HVAC Commercial Market

Contractor Knows How to Show It Values People

January 23, 2012
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Tudi Mechanical Systems prides itself on treating people differently. Founder and owner Bob Tudi started out in the industry as a technician in 1977, so he says he “understands the life of the tech.” When he describes his view of how to treat people, Tudi loves to compare a tech and an office guy to a heart and a lung. “What’s more important — the heart or the lung? You can argue all day, but you need them both,” he said.

When he founded Tudi Mechanical in Pittsburgh 25 years ago, he established a practice of valuing the tech and the office guy equally, and taking care of them and their families. Five years ago, he opened a second location in Tampa, Fla., and he is working to instill the same company culture there.

While the bulk of Tudi’s market is commercial service, the contractor also does residential, electrical, and plumbing work. The company has been named The NEWS’ Best Contractor To Work For in the East region.

Treating People Right

Based on his experience in the industry, Tudi said, “I understand that management and the tech weren’t always aligned, and the tech was always looked down on.” According to Tudi, working in that environment taught him how not to treat people.

Bernie Virden, a commercial service technician who has been working in HVAC for over 20 years, has spent the past five years working for Tudi in Pittsburgh. According to Virden, working for Tudi has been a very different experience. “They try to make things as easy as they can on the tech,” he said, noting that when he’s put in a lot of overtime, the office will call and tell him to back off so he doesn’t get burned out. Or, sometimes, he said, “They’ll shove easy jobs my way for a week or two.” In contrast, he noted, “Most employers I’ve worked for just push as hard as they can until you get so frustrated you quit.”

Stacy Zatek, Tudi’s marketing director, summed up the approach as, “Employees are treated more like partners of the business.”

Bob Tudi believes training is a priority for his employees, and also believes it’s important for them to admit when they’ve made a mistake. “When you block it out, you can’t make self-improvement over time,” he said. So he encourages employees to admit mistakes and call it “paying tuition.”

He also promotes training, specifically with a weekly training night held from September to May with a gourmet dinner included. Topics at the meetings range from safety to refrigerant conversions to customer service, he said.

Open-Book Policy

Bob Tudi has also established an open-door, open-book policy for his company. “We’re an open book shop. Our gross profits are open to everybody,” he said. “Everybody gets a commission or share of profits in how the company performs.”

According to Zatek, the company leaves “no stone unturned” when it comes to making sure everyone is informed about the company’s status. “Bob believes in an open book,” she continued. “He wants everyone to know everything — from the financials down to when the garbage is taken out.”

Virden confirmed that the company holds monthly meetings where everyone is informed about goals and projections, revenue, profit margins, etc. “They’ll tell us if things are slow. And when it comes back up, they’ll share that with you,” he said. Plus, Virden added, when he has had a specific question, he has been able to ask management about it directly, and they’ve run the figures just for him.

“Every other place I worked, the owners and managers would never say they were making money,” Virden said. “Most companies are afraid to say ‘hey, we’re making money’ because generally you’re underpaid, and the minute they say they’ve started making money, the guys get in line for a raise.” But Tudi believes in compensating employees well and fairly, so this hasn’t been an issue.

“What’s really nice is the guys want the company to make money,” Tudi said. “Once you get the people to want the company to make money, you empower them and get them to want the company to make money. So you fill the cup and share it. It’s a very simple concept, but simple and easy aren’t always hand in hand.”

All-Around Compensation

According to Bob Tudi, compensation is about more than just money. “Why do people work?” he asked. The common response is money, but Tudi believes there’s more to it than that. “The answer is a culmination of things, and we need to find out what that is, and then base compensation around it.”

For starters, many people are concerned about their health care. So Tudi sets itself apart by paying 100 percent of employees’ health care costs. Bob Tudi hears from other employers that there’s no way they can afford to pay for health care. But he believes the returns in employee loyalty and ability to work more than justify the expense. At Tudi, he said, “When we bring you in, you’re in the family. We’re still paying 100 percent health care whether you answer the phone or you are the CFO.”

To encourage employee wellness, the Pittsburgh location also has a fitness center in the basement with weight machines, treadmills, ellipticals, and more. “We have full locker rooms for the men and women, plus a tanning bed and sauna,” Zatek said.

Another way Tudi takes care of its technicians is by guaranteeing a 40-hour work week. “We guarantee 40 hours for everyone who works here so we don’t destabilize their cash flow,” Tudi said. “And the returns are great because you get a guy who cares, and your retention rate goes up.”

Zatek explained that, even when times are slow, Tudi keeps people busy by “cross-pollinating technicians into different areas.” For example, she said, “If residential is slow one month, we’ll pair up a residential tech with a commercial tech, so they can go out and lend a helping hand. If commercial is slow, we’ll bring the techs into the office, or have them help out at the warehouse — there’s always something to do.”

In addition to these standard company policies, Tudi also encourages employees by awarding prizes and offering bonus incentives. “Let’s say one of our techs goes out to a job, just doing what he needs to do, and he looks up and says, ‘Oh my goodness, this lighting needs to be looked at.’ So he comes back and tells one of our electricians to go look at that customer’s lighting. That’s considered a lead,” Zatek said. The company tracks leads and makes it a competition for the techs with fun prizes for the most leads. “We’re big on giving away big TVs.”

There’s also a game room and fully stocked bar located next to its fitness facility. “We work hard and we play hard,” Zatek said. The bar is primarily used to entertain customers, but Zatek added that it’s great for hosting tailgates for Steelers games.

“If it’s a night game, we’ll start the tailgate at the Tudi bar, then we rent a bus and take the customers as well as employees to the game,” she said.

Achieving Success

Overall, Tudi said, there are three things his company’s success hinges on. “There are three things we’re concerned about: our customers’ income statement, cash flow, and balance sheet. We want to bring a business solution to a business problem.”

Tudi knows that both he and his employees will make mistakes along the way, “But we’re not going to point fingers,” he said. “We’re going to try to limit those and do what’s in the best interest of our customer because the customer is going to take care of our families.”

Tudi tells his techs to thank the customer every day for taking care of their families. To sum it up, Tudi said, “We’re having a lot of fun. We’re growing in tough economic times, and the guys know we’re growing.”

Just The Facts: Tudi Mechanical

Bob TudiContractor: Tudi Mechanical Systems

Owner: Bob Tudi

Location: Pittsburgh and Tampa, Fla.

Years in Business: 25

Bulk of Market: Commercial

Total Sales for 2011: $22 million

Total Employees: 110

Total Service Technicians and Installers: 65

Average Hours Employees Spend in Training: Over 41 hours per year

Benefits Beyond Medical/Dental Insurance: Tudi pays 100 percent of health care costs and offers optional vision and dental programs. Tudi offers profit sharing to all employees and guarantees 40 hours of work per week to technicians.

Industry Association and Contractor Group Members: Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) and American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)

The NEWS Selected This Contractor Because: Tudi believes technicians are just as important as managers and strives to value all employees. Tudi operates under an open-book policy, so all employees are aware of how the company is doing overall and can work together to increase profitability. The company is also known for its ethical treatment of customers.

Publication date: 01/23/2012

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