Erin Nyrop Glasgow Featured

9:39am EDT July 22, 2002

When the owner and president of Sterling Electric visits a job site with a plate of cookies in hand, her employees get needled by other workers in the area.

That’s your boss?” they say.

Erin Nyrop Glasgow can laugh now, but she didn’t always find the incredulity so funny.

Taking over her parents’ electrical contracting business six years ago, Glasgow had much to learn. Unlike her father, Edward Nyrop, who founded the Dublin company with his wife, Betty, in 1952, Glasgow wasn’t an electrician. Her only experience with the company had been in providing clerical support.

“I got along fine with the guys when I was just a secretary answering the phones,” she says. “But take that up a notch, and not only was I a female in a male-dominated industry, I also was the boss’s kid who some of the long-term employees had known since I was pretty young.”

Although the business that operated out of the Nyrops’ home provided the backdrop of their daughter’s childhood, Glasgow opted for a career less populated by men. After graduating from Coffman High School in Dublin, she left home to work for a bank. Within six months, however, Betty Nyrop had enticed her daughter back home with the promise of a higher salary as Sterling’s payroll secretary.

Convinced she wanted no major role in the family business, Glasgow earned a dual degree in restaurant management and marketing. When she attempted to find employment in the Columbus wine industry, her father redoubled his ongoing appeal to her to accept the ownership and presidency of Sterling.

“I was totally terrified because my father was quite a well-known, colorful character, beloved for the way he treated people, and because construction is a completely male-dominated industry,” says Glasgow. “That was the big thing.”

But Edward Nyrop assured his daughter she had the right stuff for the leadership role — good business sense, people skills and 14 years of experience with the company.

So in 1994, with a sense of pride in continuing her father’s vision, Glasgow accepted his offer. Somewhat shy at first, she built her confidence by joining a trade association and meeting key industry associates.

Still, she heard whisperings accusing her of being unable to run the company effectively and recalls even her parents were reluctant to relinquish control. So she fought back.

“I really learned to be much more out there and open, much more forceful when I need to be,” she says. “I said, ‘I’m here. Get used to it. Get over it.’”

Two years into her presidency, Glasgow’s father was diagnosed with cancer. He died six months later. Glasgow says part of her zeal to keep the company going is to honor her father’s deathbed wish that she continue as the company’s leader.

She feels she’s fulfilled her commitment.

Glasgow computerized Sterling’s offices and through trial and error hired and developed a finely-tuned accounting and clerical support staff. She’s also retained top-notch accounting, legal and financial firms.

Brad Eldridge, Glasgow’s financial adviser at Groner, Boyle & Quillin LLP, says Glasgow’s done an excellent job of being a leader in a male-dominated profession.

He’s worked with her for the past six years on tax planning and employee incentives. She knew she had a lot to learn in the industry, and she sought advice when necessary, he says.

“The best business owners are the ones who know what they don’t know,” Eldridge says.

Glasgow says she learned her management style from her parents: Hire talented people, treat them well, and give them the freedom to tailor a job to suit their work style. Her mother, now 70 years old, continues in the company as a consultant.

Under Glasgow’s leadership, Sterling’s revenue has grown steadily each year, from $2.8 million in 1994 to $4.2 million in 1999 — the same year she received the Ohio Department of Development’s Excellence in Enterprise Award.

She attributes the company’s growth in small part to herself and in large part to a surge in the Columbus construction industry in recent years and her excellent staff of two estimators and 35 hardworking electricians. She’d like to grow the firm to 50 electricians if she can find them, but she doesn’t want to lose the personal touch.

Glasgow says she’s thrilled to be recognized as a community leader.

“I’m proud that I’m recognized as a person who is credible — having a voice and feeling like that voice is being listened to because I have good suggestions for my industry,” she says.

While being a woman in construction has forced her to be more persistent, direct and aggressive, Glasgow says, she leaves to others the “hard-ass” approach to managing people.

She proffers that being a woman has helped her stand out in the industry and made it easier to get publicity. Additionally, a traditionally feminine ability to build relationships enables her to diffuse tempers and offer a sympathetic ear to her workers when needed.

Glasgow adds there are other benefits to being a woman in a macho world, such as having doors opened for her.

“Most of the guys are very nice to you,” she muses. “They just don’t know what to do with you.”

Muntaqima Abdur-Rashid is a Columbus-based free-lance writer.