ACHRNEWS

Big Contracting Business Sticks to Its Roots

January 29, 2007

DARTMOUTH, Nova Scotia - Ray Urquhart, branch manager for Carmichael Engineering Ltd.’s Dartmouth, Nova Scotia location, began his career in HVAC 30 years ago at a local trade school in St. Andrews. Three companies, a consulting business, and a new promotion later, Urquhart is now the Atlantic regional manager for Canada, covering not only Nova Scotia, but also New Brunswick and Newfoundland for Carmichael.

Experience, however, is not the only dynamic that makes Carmichael successful. Selfless hard work and a management policy instilled by Carmichael Engineering at the national level is the key to this contractor’s continued success and the primary reason Carmichael Engineering, Nova Scotia branch, was selected as the winner of The NEWS’ 2006 “Best Contractor to Work for” in the Canada region.

TEAM WORK REDEFINED

Consider Urquhart as a coach with an open-door policy. That’s how his employees view Urquhart.

“I only shut my door when I have a deadline to meet,” said Urquhart. “My job is to support everyone here.”

Ray Urquhart (right), branch manager for Carmichael Engineering Ltd.’s Dartmouth, Nova Scotia location, takes his job as coach seriously as he instructs Paul Keeping, service technician. Feature photos by Paul Darrow.

And, that’s what he does. He creates an atmosphere of unselfish teamwork and open lines of communication.

Don Brink, a technical representative, has spent more than 13 years contributing to the Carmichael team and learning to function under multiple leadership styles.

“Ray’s atmosphere is exceptional,” he noted. “Each of the individual departments are more focused and that brings them together. This branch has turned several positive pages in the past two years since Ray has been here.”

Another technical representative, Andrew Demmings, explained that the mentality shared at Carmichael carries a different dynamic than what is normally witnessed from a traditional team.

“We have a lot of respect for each other and we take each other into account as we work to get things done,” said Demmings. “Everyone in this office works proactively. People are not out to position themselves for success, promotion, or recognition; they are working for the success of the entire team and the company.”

This environment, however, didn’t just happen. Besides the open-door policy, Urquhart has implemented several other significant strategies that have produced an effective arena for continued growth.

One strategy puts people, not money, first. “We make decisions not always based on numbers,” said Urquhart. “We base our decisions on the people and the numbers. Financials are not the absolute priority, which makes the staff look at you differently.”

“Ray’s a friend, he’s not just management,” remarked Demmings. “He’s a guy you can go talk to about anything.”

“He’s a good leader, a good person, and interested in every individual,” agreed Brink. “He fields, discusses, and channels concerns in a nonthreatening way.”

“We don’t have issues here,” laughed Urquhart. “We only have concerns. I enjoy encouraging people. It’s my job to be the coach, and I am only as good as my people.”

Putting people first doesn’t just apply to his staff. It also applies to his customers. Urquhart consistently builds relationships with his staff and customers. He accomplishes this by listening to them. “Can we change everything?” Urquhart asked. “No, but we can listen. When people are happy, they do more for you; it is the same with customers.”

Michelle Werner, service coordinator, discusses scheduling challenges with Ken Wilson, service technician.

ARE YOU BEING SERVED?

Another significant strategy is service. Urquhart has set an example of service that has trickled down through the branch. His team works to not just take what is given, but to give back as well, to each other and to the community. Last year the company participated in a local Relay for Life all-night walk. Together they raised about $1,000 in pledges to benefit cancer research. They also participated as a staff in a local charity golf tournament.

At the annual company Christmas party, this service theme continued. Held at the Oak Island Resort, the entire Atlantic region participated in a dinner theater and stayed overnight at the company’s expense.

“A lot goes into the Christmas banquet,” commented Brink. “It brought the entire staff together.”

The staff gave gifts, but not to each other. Instead of exchanging gifts, each employee donated a toy to the Christmas Daddies, a Canadian organization. “After counting the toys, we found there were more donations than the number of employees in attendance,” said Urquhart.

Continually building relationships takes effort, and the staff at Carmichael’s Dartmouth, Nova Scotia branch participates in multiple activities that go beyond HVAC installation and repair. There are lunches and breakfasts served throughout the year in appreciation of extra effort.

“Extra effort does not go unnoticed here,” said Demmings.

This year, the sales crew put on a breakfast, and they cooked. “We won’t let the ladies cook,” noted Urquhart. “We even have our own Carmichael aprons.”

