graduated from Wolford High School where he has fond memories of sports. “I was on the basketball team starting in fifth grade and played all the way through,” he said. “We won the District 12 tournament (my senior year) and went on to play in the regionals where we placed third.”
Life in a small rural community provided an abundance of outdoor activities. “My favorite memories about old friends are just spending time together hunting, ice fishing, snowmobiling and sports,” Brian said.
Following high school graduation, Brian attended Bismarck Junior College and married Julie Haenke, a Rugby native. They lived in Minot where Julie finished her degree at Minot State University and Brian worked as a crop sprayer for Con-Agra. His various allergies, troublesome for years, were aggravated by the spray chemicals, and when, in 1986, an uncle who worked for an electrical contractor in Colorado offered him a job, he accepted.
Brian started as an apprentice electrician and put in four years learning the trade. His uncle, Simon Mears, was transferred to California and took Brian with him to learn the job of an electrical estimator. Again his allergies kicked up, so the Braatens moved back to Colorado where Brian became manager of a Colorado Springs electrical business, which was soon sold to a large corporation. Brian was uncomfortable in the corporate world, and when a small electric company came up for sale he decided it was time to go into business for himself.
Purchased his own electric company
Starting with a staff of 30, Brian and Julie have built their businesses up to 250 employees.
“I do the presidential kind of things,” he said, with a chuckle. “I deal with the bankers and with the customers. I gotta go find customers, taking them to dinner or golfing, discussing their next project. I review the estimating proposals, manage the financials, and oversee the employees,” he added.
The Braatens’ companies have about 30 projects going at any one time, and his customers also have multiple projects, so he and Julie have a lot of irons in the fire. Business is down in the current recession. “We’ve laid off about 40 in the last few months,” he said. He is confident business will rebound before too long.
Brian credits much of his success to his family. His parents, Gene, and the late Jane Braaten, “taught me the basics…right from wrong, always do what you feel is right, and try to help others,” he said. His wife works alongside him in the businesses. “She is there for me every day and has never doubted that I could do anything I put my mind to,” he said.
The Braatens regularly come back to North Dakota to visit his father, a brother, Larry, and aunts, uncles and cousins. His sister BJ DeHerrera, also lives in Colorado. Another brother, Randy, passed away when he was a young adult.
He is close to his grandmother, Pat Mears, who lives in the Haaland Home. “I always look forward to seeing my Grandma Mears,” he said. “Her letters are great and so is her attitude. She’s a role model to me.”
Brian’s most recent acquisition is not in Colorado and has nothing to do with electrical contracting. He recently had the chance to buy the original Braaten homestead near Wolford from a relative, Donald Braaten. He has wanted to be back on the farm for years, and he’s already working on plans to re-do the old barn and put plumbing in the house. It could turn into a four-season vacation retreat for him. “I love hunting of any kind, and enjoy coming back to North Dakota for hunting opportunitues,” he said. “I enjoy snowmobiling, skiing, golfing, horseback riding, or anything to do with outdoors.” From that perspective, buying the old family homestead may have been his best purchase yet.
Brian and Julie have four daughters, Lauren, a junior at the University of Portland, in Oregon; Morgan, a freshman at Creighton University, Omaha; Leah, a junior at Lewis Palmer High School, and Rachael, an eighth grader at Creekside Middle School, both in Colorado Springs. Spending time with his family is high on his agenda no matter how busy his business life gets.
Proud of his N.D. roots
Brian is thankful to have grown up in North Dakota, which he will always consider home. He had never planned to leave the state, but, like many others, went where a job opportunity awaited. He has also come to love Colorado. “It’s a lot like North Dakota,” he quips, “but without the bugs.”
In his native state, “I learned a great work ethic along with honest values,” he said. “With that in place, everything else takes care of itself.”
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