Measuring Commitment in Service

January 26, 2009
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Pro-Air Services President and Owner Marshall Putman. (Feature photos by Edward Badham Photography.)

Marshall Putman served for four years in the U.S. Navy including plying the inland jungle waterways of Vietnam aboard a minesweeping gunboat.

“That’s when I learned about commitment,” he says today. “And I brought that with me” at the time of the formation of Pro-Air Services Inc. in 1995.

From a one-person shop at the beginning to a more than $5 million a year industrial and commercial HVACR business today with 40 employees, Putman has continued to stress commitment. And that has included a commitment to hiring top-flight service technicians and project personnel (of which there are currently 31), who are given challenging and diversified projects often involving large chiller systems, and are provided year-round work and a strong, competitive wage and benefit package.

For these and other reasons, Pro-Air Services Inc. of Decatur, Ala., has been chosen the winner of The NEWS’ Best Contractor to Work For for the South region.

START UP

After leaving the Navy, Putman worked odd jobs until hearing about the HVACR program at a community college. “I knew I enjoyed a technical challenge. So I got involved in the field. I worked hard at it and I really enjoyed it,” he recalled.

After a time working in the field, Putman was hired by Carrier as a manufacturer’s representative. He did that for 18 years before deciding to go out on his own with the formation of Pro-Air.

About a year after the company started, Putman’s son, Jason, began working there part-time while attending college. Today, Jason Putman is vice president for operations and business development. He said the company has a tilt toward hiring “seasoned” technicians and project personnel because of the complexity of the chiller and airside installations along with the service and maintenance of commercial equipment. (The company is 65 percent industrial and 35 percent commercial; 95 percent HVAC and 5 percent refrigeration.)

Beyond those skills “we look for honesty, intelligence, and commitment as a team player.”

The team at Pro-Air Services Inc.

And the search is not limited to just the seasoned. Said Jason Putman, “I have participated in our local community college job fair to encourage young people to enter the trade. The HVAC trade is a tough sell to high school kids. Everyone wants to be an engineer, lawyer, doctor, nurse, or astronaut at that age. But I do know that someone standing in a suit sharing facts of labor shortages, technical challenges, and the ever-increasing demand for HVAC and refrigeration has caused some young people to join the field.”

In fact, the push goes to even younger ages. “I always say I am planting seeds,” he said. “I have spoken at a local elementary school to plant seeds at a young age. The school called and requested I speak to the sixth graders. There were four of us who came: A weatherman, lawyer, doctor, and me.”

Part of the connection Jason Putman has with the younger generation is that at age 33, he is still considered a young man. In fact, in the June 18, 2007 issue of The NEWS, he was profiled as one of the industry’s “Young Guns,” those who are ages 25-35 and are “career-minded young people that the HVACR trade needs to replenish and refresh itself,” according to the article.

JOINING UP

The incentives to join Pro-Air include “an opportunity to work with a company that cares about you. We never have had a layoff, “ said Marshall Putman.

Those points were motivation for service tech Paul Trowbridge to join the company in early 2008 after more than 20 years in the HVACR industry.

“Stability was one thing,” he said. “I heard a lot of good things about Pro-Air and about its good business ethics. I’ve been treated real well.” And he added, “I’m out in the field most of the time. I don’t have to come into the office that much. And I like that.”

Russell Sharp welds an 18 gauge, 38 inch, 5 section 90° elbow.

ON THE JOB

On-the-job training is offered throughout the year, often through manufacturers. Training is based on the need of each technician, said Jason Putman.

“We identify an employee that needs training and we give it to them. It makes them a better asset for the company. They are paid a regular salary while receiving education. The employee, while sitting in the classroom, is on the job and should be compensated. We, as an organization, also pay for the training as well. Training can take an employee from good to great.”

The company is based in Decatur, a city of 55,000 in northern Alabama. The company’s primary territory is northern Alabama and southern Tennessee. It is a sector of the country that produces plenty of heat and humidity for extended periods of time. And that factor enters into the company’s efforts to address concerns related to long workdays.

Said Jason Putman, “We certainly work many hours during the busy season. We are always aware that an employee would not ask to take off unless he needs to. Our employees are welcome to use vacation days during the summer. They, in turn, realize that when the company does well, they do well. They also know if they are abusing the privilege, they are hurting fellow co-workers. We have a flexible relationship that allows for one to ask the supervisor to take time off.”

Service Manager Calvin Colbert, center, discusses work project with Kevin Lawson and Paul Trowbridge.

The stability that Trowbridge spoke of is reflected in spreading out the workload year round.

Said Marshall Putman, “We use maintenance contracts, of course, but an employee has to be flexible. Sometimes a technician will pitch in with installations and installers can become helpers to technicians. Our employees have always gotten 40 hours every week. Never have we once said, ‘Sorry, looks like things are slow.’ One can do training or make some improvements at our facility when the workload decreases as well. An employee must have a minimum of 40 hours to provide for themselves and their family, and we have made sure they received it.”

Pay increases take place when “certain technical goals are reached. As one meets those goals and accomplishes work in a professional, highly-skilled manner, they will see an increase in compensation.”

Pro-Air remains committed to growth and being a Pro-Earth company. The company has used its growth to fund philanthropic projects such as its Pro-Earth scholarship. “Our organization has grown 13 of the 14 years we have been incorporated, and there has been nine consecutive years of growth,” said Jason Putman. “The company has increased revenue repeatedly while maintaining profitability. Our compensation for our employees has reflected this growth.”

For more information, visit www.pro-air.net.

Just the Facts: Best Contractor To Work For

CONTRACTOR: Pro-Air Services Inc.

PRESIDENT: Marshall Putman

LOCATIONS: Decatur, Ala. and Huntsville, Ala.

YEARS IN BUSINESS: 14

BULK OF MARKET: Commercial & Industrial

TOTAL SALES FOR 2008: $5.4 Million

TOTAL EMPLOYEES: 40

TOTAL SERVICE TECHNICIANS AND INSTALLERS: 31

AVERAGE HOURS EMPLOYEES SPEND IN TRAINING: 30 hours per year

BENEFITS BEYOND MEDICAL/DENTAL INSURANCE: Long-term retirement financial program, company furnished vehicle with permission to drive it home, on-the-job incentives to reward job performance, life insurance, opportunity to work with a growing and philanthropic company, mobile phones, team environment.

INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION AND CONTRACTOR GROUP MEMBERS: IFMA, USGBC, ABC, Tennessee Valley Training Center, Robotics and Industrial Training Center.

THE NEWS SELECTED THIS CONTRACTOR BECAUSE: The company emphasizes minimum 40-hour work weeks so technicians can anticipate income in providing for his or her family and year-round employment; as well as emphasis on diversified and interesting technology related to chillers and other HVACR equipment.

Publication date: 01/26/2009

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