By IEC Staff
Be the best guy in a truck.
That simple statement is actually a lifetime’s journey for Frank Monacelli, owner of Independent Mechanical in Pittsburgh, PA, active participant in IEC of Pennsylvania, and IEC 2023 National Member of the Year. Frank says becoming a business owner actually began in kindergarten for him with stops along the way for vocational high school, the military, and additional education at Triangle Tech.
It All Began in Kindergarten
Frank loved going to job sites with his construction worker dad to see things being built. He was in awe of the machinery, the trucks, and the work. Early in kindergarten, Frank approached his dad in full tool belt and advised him he was ready to work with him every day. Being a smart man in addition to a great construction worker, Frank’s dad told him he needed to ‘go to school and then figure out what you want to do.’ Frank continued to go to kindergarten and settled for being a construction worker for Halloween — that year and many more to come.
His construction focus never wavered, however, and Frank convinced his parents to let him go to VoTech — doing half days at the regular high school and half days at the vocational school.
“When I was at VoTech, I really found my niche,” Franks says. “I excelled there. It felt comfortable and really natural to me.”
When a military recruiter came to his school senior year, Frank saw enlistment as a route to additional training while serving his country. At 18, he enlisted in the Air Force.
“I spent over 26 years of my life in the military,” Frank explains. “After several years on active duty, I decided to join the Air Force reserves in Pittsburgh and move back home serving in the civil engineering squadron which is a construction unit responsible for base maintenance.”
While in the reserves, Frank found himself deploying to Afghanistan and other remote parts of the world in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
“One of my last deployments was in 2011 and 2012 when I went to Afghanistan and flew around on Blackhawk helicopters with a couple of Stanley kickboxes, some tools, and limited resources to maintain Army combat outposts to make sure those soldiers could complete their missions,” Frank says.
Following that deployment, he returned home to Pittsburgh and his old job but it just didn’t seem quite right any more. With the leadership and work experience he had gained in the Air Force reserves, he resigned his construction job and did some ‘soul searching’ to determine the next step in his career.
Becoming a Business Owner
With the encouragement from friends, other contractors, and his wife Emily, Frank decided his next move ought to be launching his own electrical contracting company. Independent Mechanical became a reality in January of 2013.
“My initial goal was to be the best guy in a truck that I could be,” he remembers. “To me that meant I’d respond, show up on time, and do the right thing. Before I knew it, I had more work than I could handle. I had to hire an employee. And then I had to hire another one. Next thing I knew, I had three guys working with me and we were doing great. Initially, our line of work was commercial and industrial because it was similar to what I did in the military and what I did in my prior career before starting my business. It felt natural.”
Frank says Independent Mechanical now has 15 field employees and 3 additional in the office. From its original start in Frank’s house, the company now has a building and enjoys slow calculated growth.
“I owe my success to my father for giving me the foresight and the never give up mentality, as well as showing me to always work hard and do my best,” Frank says. “Then in the military, I honed those basics that I got from him. I had mentors, and learned that education is an important foundation of success. Learning never stops. That’s something the Air Force is really big on — even as I was getting ready to retire, I was still taking educational programs to make me a better leader and to better understand people and the dynamics of business.”
Independent Mechanical is a diverse company, handling all areas of electrical construction from a 24/7 service department, specialty systems to include fire alarm, low voltage controls and alternative energy generation, to a construction division that handles new developments.
“Being in the Pittsburgh area, we specialize a lot in older historical buildings that we renovate,” Frank says. “We have a service division that I’m really proud of as it is based off of relationships we’ve built over the past 10 years. Our clients come back to us asking us to do additional work for them so we have a dedicated team of service techs. We also have a low voltage division where we specialize in fire alarm access control and security work too.”
Frank describes that new areas of work always stem from the company’s desire to give their customers the ‘easy button’ — if they’re already pulling wire for them, why shouldn’t they also take the time to learn how to offer technology or other services?
“If one of our customers has an issue with security or electrical or upgrades or fire alarm, we want to give them complete solutions to solve their problems,” Frank says.
Frank’s IEC Story
Frank first became connected to IEC when his company hit five years in business and he was addressing a list of goals to be sure he made it another five. He was searching for some software and in conversations with a salesman, that salesman asked about his affiliation with any associations that might help him better his company.
“At the time IEC did not have a presence in the Pittsburgh area and after conversations with then IEC of Erie and IEC of Central Pennsylvania, I landed as a member-at-large through IEC National,” Frank explains.
Keeping those initial Pennsylvania contacts, Frank says he learned much from them and still longed for a bigger presence for Pittsburgh. That came about a few years later when the smaller Pennsylvania chapters merged into one IEC of Pennsylvania chapter. Frank was part of the team that made that happen for Pennsylvania electrical contractors statewide.
“Now we have advocacy for our whole state and better education when looking to get licensed,” he summarizes.
Frank currently sits on the IEC of Pennsylvania Board of Directors and is secretary on the Executive Board. He is especially active with IEC of Pennsylvania efforts to interest potential apprentices in the trade. Later this year, Independent Mechanical will have a proud moment as it sees its first apprentice graduate from the IEC Apprenticeship Program.
“Guiding folks into the field and helping them see if it’s a good fit for them goes back to my roots in the military,” Frank says. “When I came in as a young airman going through basic, I didn’t know much about life. But you find mentors — people that look out for you — and that’s stuck with me my entire life. Throughout my entire career, people noticed things in me that I didn’t notice in myself. As a business owner and a leader, I feel it’s my job to give back.”
Frank loves to pay it forward. When he meets with young people, he is pleased to give them the opportunity to thrive and to have a career beginning with the IEC Apprenticeship Program. Frank is quick to point out that it doesn’t have to be electrical — he builds the career story for all trades and believes that the sense of pride in a trades career is growing.
A Girl Dad
Frank and Emily have three amazing daughters — Eva (10), Aria (7), and Lola (5), and he knows the future is wide open for them and their career choices. Frank is asked often if one or more of his daughters will run Independent Mechanical one day.
“I always say, ‘I hope so,’” Frank says. “They can do whatever they want but I will not steer them away from the trades. If one of them said to me, ‘Dad, I want to become an electrician or work an excavator or whatever,’ I would support them 100 percent because I truly believe and know that the trades are one of the best careers around.”
He instills in his girls and in his workers many of those lessons he learned from his dad’s example and from the military — build relationships by treating people right. Look people in the eye. Greet them by name. Do the right thing.
“Having opportunities is what we all need,” Frank says. “If I can help do that by telling others about career paths in the trades and by providing training for my people, it makes the industry stronger and more educated as a whole. Then I’m doing the right thing.”