Energy, Cleantech and Natural Resources: INTREN L.L.C.
Loretta F. Rosenmayer
INTREN Founder Loretta Rosenmayer overcame adversity to build a business with a solid foundation of stewardship.
When her husband was forced to retire after being diagnosed with a chronic illness, Loretta Rosenmayer knew she had to join the workforce to support her family. Taking a job that paid minimum wage, however, was not an option.
“We had four young boys, and we wanted to raise them in the nest where they had been nurtured,” Rosenmayer recalls. Then a family friend who was about to retire loaned her the old trailer and truck from his landscaping business. This simple act of kindness helped turn her fortunes around and launched the trenching business that Rosenmayer would eventually grow from 4 employees into the industry leader that employs more than 1,300 people today.
The timing was perfect to offer trenching services. In the late 1980s, housing developments were sprouting up along the “golden corridor” west of Chicago, and Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) was having trouble keeping up with the demand. To compensate, ComEd hired two local contractors to provide short-term trenching services. INTREN, then called Trench-it, was one of the two.
The contract represented a major coup for Rosenmayer. To continue providing services to ComEd, however, she also needed to secure union backing and buy insurance. She didn’t have the cash, but then a female friend loaned her $15,000.
Buoyed by the loan, she began growing the business to the point where she realized she would need additional trucks. She still lacked resources, so “I picked every brain I could for ideas,” Rosenmayer says. Eventually, she learned that a Ford dealership in Newark, Illinois, was rehabbing old ice cream trucks and selling them at a reasonable price. She visited the dealership, where they offered her credit based on the strength of her character. Over the years, INTREN has purchased more than 300 used ice cream trucks from the dealer.
From the outset, Rosenmayer has emphasized safety. She was well aware of the risks of hitting an underground gas or electric line, which could potentially endanger the project and the lives of her workers. But she also found an available pool of workers who understood those risks — retired ComEd employees.
“They all wanted to continue working,” Rosenmayer says, adding that in addition to their experience and knowledge, they also brought the ComEd culture for hard work and safety. “We wouldn’t be the company we are today without them,” she says, adding that she had a strong family connection with ComEd: the utility hired her father after he emigrated from Italy.
This focus on safety played a major role in helping INTREN win the prestigious Golden Backhoe safety award. Rosenmayer wanted to reduce the number of incidents that occurred when her crews hit subterranean power and gas lines. The utility system for locating these lines was often inaccurate, so she addressed the area she could control by instituting a zero-hit tolerance policy for her crews.
Anyone who “had a hit” had to meet with her and the VP of operations and discuss the incident. This approach, which emphasized communication and understanding, helped INTREN reduce the number of hits by 50%, earning the award for the company.
Trenching generated steady revenue during the housing boom of the 2000s, but when the mortgage crisis shut down new housing start-ups, she helped INTREN pivot to dig trenches for natural gas lines. The move expanded the company’s footprint, and when the economy rebounded, INTREN revenues soared significantly, firmly positioning the company for sustained growth. In addition, with the vulnerability of the power grid to hackers emerging as a major risk, Rosenmayer invested $1 million in cybersecurity measures. This is a significant sum for a mid sized company, but she adds, “I didn’t want them to get in through INTREN.”
A woman in a male-dominated industry, Rosenmayer is an early supporter of diversity initiatives. In 1993 she certified her company with Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, giving her an edge with utility companies seeking to meet their quotas for hiring minority- or woman-owned businesses. Since then, she has also returned the favor by helping other diverse contractors find work.
Rosenmayer’s commitment to developing diverse talent was rewarded when she received the ATHENA Leadership Award in 2012. “When you consider the other prestigious women who received it before me, winning the award was very humbling,” she says.
She gives back to the community in other ways. INTREN was one of the founding companies of CONSTRUCT, a job-training program in Chicago that helps people from disadvantaged areas develop job skills and then find jobs in the construction industry.
As she prepares for life beyond INTREN, Rosenmayer looked carefully for a woman to succeed her as CEO. She ultimately chose Kelly Tomblin, former CEO of Jamaica Public Service, as INTREN’s new CEO. “I have been lifted up by women my entire career,” Rosenmayer says. “I had to hold the door open for another woman.” And that’s just one more way for her to pay it forward for INTREN and her community.
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