Urquhart’s team of service, installation, sales, and administration workers are more like a family. “We’re a team, and we are members of a family,” said Elizabeth Ferris, branch administrator. “There is an attitude of understanding here.”

“We have a good crew,” said Ross Swain, service technician. “It is well-rounded; a good mix of older fellas and young guys.”

LOVE 'EM AND KEEP 'EM

It’s not all fun and games at Carmichael. Urquhart, just like every other contractor in the HVAC industry, faces many challenges on the road to success. Hiring and retaining quality technicians, for example, is a rising concern in Canada. According to Urquhart, everyone that works in HVAC is already employed. The labor pool is maxed out, and replacements aren’t coming up fast enough.

“Worker shortages aren’t a concern right now, but six years from now the graying effect will take its toll. It’s like that in all the trades,” noted Urquhart. “We are currently working on a plan to compensate for this.”

In the meantime, Urquhart continues with his successful hiring and maintaining practices.

“We employ directly from trade schools, hiring a minimum of four apprentices per year,” said Urquhart. “You don’t have to be the best technician to succeed.”

He believes that technical skills are not as important as having the right attitude.

“We have a good crew,” said Ross Swain, service technician. “It is well-rounded; a good mix of older fellas and young guys.”

As for keeping technicians, Urquhart allows his staff room to grow in position and knowledge. He addresses each as individuals, denying the cookie-cutter approach often associated with larger contracting firms. “If a technician enjoys their job, two or three dollars isn’t going to make them leave,” he said. “When you have a good technician, hang onto them. Keep your people happy.”

Ray Urquhart (left), branch manager for Carmichael Engineering Ltd.’s Dartmouth, Nova Scotia location, discusses upcoming project plans with Dave Corkum (right), project manager, and Michael Cashin, salesperson.

KEEPING CURRENT

Growing the staff isn’t Urquhart’s only challenge. He is also responsible for growing the business. As a commercial contractor, there are multiple opportunities to expand the business into new realms of HVAC. “We continually grow, but we grow at a steady pace,” said Urquhart. “We don’t confine our business to one area.”

As Carmichael expands its business, training is required to keep technicians current with new trends and business ventures. Carmichael Engineering Ltd. employs HVAC unionized technicians. “The union is strong on the training,” noted Urquhart. “The union trades are loyal, and when we need people they are there.”

ALL IN THE FAMILY

Treating his branch as family is what makes Urquhart and his leadership style successful. “Ray is the best,” said Michele Werner, service coordinator. “He communicates and he is fair. Ray is focused and has a great sense of business.”

“If I was a regional branch manager, I would implement much of what Ray does,” noted Demmings.

Urquhart is not the only one at Carmichael focusing on family. Carmichael Engineering Ltd. is a family-owned business. Owner and president Miller Carmichael has expanded this HVAC contracting business throughout Canada, not with a focus on the bottom line, but with a long-term vision based on solid values and a passion for excellence in technical services.

“I like the fact that Carmichael is privately owned; it’s not a dictatorship,” said Urquhart. “If I didn’t have the support of Miller Carmichael, I couldn’t create the atmosphere that I am trying to here.”

Beyond trucks, tools, uniforms, cookouts, cell phones, incentives, training, etc., Urquhart is addressing each individual while furthering the company’s development. “Ray’s doing an excellent job,” said Wayne Starratt, refrigeration technician. “He’s exceptionally smart, he knows the industry, and he is always willing to talk to you.”

Demmings summed it up when he said; “You have to give credit where credit is due.”

JUST THE FACTS:

Contractor: Carmichael Engineering Ltd., Nova Scotia Branch

Owner: Ray Urquhart

Location: Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

Years in business: 80

Bulk of market: Commercial

Total sales for 2006: $9 million

Total employees: 60

Total service technicians and installers: 40

Average hours employees spend in training: 60 hours per year

Benefits beyond medical/dental insurance: Paid skills training, tools, equipment, fully stocked and maintained trucks, uniforms, boots, and company-sponsored outings.

Industry association & contractor group members: BOMA Atlantic, Canadian Professional Sales Association, Canadian Healthcare Engineering Society

The NEWS selected this contractor because: Ray Urquhart has shown an intense commitment to open communication and selfless service that has allowed his team of workers to be a successful HVAC family. Urquhart keeps a balance between business and individuals, while growing a thriving company.

Publication date: 01/29/2007