Mashell Carissimi – Founder & CEO, JMC Electrical Contractor, LLC

Mashell Carissimi is the founder and CEO of JMC Electrical Contractor, LLC, a 100% woman-owned, union, electrical contracting firm providing commercial, industrial, and institutional electrical services. JMC was awarded listing on the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing companies in the nation for 2015. On the heels of this award, JMC opened a new division, JMC Technology Group, to provide sound, communication, and security services to its clients.

A native of Michigan, Mashell holds a BBA in Accounting and MBAs in Industrial Management and Human Resource Management. Mashell is currently serving as vice president of the National Association of Women in Construction, Detroit Chapter, is a member of The National Association of Women in Business (NAWBO) Greater Detroit, and is on the board of the Macomb County Habitat for Humanity. Additionally, JMC is a member of the National Electrical Contractors Association of Southeast Michigan where Mashell serves on the Labor Management Cooperation Committee and a member of the Advancing Macomb board where she serves as chair of the Strategic Planning Committee.

Mashell was the recipient of the 2014 NAWBO Top 10 “Up and Coming” Award, winner of the 2014 NAWBO Greater Detroit Member of the Year, and a winner of the 2015 Enterprising Women of the Year Award.

Mashell believes in giving back to her community and has provided electrical services to wonderful causes, such as Back Alley Bikes in Detroit and Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County. JMC is also a proud sponsor of the Boy Scouts of America as well as many other charities.

Tell me about your early career.
I started out in bookkeeping and worked my way up through several different companies to become a controller in manufacturing. I have worked in the accounting departments of several different industries, such as education, higher education, mental health, and manufacturing. I didn’t start college until I was 30 years old and a single mother. I had been extremely shy until my divorce and I knew that in order to get ahead, I would need to get a college education. It took me thirteen years, but I received a BBA in Accounting and MBAs in Human Resource Management and Industrial Management. I also overcame my shyness along the way. I developed a passion for business and wanted to be an entrepreneur. I opened several small part-time businesses which included selling insurance and securities, bookkeeping, jewelry products and designs, and wedding planning.

How did the concept for JMC Electrical Contractor come about?
I have always wanted to own my own company. In late 2009, when the bottom had dropped out of construction, my husband was a master electrician working for an electrical contractor. He had not been paid in several weeks and I was not happy. I made a rude comment that I felt I could run a business better than his employer. My husband told me that if I got my contractor’s license and started my own electrical contracting firm, he would come to work for me. So, I did. I passed the test, got my license, and started the business from my home. My husband will tell you that JMC stands for James (his name) and Mashell Carissimi. However, I know that his middle name is Michael. Hmmmm. Someone once told me to let him know that it stands for “Just Mashell Carissimi.”

How was the first year in business?
The first year was a little crazy. As I said, I started the company from my home with no funds, no trucks, and only myself and my husband. We hired an estimator, and within six months, we moved out of the home and shared a space with another construction-related firm. That only lasted a few months and we outgrew the space and had to move to a 5,000 square feet building that we leased. We were growing very quickly.

What was your marketing strategy?
I had two distinct strategies. The first was to go after the low-hanging fruit. We bid on the jobs that we knew the large, established electrical contractors would not be able to take on as the jobs were not large enough to cover their overhead. My second strategy was to not buy anything new. Since there were so many electrical contractors going out of business while I was starting mine, I was able to pick up the needed equipment, supplies, tools, and vehicles for pennies on the dollar at auctions and through online sites such as Craigslist. To this day, we will still pick up used items whenever possible.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
In our fourth year, we had grown so quickly that we had to purchase our own building. We officially started in June 2010, and by the end of 2014, we had outgrown our leased 5,000 square feet building. In March 2015, we closed on a 14,100 square feet building which housed an electrical contracting firm that closed when the owner decided to retire. That same year, 2015, we were listed as #406 on the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing companies. We had grown 1,164% in the previous three years.

How do you define success?
For me, success means the ability to support my family comfortably and to be able to provide jobs for as many people as I can, as well as be able to give back to my community. I never started this company to become rich. That was not the goal. But having provided good employment to nearly 50 employees, having helped my children to get a good start in life, and having been able to give back often to my community, has made me feel like a success.

What is the key to success?
For me, the key to success is the ability to overcome fear and to rely on a higher power. I am not an extremely-religious person, but without a faith in God, I don’t think I would have been able to push through the fear and surround myself with the great employees that I have who have helped my company to become what it is today.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
I believe the greatest lesson I have ever learned is that I am not on this entrepreneurial journey by myself. I have the support of a wonderful husband and family, great friends, and excellent employees.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
The toughest days as an entrepreneur come when I have to let an employee go. Because construction is somewhat cyclical, I find that at various times in the year, I need to reduce my workforce. I have not found this to be an easy thing for me, even though I know this is a business decision that must be made and carried through.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
My sense of responsibility to my family, my employees, my customers, and to myself is what keeps me going when things get tough.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Don’t let fear paralyze you and don’t overanalyze things because this will also paralyze you. Once paralyzed, you can’t reach your goals and obtain your dreams. Rely on your God-given talents and surround yourself with the smartest, most gifted people you know. With fearlessness and a team of experts on your side, anything can be accomplished.

This interview was conducted for research purposes by Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.