managers from around the United States met in a special session of the Chiller
Systems Group in Irvine, Calif., on April 17. The main topic of discussion was
how the virtual organization should be structured in the coming years.
IRVINE, Calif. - In the spring of 1994, two men witnessed
their shared vision take root in the inaugural assembly of many of the most
dedicated commercial HVAC service companies. The occasion was the first of 28
consecutive semi-annual meetings of the Chiller Systems Group (CSG).
Today, the group of 48 companies is described by leadership
as a virtual organization, a network of independent contractors dedicated to
knowledge sharing and training to provide building owners the highest level of
chiller service, and other bold and sometimes daring endeavors. Not the least
of which is maintaining a membership that services approximately 15,000
centrifugal and screw chillers throughout the United States.
Robert Owens of Owens Companies Inc., Bloomington, Minn.,
and Pat Rucker, Entech Sales & Service, Dallas, were the visionary drivers
that spearheaded the effort to unify an influential group of contractors,
primarily dedicated to large-tonnage chiller service.
That first meeting was hosted by the Owens Companies Inc.,
in Bloomington, and every semi-annual gathering since has likewise been hosted
by member companies. Members pay a modest registration fee, which funds the
spartan infrastructure of the organization. Members must adhere to a simple set
of guidelines in order to maintain good standing in CSG.
The 28th semi-annual meeting was held in April at the Hilton
Irvine/Orange County Airport Hotel. Bill Flynn, chairman of the publicity
committee and president of Mallory & Evans Service, an Atlanta-based
contracting company, opened the meeting with introductions, a few points about
the agenda, and goals for the group’s meeting. The event included a somewhat
rare senior manager-meeting component, as the steering committee sought valued
input from some of the largest members about important decisions facing the
group as it moves forward.
To open those discussions, Pat Rucker and John Owens, now
the president of the company his late father founded, shared a history of the
development of CSG that actually dates further back than 1994.
LEVEL PLAYING FIELD
“My father would be very pleased and perhaps even amazed at
what this organization has accomplished since its inception,” said Owens. “Back
in the old days, after the 1982 class action lawsuit, we accomplished a lot
with the Trane Company and other manufacturers. York has done a great job of
working with CSG, even though they, of course, still compete with us for
service work on chillers.”
Owens’ comments about competition from manufacturers
actually hearken back to the impetus behind the founding of CSG in 1994. Rucker
said, “The fight has always been to keep the playing field level. We have to
work together to simply do a better job providing service.”
The feisty and sharp-witted Rucker is the senior member of
CSG, and still carries the fight when he feels the necessity (see sidebar
below). Even during his opening comments to the senior managers, Rucker
challenged and sometimes chastised both manufacturers and the CSG membership as
he encouraged responsible and fair competition.
A WORKING GROUP
The stated purpose of CSG is to:
Facilitate sharing of chiller
technical information and training;
Work with chiller manufacturers to
gain timely and economical access to training, technical information, and
Facilitate education on industry
trends, technologies, and best practices.
Membership requirements of the virtual organization
Company must have a major focus on
large tonnage chiller service;
Must actively contribute and commit
resources to ensure group’s success;
Must have active participation of both
management and technical personnel; and
Must attend semi-annual meetings.
There are no membership dues; the CSG currently funds itself
from the nominal registration fees for each semi-annual meeting. Key benefits
of membership include an e-mail user group, a relatively new Website, and seven
working committees including steering, training, membership, website, publicity,
technical, and manufacturers. The manufacturers committee is composed of four
two-person teams that serve as liaisons with York, Trane, Carrier, and McQuay.
During the Senior Manager’s Meeting on April 17, which
preceded two days of technical training sessions with service employees,
several guests were invited to share their perspectives on competition from
manufacturers’ service companies. Paul Stalknecht, president and CEO of the Air
Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) spoke to the group about the ACCA
Co-Stars meeting format.
The Co-Stars meetings provide a forum for contractors to
meet with top executives from manufacturing companies. The meetings are
intended to provide a two-way street for meaningful dialogue that can be
helpful to all parties.
Stalknecht told the management group that many of the
Co-Stars discussions are of a commercial service nature, and he suggested that
greater support of ACCA, through membership, would result in an even more powerful
national voice for the members of CSG.
A representative from The NEWS
to the managers about the strength of CSG in the market, and other alternatives
for creating positive dialogue. Members were encouraged to consider attending
the HVAC-Mechanical Xchange, an executive strategic summit event in Park City,
Utah, Sept. 21-24, 2008.
As the first day’s meeting drew to a close, members pondered
three key challenges facing the CSG organization.
- The 48-strong membership has
never had a problem keeping the rolls full; in fact, requests of prospective
members are often turned away. However, members did entertain future growth for
the group and how that might be accommodated. The virtual organization may some
day find itself in need of a more formal structure with an executive director
at the helm.
- Meeting registration fees cover
the group’s current needs, but any growth might require a different structure,
such as annual dues.
- One of the requirements
of membership is that both technical and managerial involvement is required.
According to CSG leadership, the technical involvement is exceeding
expectations while management participation sometimes wanes.
However, the 28th semi-annual meeting of the Chiller Systems
Group brought out perhaps the best attendance of both technical and management
people that the group has ever experienced. As the group continues to ask tough
questions of not only itself but of those around it, it seems as though the CSG
is destined to continue its path of bold leadership.
See the online feature article “Chiller Systems Group
Meeting” in this issue for more on the contractor network.
Sidebar: Honor the Leader
IRVINE, Calif - The Chiller Systems Group (CSG) held its
spring meeting April 17-19 at the Hilton Irvine/Orange County Airport in
Irvine, Calif. During the meeting a special achievement award was presented to
Pat Rucker, a founding member of the group and president of Entech Sales &
Service of Dallas. For his outstanding leadership and support of the group, CSG
also announced that an ongoing special achievement award will carry his name
and be awarded to future members who make outstanding contributions.
At the beginning of the three-day meeting, Rucker shared a
historical perspective from 1994. “People [contractors and manufacturers] were
getting into the chiller refrigerant conversion market. Manufacturers would not
sell the refrigerant conversion kits to contractors, or would not sell them at
the same price as they did to their own service companies.”
Rucker carried a lawsuit through to the Dallas District
Federal Court, which resulted in more favorable service and pricing from the
“Building owners were sometimes being charged as much as
$75,000 for a conversion kit by a manufacturer’s service group,” said Rucker.
“Well they might as well have bought a new chiller for that kind of price. It
all resulted in better treatment for contractors and better service for
Prior to Rucker’s 1994 lawsuit, a group of contracting
companies filed legal proceedings against a group of manufacturers (Trane, Carrier,
York, and McQuay) in 1982, claiming unfair practices that were in violation of
the Sherman Antitrust Act. Rucker and Entech Sales & Service were in the
thick of that battle, along with the Owens Companies Inc., and a few other bold
The 1982 and 1994 legal proceedings brought to light the
need to better unify contracting companies in the pursuit of fairer business
practices and the need to ensure access to technical training information.