Variety is the Only Constant for Miller Electric's Custom Commercial Manager

It was Memorial Day 2015 and Charlie Graeve was doing his best not to think about work. The grill was fired up and conversations with friends and family were flowing, but Graeve’s mind kept drifting back to the office.

Miller Electric was launching its new Custom Commercial, or special projects, department the next day and Graeve was going to run it.

Mobile Services for Special Electrical Projects

As the Custom Commercial Operations Manager for Miller Electric, Graeve heads up Miller’s mobile, flexible special projects service, planning and overseeing unique new construction projects, interior remodels, lighting upgrades, generator installs, small to medium sized service change outs, and light commercial work.

When asked to boil down what he does to its most basic elements, Graeve says simply, “I manage projects and people.”

That may not quite capture the essence of the important role Graeve and his team play in Miller Electric’s overall operations. A typical day involves everything from estimating projects to purchasing quoted material and even a little schedule management, although Graeve prefers to trust scheduling to his guys in the field.

“I feel they can do a better job of managing their time than I can. I just make sure we all communicate with each other well, that everyone stays busy and that we are all where we need to be.”

Charlie also prospects for new Custom Commercial clients.

He estimates about 25 to 30 percent of his time each week is spent securing new work. Sometimes that work involves new projects for existing customers and at other times it’s opportunities with new leads. Between the two, Graeve’s growing team stays busy.

A Rising Economy Leads to Year Over Year Growth

Miller Electric launched its Custom Commercial Department with 8 to 10 employees. This summer, that number peaked at 47. With the support of a 100+ year foundation of excellence and the current "Miller Machine" fueling them, the department has seen 25 percent growth from year to year, every year since it began. Graeve credits a few factors for such impressive growth.

“The economy has gotten better. We’ve spent a lot of time beating the street forming and strengthening relationships with customers and general contractors. Plus, the market this department works in is hot right now and really has been for the past year,” he says. “We have a good team and people like to come back to us." 

Graeve believes his team’s attentiveness to customer satisfaction is a big part of what keeps the work rolling in. “Getting information quickly and aligning schedules is a constant challenge, but the guys are so good at what they do and how they do it, that customers can’t help but be happy.”  

The strength of Graeve’s team flows from his own diverse experience with Miller Electric and commitment to customer satisfaction. =

Grave has been with Miller Electric since 1998, when he joined the company as an apprentice. Over the years he worked as a Journeyman wireman, Foreman and General Foreman before being named Custom Commercial Operations Manager in 2015. He carries Nebraska and Iowa Journeyman Electrician licenses, an OSHA 10 hour card and rigging and crane signaling certifications.

Yet it was Graeve’s innovative problem solving ability and commitment to customer service that made him a natural fit to lead Miller Electric’s Custom Commercial team.

“For the first year or two, there was a lot of trial and error as we figured out where we fit operationally and within the community,” Graeve says. “Now we have landed and everyone is familiar with us. People reach out to us frequently with leads on new projects that we can be competitive on.”


Flexibility Helps Team Handle Multiple Type and Size Projects

Variety is one of the few constants for the Custom Commercial team. Recent projects have included smaller scale data center retrofits where the team has upgraded part of a center’s UPS equipment, to data infrastructure, lighting and life safety upgrades at various Omaha Public School District buildings.

The team has even been working with Miller Electric’s Low Voltage department to wire the city’s fire stations for a new intercom and fire alert system.

It’s not just the type, but also the size of project that varies wildly for the team. At the end of a project last summer, Graeve got a call to hook up a drinking fountain at a high school where Miller Electric had been wiring a new robotics lab. Completing the job that day would have required pulling men off other active jobsites, so Graeve quickly thought to get Miller Electric’s Service Department involved.

“It was a perfect opportunity for the Service Department’s schedule and manpower and a great example of how beneficial it is to have such open lines of communication between the two areas,” says Graeve.

Three Main Criteria Determine Whether a Project Fits Graeve’s Team

With so much collaboration and variety, Graeve has found three criteria consistently help him determine whether or not a project is a good fit for the Custom Commercial team. Generally, Graeve asks three questions:

  • Can a journeyman wireman complete the job?
  • Does it make sense to assign a full or part-time foreman to the job?
  • Will the job span multiple weeks or months?


If the answer to those questions is ‘yes,’ then Graeve knows his crew may be the most efficient means to complete the work. If not, the work is likely to go to the Service or Electrical Construction departments. Having such an efficient system for distributing work helps Miller Electric fulfill its commitment to getting every job done right the first time, on time.

Looking back on the past few months, Graeve is most proud of how smoothly multiple projects ran.

“We had a few great projects this summer,” he says. “Nothing flashy, yet they were really nice in how they came together; how the work lined up with the estimates and how spot on our man hours were. Everything went so smoothly, which is indicative of us getting better all the time.”

Do you have a special project you’re ready to start? Give our Custom Commercial Department a call today to discuss your project needs and timeline!