2014 30 Under 35 Profile: Karl Wrobel


Karl Wrobel
Branch Manager, W.A. Roosevelt

By Joe Nowlan

Like many in this “30 Under 35” series, Karl Wrobel went in a fairly short period of time from being mentored to being the one doing the mentoring.

“I kind of struggle with it,” he laughed, “just knowing that I am going from being mentored to being the mentor.”

Wrobel is the manager of the LaCrosse, Wis., branch of W.A. Roosevelt, a distributor of electrical, plumbing and HVAC supplies, that was acquired in 2011 by the Dakota Supply group.

“It is part of professional and leadership growth … being aware and thinking about your people,” Wrobel said. “I feel one of the main things of my job is to make them better…. If I continue to focus on that I can get a lot more done through those people than just by myself.”

Wrobel previously worked for J.P Cullen Construction in Madison, Wis. His time there influenced how he tries to lead his employees.

“My time at JP Cullen … is where I developed a lot in my professional career. They had really great contractors to work with,” he said. “When you have a good team, it always makes a difference. They had some great mentors.”

W.A. Roosevelt is in its 146th year, Wrobel said, with the customer base consisting of electric contractors, HVAC, plumbing and some refrigeration.

“We cover a pretty large area within two hours of La Crosse.… We are only a town of about 100,000 people. So we have to go little farther,” he explained. “We have a lot of loyalty based on the fact that a lot of our customers’ parents and grandparents bought from us.”

Wrobel is from the LaCrosse area and studied refrigeration at Western Technical College there for two years. His mother had moved to Texas and so he decided to finish his education at Texas State University.

“I decided to go down there and [study] construction management. While I was down there I ran my own HVAC business to put myself through school,” he said.

After graduation, Wrobel went to work for JP Cullen, managing its MEP (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing) section. They put him on a large construction project that involved more than $50 million of mechanical, electrical and plumbing work.

“That’s when I started to learn a lot more electrical … [with] more exposure to products, installation methods and things like that which really gave me a lot more basic knowledge,” Wrobel explained.

Wrobel and wife Dana have three children: Amelia, 1; Lucy, 3; and Beau, 6.

In his spare time, Wrobel is also a car buff and owns a 1969 Charger. (“It’s kind of a disease, I guess,” he laughed. “I’ve always liked cars and engines.”)

And the Wrobels recently purchased a hobby farm in Wisconsin.

“We have lots of critters,” he laughed. “We have some 15 or 16 laying hens and we also have some sheep. And we lambed for our first time this year [meaning that] we had our first baby lambs…. We have some dogs and cats, pastures and gardens. What we’re trying to do is have a little balance to everything.”

Q. What advice do you have for other young professionals in the electrical industry?

A. The biggest thing that I see, when I talk to people and do some job shows with students, is that they need to have their confidence reinforced – confidence that they can do things and get places. It is a fine line between being over-confident and being confident enough to drive yourself to get to positions you want to be.

So visualize where you want to be, continue to work at that as far as taking advantage of opportunities. I think one of the things that gets lost is that every position, no matter what it is – do your best. Work your hardest, be the best at it. Then other opportunities will continue to open up for you. Good performers will always have the opportunities come up. It is just a matter of time. Sometimes you get caught with the wrong company or the wrong situation. But continue to be consistent that way and work on your development. Good things will happen for you.

Q. What you think is the biggest opportunity within the electrical industry?

A. It is amazing how many jobs there are in this industry. And really good jobs and how many people really like being in it, myself included. So I think the opportunity is getting people to see that and understand that. How do you do that? Well, we have to be talking about it and I think explaining it down to even the high school level, to future generations.

When I was in construction management, I never realized all the people involved, just to get the electrical product to that construction site. With engineers, reps, specifiers, wholesalers and trucking – so many people touch that and are part of that supply chain. It is quite fascinating, and I don’t know that people realize it. So the more that we can talk about it and talk about the opportunities, I think people will start to see what good things are out there in this industry.

Joe Nowlan is a Boston-based freelance writer/editor and author. He can be reached at

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