by RUTH GNIRK
James Hernandez lights the way for others, in more ways than one. As a master electrician and owner of Landmark Electric, he delivers quality service to his customers, while also fulfilling his life mission to help the community. Instead of just talking about becoming a community servant, Hernandez already lives it – through his Landmark Partnerships, his donating of time and finances to local shelters and non-profits, and by his active involvement in Leadership Corpus Christi, church, and other local organizations.
Hernandez is motivated, in part by his own history of homelessness.
Growing up, his parents struggled in an unhappy marriage, raising him and his three older siblings while dealing with their own heavy addictions. His father’s abuse drove his mother to leave.
She arranged for his half-sister to go live with her biological father, while his older brother was adopted by his grandparents, who was, according to Hernandez, “the apple of his grandparents’ eye.” Meanwhile, Hernandez was left “[feeling] like the runt of the litter.”
Along with his older sister, he stayed with his mom.
“We slept in underpasses, at Cole Park, and at women’s shelters,” recalled Hernandez. He remembers being grateful when they were given hygiene products that people had donated.
When Hernandez was in fourth grade, he, his sister, and their mother were able to move into the government housing located in the Wiggins neighborhood.
“I remember being so glad we were out of the elements and in a house,” Hernandez said. “We only had blankets to lay on that first year, but at least we weren’t outside.”
As Hernandez’s mom sunk deeper into her addictions, she became more abusive and spent money on things other than groceries.
“There was no school food for us during the summer,” Hernandez said. His half-sister lived in the Hillcrest neighborhood. Because of her generosity, Hernandez and his other sister sometimes had food to eat when school food was not available.
As Hernandez was finishing junior high, his father had stopped using drugs and was able to take custody of Hernandez and his sister. After some time, however, his dad could no longer afford to take care of them.
Hernandez later moved in with his grandparents who needed help after his older brother (the one they had adopted) left for college. Despite being in a safe place and having access to food, Hernandez recalled his grandmother’s harsh treatment and how life was at this point was very hard in many ways.
Hernandez considered dropping out of school. His own grandfather dropped out of school in sixth grade to help support the family, but the lack of a high school diploma resulted in difficulty finding good jobs. Therefore, he encouraged Hernandez to stay in school and study trades.
Following his grandfather’s advice, Hernandez received basic electrical training in high school. Although his grandfather passed away before Hernandez finished his senior year, he was inspired by his grandpa’s belief in him and did not quit. He graduated from Moody High School and continued to learn the electrical trade at Craft Training Center through their two-year accelerated program.
“Craft Training Center is more than learning a trade,” explained Hernandez. “They teach people how to be professional. You learn how to talk to your boss, the importance of being on time and being clean, and you learn to answer calls after-hours so you can continue helping people and earning a living.”
Hernandez got his first job working as an electrician when he was 19. He passed his State licensing exam at age 21. In his 17-year career, he never had to ask for a raise; his supervisors always saw his diligence and informed him that he had earned one. Without waiting for a raise, Hernandez decided to already start impacting those in need by making anonymous donations and volunteering his time to charity.
His second supervisor used tough love, but it helped reinforce lessons that Hernandez learned from his grandfather and at Craft Training Center. One of the many life lessons he learned from his supervisor included the phrase:
“If you can’t handle your money at home, you’ll never be trusted to handle the money at work.”
Hernandez was given the responsibility of providing lighting maintenance for Stripes in a very big region and he did this successfully for two years until an accident in the electrical truck caused him to suffer a painful back injury.
It took Hernandez a couple of years to recover physically, but it took longer for him to overcome the mental and emotional trauma, and discouragement caused by the accident and a change in his employment. Companies were impressed by Hernandez’s skills, but worried that his back might give him further problems. Hernandez said he remembered praying about what God wanted him to do, and God directed him to start a business.
Hernandez studied hard and earned his Master Electrician license in 2014. It was a life-changing time for him. Hernandez was inspired by the definition of the term landmark: “an event, discovery, or change marking an important stage or turning point in something; something of historical value.” Small businesses are of historical value, so Hernandez named his new company Landmark Electric.
During the day, Hernandez provided maintenance for the Flour Bluff school district. After completing his tasks, Hernandez would work into the evening on requests that were coming in for Landmark Electric.
That full schedule continued until 2016 when Hernandez ran for mayor, and then State Representative. He was inspired by the memory of meeting a political figure during childhood, and by his desire to truly help his community, especially the underserved and marginalized. While Hernandez was trying to make a difference politically, he continued taking care of his grandmother.
“Thirty percent of Nueces County was living at, or below, poverty before COVID,” Hernandez said. He was, and is, also deeply aware of how much small business is struggling. “Prices are rising, but at the end of the day, small business owners can’t afford to raise the overall cost. I don’t want to raise the rates because then my clients couldn’t afford it.”
Landmark Electric has a 9.9 out of 10 customer satisfaction rating throughout the nation. In 2020, Landmark Electric was rated number two in Caller-Times‘s “Best of the Best” out of 130 licensed electricians in Corpus Christi. The only company that ranked higher than Hernandez’s has been in business for over 100 years. It is interesting to note that Landmark Electric was ranked higher than more than 20 multi-million dollar companies. Hernandez said it was because he has high expectations and high standards of excellence for himself and his employees.
Hernandez challenges the community to “give small businesses an opportunity to shine.” He has started promoting local small businesses within the community through social media. Because the opportunity for small businesses to support and encourage each other is, in a sense, a landmark deal – which Hernandez calls Landmark Partnerships.
Hernandez is an active member of the United Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce, where he serves as Chamber Champion, an active member (and former board member) of Westside Business Association, an active member of Coastal Bend Young Business Professionals, an active member of Associated Builders and Contractors: Emerging Leaders, an active member of the Black Chamber of Commerce, an active member of NAACP, and a former High Counselman, and current active member of his church, which serves many surrounding communities.
Hernandez is also actively involved in Leadership Corpus Christi, which he refers to as “the best organization to be involved with, because it gets you involved in the community. You don’t have to won a business. The only requirement is simply to be a leader.”
Hernandez said there is a monthly commitment, with homework, and it involves volunteering in order to build up the community.
Hernandez continues to donate blankets, socks, and hats during the cooler months because he knows first-hand that there are people out there that have nothing. He also donates to local shelters, such as The Purple Door, which serves women onsite and in offsite locations.
“I look for charities that don’t just help people once, but that helps lift people back to get their feet. Get off of social media and get involved in your community!” Hernandez urged.
What sets Landmark Electric apart from other companies providing electrical services?
“This isn’t a job, it what we do. We genuinely care about what we do and who we are doing it for,” said Hernandez. “It’s not just customer service; it’s about community service.” Hernandez practices this in giving his time and money, volunteering, helping distribute food, and so forth. He is glad to give back.
“I have been in their shoes. I know what they’re going through.”