In Chicopee, Massachusetts, Collins Electric Is Built To Last
By Michael Levin
In our ultra-disposable, here today-gone tomorrow world, it’s satisfying to know that at least one family business incorporated more than a century ago was truly built to last.
Back in 1906, John Collins, whose father had emigrated from Ireland, found himself fascinated by the burgeoning field of electricity. Young Collins had an entrepreneurial bent, and despite the fact that America ran on gas and not electricity back then, he started an electrical contracting company…at the time when Teddy Roosevelt was still in the White House.
Five years later, Timothy J. Collins joined the business, which was now cresting the wave of electrification. More and more homes demanded electricity, more and more local governments were providing it, and more and more homemakers turned to the newfangled appliances that were eliminating so much drudgery in the home.
That company, Collins Electric of Chicopee, Massachusetts, a town adjacent to the larger city of Springfield, this year celebrates its 115th year of business, all under the aegis of the same family.
“It was a different world then,” says Larry Eagan, current president of the business. “It’s hard to imagine a time without electricity everywhere, but that was American society back then. I don’t know if John Collins and my great-great grandfather Timothy Collins foresaw where America was going with electricity. Or maybe they were just fascinated by everything electric. Either way, here we are, 115 years later!”
John and Timothy J. Collins ran the business for decades before turning it over to their son, William P. Collins. William P’s sons, William A. Collins and Donald F. Collins, born in the 1920’s, jointly ran the business until the late 1990s, when Donald passed away. At that point, Joseph A. Collins and his cousin Larry Eagan were groomed by William P. Collins, until his death in 2015. And 32-year-old Andrew W. Collins plus 39-year old Patrick J. Egan are poised to be the 5th generation of family leaders in the business.
Having multi-generations of Collins family members running the business give you only part of reason for the company success. Eagan says, “Loyalty in our company runs deep. We are fortunate to have several non-family employees working with us, committed for decade-spanning long terms. Related or not, everyone feels like a valuable part of the family. Up until William A. Collins’ passing away, 5 years ago, everyone fondly referred to him as, Uncle Bill”. For this family company, it’s more than just business.
“When John and Timothy opened up shop 115 years ago,” Eagan says, “the shop consisted of just a few men, with a horse-drawn cart for deliveries. Today, Collins Electric employs over 130 people. We’ve got plenty of people in the field, and we also need increasing numbers in the office because of the way reliance on the computer has transformed everything. The original Collins brothers might recognize the wires we run, but they sure would have a hard time figuring out iPhones, iPads, and computer design (CAD)! But I think they’d be fascinated by them!”
Collins Electric witnessed both World Wars as well as the conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, both Iraq wars, the Spanish Flu of 1918, and the current COVID-19 pandemic. The company benefited from a large General Electric plant in The Berkshires, which was a huge customer for decades. Depressions, boom years, bust cycles…the Collins family has seen and weathered it all.
The company’s longevity is due to a combination of unique factors, founded in dedication and hard work. Collins offers a diverse range of services, such as 13.8 KV (medium voltage), lighting, power distribution, alarm systems and telephone/data wiring, solar, and construction engineering. They do superlative work in homes and office buildings, assist industrial needs, health care facilities, educational centers, religious organizations, municipal structures, and parking areas (so you don’t have to fumble for your keys in the dark), providing power, telephone, data wiring, and security systems. Basically, this family company has been keeping people warm and safe, for over one hundred years! Moreover, Collins is known for smart and personal service, with trucks fully stocked, and a warehouse brimming with supplies at the ready. Technicians arrive on site with everything needed, and even offer their home phone numbers for off-hours availability, should questions arise. The company understands that, providing lights and power, they are dealing with the real lives of very real people.
Andrew W. Collins is excited to carry on the family torch. He says that there’s a sense of inevitability about his going to work for the family firm. “I started sweeping floors here when I was about 14 or 15,” Andrew recalls, “I thought for a while about some other careers, like law enforcement, but coming back to work for Collins Electric just seemed like the right thing to do.” Patrick Egan, the other intended successor, has a resume full of operations with other companies, including serving as CFO for a large non-profit after receiving his MBA. Egan joked that many people are confused by the different spelling of my last name and my cousin Larry’s — but it is since my grandmother was a Collins who married an Egan and Larry’s mother, a Collins, married an EAgan with the extra “a”.
While most business activity in Massachusetts these days takes place in Boston, Springfield was a booming city a century ago when the original Collins brothers started the firm.
“Back then,” Eagan says, “Springfield was like Times Square, it was so busy. Now, the work we do covers industrial and commercial properties in a wide area around Chicopee and Springfield. I think the original Collins brothers would be very proud to know that what they created is still going strong — and that it is still run by family members, five generations on. Today, Collins Electric is one of the largest electrical contracting firms in western Massachusetts.
“It’s a business success story that we feel very proud of, and it’s nice to know our community and our clients feel the same way about us.” This is a true American legacy.