Often the only woman in the room, Emily Martin says that just makes her more memorable. “I get hugged more by people too,” jokes Martin, 37, now the president of Aschinger Electric Company in Fenton, Mo., which her grandfather started in 1940. “There are fewer women in the construction business, so I’ll typically find myself meeting with 50 grey-haired men. But everyone is great.”
Back in her 20s, running the family business was never in the plan. “Originally, I thought I’d be a history teacher,” says Martin, who earned a bachelor’s in history from Fontbonne in 1991. “But when I took my pre-teaching courses, I didn’t like it. One of my advisors suggested law school.”
She graduated with her law degree in 1994 from the University of Missouri–Kansas City and worked for St. Louis
law firm Hockensmith, Tatlow, McKinnis. “I mostly did appellate work and litigation representing real estate developers,” Martin says. But when her younger brother chose to major in performing arts instead of electrical engineering, her father, Eric, began chatting with his daughter about business.
“We explored whether this could be a good fit for me and whether I could add value to the company. Most electric-service companies are run by engineers or trades-people, but now that’s shifting, and more management is coming from a business background,” says Martin, who started out negotiating contracts for Aschinger and eventually worked her way into project management, business development and marketing. “Those were great ways to gain experience and learn the business.”
As a full-service contractor, Aschinger designs, installs and maintains electrical systems as well as telecommunications, data, security, fire alarm and paging systems. In addition, the company provides lighting services, including energy efficient lighting design, retrofitting and ongoing electrical maintenance services. With annual billings of more than $44 million, Aschinger is one of the largest electrical firms in St. Louis, although the company serves specialized clients nationwide. The firm employs more than 200 people, including more than 170 electricians, communication technicians and lighting technicians.
Running the family business is not without stress, says Martin, who took over the role of president from her father. “It’s always a little different to come in as the child of business owners. There are usually two schools of thought – that you have it easy or that they expect a lot more from you. I think it comes with a certain amount of baggage.” But, she says, working with her father, who still serves as chairman and CEO, is ideal. “He’s my mentor and hero and a great person to work for,” Martin says. And their secret for staying so close? “We don’t talk business at birthday parties. That’s important.”
Martin is married and has two children, Caroline, 7, and Charlie, 5. Despite her busy schedule, she and her husband, John, make it work. “It is sometimes difficult to devote enough time to work and family, but my husband (who teaches at St. Louis University medical school) has a flexible schedule and is extremely helpful,” she says. “I can’t imagine life being any other way.”