Company Founder Leads by Example

Jeremy Bass, Justin Garnett, Larry Burmeister, and Phil Burmeister. 

By IEC Staff

Make your company a place where someone wants to spend their time, expend their energy, and do good work. That might sum up the recruitment and retention strategy of Mid-America Electric, Inc., in Imperial, MO. 

Phil Burmeister is second generation shareholder at the company his dad, Larry Burmeister, formed in 1999 with another family member Jeremy Bass who still is involved in daily operations. Justin Garnett, who feels like family, has grown with the company and is also a shareholder at the company he joined right out of high school in 2001. 

“My dad demonstrates what it really takes to succeed in electrical contracting,” Phil explains. “You need to get the work done right; you need to get it done properly. He set a huge example for all of us. His values and actions really laid the groundwork for Mid-America and it’s up to us to follow in his footsteps.” 

Larry remains active in the company and is often found putting on the tools, getting out there in the field, and responding to clients while Phil and Justin handle most of the day-to-day operations and activities. 


Find the Right Employees 

Phil says that almost every person working at Mid-America has come into the company in one of two ways. Either they’ve been referred to them by a current employee or the job seeker remembers getting to know Justin or Phil as instructors in the IEC Apprenticeship Program and looks them up. Phil’s been teaching for seven years; Justin more than 10 years. 

Both Justin and Phil want to make the right hire and spend a great deal of time to be sure the person referred to them understands what the business entails. Phil says they talk with them about Mid-America’s history, stability, and the variety of types of business they do. 

Justin with his third-year IEC Apprenticeship Program students.

“We’re not just pigeon-holed into one area of electrical contracting; we have a wide variety of work which I think is one of the things that has benefitted us through the years,” Phil says. “We don’t rely just on new construction residential work and then suffer when there is a downturn in the market. We let the potential new hire know that we are not looking to just temporarily fill a spot for one big job. Our goal is to hire somebody we want to be with us as long as they want to be here.” 

Justin says that they explain the benefits available to them beyond a fair wage. 

“The package includes health benefits. It also includes tools and uniforms, for example, which hires might not think about in the beginning but those costs add up if the employee has to buy all that,” Justin notes. “More importantly, we make sure they understand what we do. A lot of kids see those pictures of a guy in a nice work shirt putting a piece of Romex in a wall and think that’s it. I make sure they know you could be digging in a muddy hole, or up on a roof, or crawling in an attic. I can see their faces change when that hits.” 

Justin says they also like to ask candidates about their strengths and faults, experience with tools, and what their parents do as that tells a bit about their exposure to hard work. 

They do offer a bonus to employees who recommend someone join Mid-America. Phil explains that if the new hire stays six months, the recommending employee gets $500 and then another $500 if the hire stays a year. 

Phil explains that they aren’t always looking for the person who knows all about the trade. They are willing to put the work into developing the right person to grow in the work they do. 

“We’re willing to train and to give them the time they need to learn the trade; it doesn’t come overnight,” he says. “Both Justin and I started from ground zero and went through the apprenticeship program just like everybody else. We understand what it takes to learn the trade and I think we both have a lot of patience with the new guys. Personally, I would rather have a guy that was brand new who learns in the way we want him to learn than somebody who thinks they know it all.” 

In February 2024, Mid-America numbered 34 employees with 7 enrolled in the IEC of Greater St. Louis Apprentice Program.  

Teaching in the program is not meant to be a recruitment strategy, as Mid-America always has believed in giving back and Phil and Justin love to teach. But apprentices spend four years in the program and count upon their instructors to challenge them and make them better electricians. Bonds are made and if those graduate journeymen later find themselves looking to take the next step, they might think to touch base with their program instructors to learn more about their company and its potential fit. 


Challenge and Reward Employees 

Those company values shoot to the top of the list once more when Phil and Justin discuss how they hold on to their employees. And both are quick to cite Larry’s work ethic as a reason employees make careers at Mid-America vs. just taking jobs. 

“My dad’s example has driven things from the beginning,” says Phil. “He was side by side on jobs and you still see him out there if we have an all-hands-on-deck situation. He’s out there doing what needs to be done. He got us to the growing company we are today after 25 years, and our business is 99.9 percent word-of-mouth because he did what he said he was going to do and instilled that in both Justin and I.” 

Phil teaches his first-year class at IEC of Greater St. Louis.

As the company grows, it can become a bit harder for the owner’s example to be seen by all so Phil and Justin are looking at ways to communicate those core values to each employee.

“In the trenches is a big one,” Phil offers. “We are all in those “trenches” with them every day working together to provide the best level of service we can for our customers as well as our team.” 

Number one, Phil and Justin want every employee to know they are all in this together. They want to honor each employee’s contributions, challenge their growth, and have fun with them as well. 

“Mid-America Electric is a family business and we treat people that way,” Justin says. “We encourage our field people to let us know if they have a better idea about how something should be run or tools that would help them save time. We want them to talk with us. I think that means a lot to them to have input into the company.” 

“We’ve done volunteer work for different organizations to give back to the community and allow us all to work together on something more than business,” Phil states. “Giving back also means giving back to our employees. We have a party every year. We do a bonus program — more like a profit-sharing type of thing — that recognizes employee contribution to overall company success. It’s pretty significant as compared to the jelly-of-the-month type of thing we used to do.” 

At the end of the day, good hard work is rewarded. It’s the merit shop philosophy and Mid-America makes sure its employees understand that and it is why they train their employees through the IEC. 

“IEC is great; I mean, it’s made my whole career,” Justin says. “I don’t think I’d be where I’m at today without IEC. Starting out as a kid out of high school, I went into trade school having no clue. The IEC Apprenticeship Program sets people up on the right path.”