In December 1980, Electrical Wholesaling ran an article profiling the hard-won success of a woman who had kept the family business intact after the sudden death of her husband five years earlier. In August 1975, armed only with an art history degree, Elsa Bradford found herself suddenly at the helm of an electrical distributorship, a business about which she knew very little. Thrust into a leadership role in an industry typically run by men, Bradford said at that time she felt indecisive and admitted that during her first year as president of Connecticut Electric Equipment Co., Inc. she lacked authority, often deferring to those in the company with more experience.

But Bradford was determined to hold onto the business to give her then 15-year-old son the opportunity to enter the business his grandfather had started 77 years earlier. Bradford immersed herself in business and industry publications, took classes in business and finance at a local college and attended seminars by Dunn & Bradstreet. Soon she had gained the confidence to make business decisions on her own, some of which she says went against the advice of industry veterans within the company. Bradford added product lines, updated practices established by her husband and tailored the company's products and services to more closely meet the current and future needs of the market the company served. The company not only survived, it thrived.

Today, Connecticut Electric Equipment Co. has grown from a single headquarters location in Meriden, Conn., to three locations within the state, and on October 1 the company celebrated its 100th anniversary. During the anniversary party, Bradford, now chief executive officer, announced that her son Samuel has taken over the reins as president of the company.