Employee Owner Spotlight: Ronnie Willard
New River Electrical Corp. has a rich history in setting the standard for safety, on-time projects, and valuing employees; something Ronnie Willard was able to vouch for during his 35 years as an employee, and now as a retiree.
Growing with the Company
In 1972, Ronnie Willard joined the New River Electrical team as a journeyman lineman. When he joined the team, there were about 150 employees. At the time of his retirement, NRE had grown to a 1,100 person operation with one of the first employee ownership programs in the industry.
“Even with the volume of work they have now, they still work hard to make sure it still feels like family,” says Willard. “The founding CEO’s philosophy was to promote within, guarantee customer satisfaction, and job safety.”
He adds that those foundational beliefs have been carried through leadership and still stand true today, attributing them to NRE’s success.
Throughout his time at NRE, Willard wore a lot of hats. After working as a journeyman, he quickly moved through the positions of lineman, foreman, general foreman, shop supervisor, and safety supervisor. He played an integral role in overseeing the construction of NRE’s corporate office and worked on numerous nuclear projects. But the projects most near and dear to his heart were his underground network projects and the construction and quality assurance of both main offices.
Reaping the Rewards
In 1984, New River Electrical launched one of the first employee stock ownership programs (ESOP) in the industry, designated for employees who are field supervisors up to executive leadership. Ronnie Willard was part of the first group to be eligible for the benefit.
“They wanted to provide for the employees in their retirement,” says Willard. “And they wanted to retain the workforce they valued so much by offering a benefit competitors didn’t offer.”
Since retiring at the age of 69 in 2015, he’s been able to maintain a comfortable lifestyle thanks to his ESOP distribution and union retirement benefits. He made sure to mention that he didn’t stay so long because he needed to, he truly just loved the work that he did.
“I have eight acres that I get to tend to now,” says Willard. “I also really love antique cars so I spend a lot of my free time restoring antique cars and going to car shows.”
Ronnie Willard has some advice for young folks weighing the pros and cons about going to college versus into a trade job like electrical: always consider both sides. He believes its important for people to realize that through New River Electrical, employees can receive all of the training they need through the company and programs they support, that they’ll never have to worry about paying off college loans, and that the benefits are great for even the newest crew members.
It’s safe to say that Ronnie Willard is proud of the time he spent at New River Electrical and the projects he worked on with his brothers. We’re thankful for all of his hard work and are so happy he is able to reap the benefits of that work long after retirement.