For Pittsburgh Contractor, ‘Business is in Our Blood'

PITTSBURGH, PA — Q-Dot has seen it all. Forget about consolidation, utility competition, and technician shortages — try surviving disasters. See if you can guess the correct answer from the multiple-choice question below.

The family-owned Pittsburgh company owns a building that has been: (A) flooded, (B) caught on fire, (C) struck by lightning, (D) severely damaged from being in the path of a wayward semi-truck, which was trying to avoid a speeding stolen car in the middle of a police chase, or (E) all of above.

The answer is (E).

But like many strong family-operated hvacr companies, Q-Dot has survived and thrived because of its commitment to customers, employees, and the community. Purchased in 1972 by Daniel and Nancy Whalen, it is now run by second-generation owner Kevin Whalen. The commercial/industrial service company employs 14 people and had 1999 revenues of $1.8 million.

The younger Whalen did not always have thoughts of an hvacr career in his future.

“I wanted to be Jacques Cousteau,” he said. “I am a certified diver but found out there wasn’t a lot of money in marine biology. I went into time-share selling, which involved some degree of dishonesty.

“My dad called me one day and asked me to come back to the business. I packed an entire house and moved back to Pittsburgh in three days.”

A sense of commitment has stayed with Whalen throughout the years. As he puts it, “I deliver what I promise.”

The business has done well because of the Whalen touch, but it is also a business where the buck will stop with the younger Whalen, as there are no other family members who are in the business or plan to enter it.

Future Plans

Daniel still works in the company as a professional engineer and Nancy is secretary-treasurer. But there are no family members to assume the business when Whalen retires. So would he consider selling to an outsider like a consolidator?

Based on what he has seen, the short answer is no.

“A lot of my business associates have sold to consolidators because they were excited about how much money was offered for their business,” Whalen said. “But none of them planned to stay with the consolidators.

“They took the money and ran. A few of them are disappointed to see what happened to the businesses they built — they’ve gone downhill. Now instead of answering to customers in their communities, they [as business managers] answer to accountants.

“There was a great inflow of talent into our business, but people took their money, got out, and now there is a great outflow.”

When pressed for an answer about selling Q-Dot to a consolidator, Whalen replied, “It would have to be a ridiculous price. The business is in our blood.”

Whalen thinks the talent drain will eventually stop because there will be fewer consolidators around.

“I think we’ll see fewer consolidators,” he added. “What I’ve seen I haven’t been impressed with. The people they have been buying have been entrepreneurs — people who wanted to make it on their own.

“I don’t think you can build a corporate structure around them. Consolidators have worked too fast and have felt the need to get real big, real quick.”

Publication date: 09/25/2000

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