It’s probably safe to say most people in Chicago have never heard of the small village of Union, IL. It sits about 90 minutes to the northwest of the city and, as of the 2010 census, boasts a population of only 580 residents. But tucked away on a sprawling complex in the middle of Union is INTREN, a company that provides construction, design, and management solutions for some of the country’s leading contractors, utilities, and municipalities. At the helm of the INTREN empire is the founder and CEO, Loretta Rosenmayer.
The old adage that “necessity is the mother of invention” could not have been more accurate to frame the back story of INTREN. Rosenmayer, already the mother of four boys, needed to find well-paying work after her husband was forced to stop working due to chronic asthma. Describing her situation at that moment, Rosenmayer says, “It was clear he could not continue to be a full-time breadwinner. I was the one who had to do something. And I knew that I couldn’t make nine dollars an hour.” In 1988 with a $15,000 loan from a female friend, Rosenmayer launched TrenchIt, a small trenching company with just four employees. Five years later in 1993, TrenchIt was certified as a Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE). By 2009, TrenchIt had grown exponentially, and trenching had become just six percent of what the company was actually doing. The name of the company was changed to INTREN, to properly encompass the full scope of the capabilities of its workforce, which has now swelled to more than 1,100.
To say Rosenmayer is a force of nature only speaks to part of who she is. With her mane of dark, curly hair and her penchant for brightly-colored clothing and over-sized rings on each finger, she certainly commands the room with her presence. But sitting across from her in her art-filled (thoughtfully collected from her world travels) office at the INTREN headquarters, it quickly becomes clear the whip-smart, tough-minded persona one would expect from a CEO is complemented by a genuine kindness, curiosity about the world, and a driving desire to serve and be of use to others. Rosenmayer’s grace is evident when she discusses the moment her company began to find its footing and become what it is today. Early on in the company’s history, INTREN developed a relationship with ComEd when the electric utility provider had to hire a contractor in order to keep up with demand during the Chicagoland building boom in the late 1980s. INTREN was hired, and Rosenmayer credits this connection with ComEd for the success of her company and for encouraging her to expand into new areas of business. “Whenever I talk about the company, I say this is the company that ComEd built,” she explains.
The core of INTREN’s company culture is stewardship—taking care of both its clients and the communities that the company serves. The reach of the business spans seven states, and each local office is partnered with charities that the employees work closely with to support. Locally, INTREN has built relationships with the Special Olympics of Chicago, the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago, El Valor, and National Latino Education Institute, among many others.
On a personal level, Rosenmayer draws on an upbringing with a strong, socially active mother who formed her drive to serve. Speaking about her mother, Rosenmayer says, “You know, she was out there always involved in some type of making signs, advocating, something. I mean, this was an active, dynamic, moving house, with a cause.” Growing up with such a female-centric family that included three older sisters, Rosenmayer was surprised when she ended up giving birth to a boy. Three more boys followed, and she strongly desired a daughter. “This inspired her to become a foster parent of more than 20 girls and, ultimately, to have the privilege and opportunity to adopt her daughter, Amber, all before she started her company.
Discussing work and career issues with Rosenmayer is like attending a professional seminar where the speaker decides to ditch her notes and speak from the heart. It is never boring, and the information received is priceless. Regarding the glass ceiling, Rosenmayer says it was not something relevant to her as an obstacle. “I was never uncomfortable or ill at ease with men. I love to banter and give it back to men. And I think that men sense that about me and disarm themselves immediately when they are dealing with me. They find that comfort level with me.” Rosenmayer sees the utility industry as one that is inclusive, telling the story of her father, who arrived in Minnesota from Italy at the age of 15. “As he finally worked his way to Chicago by the age of 22, he saw signs everywhere that said, ‘Italians need not apply.’ But he discovered there was no sign at ComEd. My father applied at ComEd and was hired. And we had a wonderful life because of it.”
But Rosenmayer does acknowledge the lack of women in her industry—a fact that is slowly changing due to the gradual increase of women in engineering. They are starting to get the recognition needed to encourage other women to enter and succeed in the utilities business. Rosenmayer refers to an award hanging in the hallway just outside her office. In 2012, she received the “Maverick Award” from Energetic Women, a specialty group of the Midwest Energy Association (MEA). The eight yearold group works to place and encourage women in the energy field. With organizations such as the MEA’s Energetic Women, Women’s Energy Network (WEN), plus an overall national effort to get girls to maintain interest in STEM fields, Rosenmayer is optimistic about the future of women in her industry.
So what advice does Rosenmayer have for other women who are considering launching their own businesses? In a word, passion. She explains, “What worries me is that, many times, women will find their hobby and think their hobby is their passion. And their hobby may not at all get them into a very successful business. You have to be really introspective when you’re looking at going into business and you have to find your niche.” Rosenmayer stresses that women who are interested in starting a business should do the necessary research and make sure that there is a market. A few questions she suggests asking: “Is there a market, are there enough consumers to grow your business there? Do you have the capability and knowledge to open this niche? Is it cutting edge? Will it be dynamic and exciting?” She says, “Do not follow your hobby unless your hobby fills all of those criteria. I’ve seen many women fail following a hobby. Keep your hobby for yourself.”
When asked about what she is passionate about, Rosenmayer provides a simple answer that paints the picture of why INTREN has been so successful:
“I knew from the time I was thirteen or fourteen years old that I was called to serve, and when I became an entrepreneur, it was natural that I would be a servant leader.” fw
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