Walco’s Waldman creates a pathway to success

DEEP CONNECTION: Walco Electric Co. CEO and President Ellis Waldman learned about the manufacturing business from his family, including his late father, Edmund, who founded the company in 1931. 
DEEP CONNECTION: Walco Electric Co. CEO and President Ellis Waldman learned about the manufacturing business from his family, including his late father, Edmund, who founded the company in 1931. 

PBN Manufacturing Awards 2022
Ellis Waldman, CEO and president, Walco Electric Co.

ELLIS WALDMAN HAS BEEN CEO AND PRESIDENT of Providence-based Walco Electric Co. for nearly 50 years, a tenure that affords him a unique perspective about not just how the company works but how each and every piece of the company fits together to create a pathway to success.

His personal connection to Walco runs much deeper. Waldman’s late father, Edmund, started the company in 1931. Waldman says his grandfather bought and sold used textile equipment. But when his grandfather fell ill, Waldman’s father helped by selling the remaining inventory of used equipment, Waldman said.

“At times, it was necessary to have the electric motors on that equipment repaired. My father, being a degreed engineer, decided to repair the motors himself rather than send them to a repair shop, and that was the beginning of Walco,” Waldman said. “I witnessed his creativity and willingness to try something new, as well as his willingness to let go of something that lost its relevance. That is not always easy. Most importantly, I witnessed his ability to be strong and address difficult situations while still being caring and considerate of others.”

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Today, the diversified, high-tech automation engineering and industrial service company has 86 employees and serves multiple industries, including rail and defense.

Under Waldman’s guidance, Walco has secured new business and is expecting significant sales growth over the next three years. It was accomplished thanks to a leadership philosophy grounded in tried-and-true principles such as treating everyone with respect, building trust by being open and honest, being direct, not limiting the capabilities of team members and having a clear vision for the company.

Waldman admits he still sometimes struggles with trying not to carry too much of the load on his own. Waldman said that early on when he learned of a problem or even an opportunity, he would spend time alone crafting possible ways to address the situation, only then asking others what they thought of those approaches and ultimately choosing a path.

The COVID-19 pandemic tested Waldman’s leadership and forced him to make many critical decisions. In early March 2020, he ordered the implementation of all recommended safety guidelines at Walco, but the company never closed its doors and no employees were laid off.

“We kept our salespeople and engineers at home and we serviced those customers who would let us into their building because they simply could not continue to operate without Walco fixing their machines,” Waldman said. “We employed ‘combat’ pay, a percentage increase to all our team members who came to work in our plant and traveled to service our customers. Business did slow, sometimes dramatically, but we continued to employ and pay our team members.”

Kevin Harris, who managed Walco’s rail transportation and quality assurance and now oversees the company’s new entrepreneurial operating system management program, said Waldman is the most dedicated man he has ever known with a “customer comes first” ethic that has permeated the company.

“Ellis has a ‘never give up’ attitude,” Harris said. “When all is lost, he will still be encouraging and inspiring us to find a solution. His optimism helps us to achieve what we might not have without his prompting. During the pandemic, he worked passionately and tirelessly to make sure we kept the doors open.”

Waldman serves on the Rhode Island Manufacturers Association’s executive board and other local community boards. He also volunteers in the Jewish community. Helping others, particularly those who might be a bit down on their luck, is something he and Walco have always stood for.

“Caring about and for our people has always been an intrinsic feature of Walco’s culture, inasmuch as responding to a particularly unusual situation is a compassionate impulse we can sometimes act upon,” Waldman said. “Our team members know that it is important to me that we certainly do help some people where we can; in fact, I believe that their awareness of quiet, anonymous personal assistance positively contributes to team morale and subtly inspires our people to behave kindly toward one another.”

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