Loretta Rosenmayer entered the world of utilities construction out of dire necessity. When her husband’s illness forced him to leave his job, Rosenmayer sprang into action. With no money or experience, she accepted donations of used equipment from a friend’s defunct landscaping business and started a small company that did trenching work for farms in the Crystal Lake area of Illinois.

Shortly thereafter, with only a few pieces of equipment for collateral, she seized an opportunity that would change her future. Rosenmayer’s big break came in the late 1980s, when a building boom caused utility companies to fall behind schedule installing new-house services in northern Illinois. “I couldn’t afford the insurance premiums, and my equipment was not beautiful,” she recalls. “A friend came up with a $15,000 loan to get me started, and I was able to bid my first job with Commonwealth Edison.”

That was nearly 30 years ago, and she has been contracting with ComEd ever since. What began as trenching work soon moved into utilities hookups and other projects. INTREN grew steadily and expanded into California in 2011. The firm now has offices in nine states with projects ranging from $10,000 to $80 million. Headquartered in Union, Ill., INTREN has 1,350 employees and annual revenues approaching $400 million. Originally called Trench-It, the name was changed to INTREN in 2009 to incorporate the “in” from “integrity” and the “tren” from “trench.”

While trenching remains a part of INTREN’s services, it has become a full-service overhead and underground distribution contractor. It offers design, construction and management services for electric, gas and renewable-energy clients across the U.S. “Every time ComEd took me into another type of work, it expanded the business. But I couldn’t have all my eggs in one basket, so I branched out and looked at other utilities, keeping it local to manage it well,” Rosenmayer says.

One of her best business decisions came early on, when she sought out and hired early retirees from the utilities. “They had the experience, leadership and knowledge, and they brought that to INTREN. They taught me everything I know,” she says.

“Loretta brought a different approach to the industry. Her woman’s intuition gave her a sense for staying ahead of the competition,” says Matthew Turk, INTREN’s executive vice president of operations and business development. Turk met Rosenmayer when he was a minister at her church. “She has allowed her faith to bleed into the work she does at INTREN, and it helped build our culture,” he adds.

“The nuns played a major role in forming my belief and value systems,” Rosenmayer adds. “Service to others and making a difference in the world was the cornerstone of their teaching. My parents also espoused these values, and it was a way of living.”

Rosenmayer is always looking for ways to help another business do its job better while building hers. When INTREN needed new trucks, Rosenmayer found a dealer who was rehabbing old Schwann ice-cream trucks. “I must have bought 300 trucks from them over the years,” she says.

Bridget Reidy, an executive vice president for Exelon Corp., the parent company for several utilities with which INTREN works, says Rosenmayer’s ability to help others made her stand out. “We were looking at ways to manage our costs. Loretta completely understood what it meant to be a partner and told us what [Exelon] could do better, what we could do differently to be more efficient,” she says.

“I was the only woman out there at the time, but it was never about my gender. It was about my delivery,” Rosenmayer insists. “There were some men in the beginning who tried to stop my momentum. But I understood that they were fearful that [we] would take their jobs away. I never took it personally.”

“Loretta has not only been a pioneer in a male-dominated business … but she also helps other business owners prepare and pursue contracts,” says Emilia DiMenco, president and CEO of the Chicago-based Women’s Business Development Center. INTREN in 2014 initiated a mentoring program and, in 2016 alone, subcontracted $40 million in work to 54 diversity firms, helping women as well as African American- and Hispanic-owned firms, get their start.

Rosenmayer did this all while raising her four boys, an adopted daughter and 26 foster children, “mostly teenage girls who needed a positive role model,” she says. “Maybe I was oblivious, but I never felt held back [as a woman]. I couldn’t be here without all of those wonderful men supporting me.”