ACHRNEWS

NFL Scout Goes From the Gridiron to the Trenches

January 29, 2007

GREEN BAY, Wis. - If your name is Lombardi, you are bound to get a lot of questions from anybody who knows anything about the legends of football and the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. Ironically, John Lombardi, vice president for Comfort Control Systems Inc. of De Pere, just outside of Green Bay, never set foot in the stadium but once from the time he was two years old until about two years ago. As he said, “Being here is a coincidence, but the name is not.”

Lombardi is the grandson of the late Vince Lombardi, for whom the National Football League’s Super Bowl Trophy was renamed in 1971. If you are still at a loss as to what Vince Lombardi and Lambeau Field have in common, then the headline of this story did not interest you very much.

So for you, this is a short summary of the man’s accomplishments: Vince Lombardi coached the Green Bay Packers to the first Super Bowl Championship before it was ever called the Super Bowl. Then, he won the second Super Bowl, not to mention five NFL championships prior. He was famous as one of the most powerfully motivating coaches in the history of the game. Most every high school, college, and professional coach has studied the strategies of motivation and football fundamentals as laid out by the man who coined the famous tagline, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”

John Lombardi came back to Green Bay through a circuitous route. He had spent about 10 years working in the National Football League. He was looking to do something that required less time away from his wife and the children that he knew were coming in short order.

His father, Vince Lombardi Jr., met Bill Efird while the guest speaker at a Contractors Success Group (CSG) convention in Nashville. Efird was the president of CSG, the predecessor of Service Experts, which eventually was purchased by Lennox International Inc.

Vince Jr. gave his son’s contact information to Efird. Lombardi was living in Nashville while working for the Tennessee Titans, and met Efird for lunch some time later. They started planning.

“Over lunch, I indicated to Bill that even though I enjoyed football, I was traveling five days a week, 40 weeks a year, and did not want to do that as a husband and father. Bill suggested that I should give the air conditioning business a shot,” said Lombardi. “I didn’t know the first thing about it, so I was skeptical at first.

“He is a very persuasive person, and after about five months of training under him and at some of the best Service Experts and CSG contractors, I was running a shop out on Long Island. A few years later, here I am,” said Lombardi, “in Green Bay, and I love it.”

NFL FOR HVAC?

At a time when skilled tradesmen are in great demand in this industry, and while many leave or retire, attracting new blood into the field is difficult at best. For someone to leave a seemingly lucrative career in the NFL for a career in HVAC may strike some people as odd.

Aside from the obvious family reasons, why would someone trade a promising career in the NFL for a shot at heating and air conditioning? And, especially someone with such a rich heritage and connection to the sport, which could potentially be parlayed into a rewarding pursuit?

Being in the NFL may not be as glitzy and glamorous as it appears. Many people start off at a relatively low wage and wait for a very long time to land one of the really high-paying jobs that might become available. Even if you are the grandson of a football legend, you have to pay your dues.

After playing high school football and lacrosse in Detroit, Lombardi played lacrosse at both the Naval Academy and Kenyon College. Next came a two-year stint as an employee of the World League of American Football, now known as NFL Europe. The World League shut down and he moved on. While working on his master’s degree at Ohio State University, he landed a job as a scouting assistant with the Cleveland Browns. His next move took him to Vanderbilt University, then to the Tennessee Titans, scouting college players in the Southeastern United States.

All of the travel and the general nature of working in the National Football League took its toll.

Lombardi said, “I feel part of a team here more so than I ever did in the NFL. Almost everyone in the league operates very independently. At Comfort Control, we have the ability to directly affect the lives of all 18 of the people we work with, and multiply that times the number of people in each family. Then, take into consideration the customers that we reach. This is what teamwork is really about.”

Teamwork isn’t the only benefit that Lombardi has found in the HVAC industry. The results have proven rewarding as he has moved from a manager in training under Bill Efird to the vice president of a successful company in Green Bay. It would seem that Vince Lombardi Jr. gave his son some good advice when he sent him to eat lunch with a persuasive man in Nashville.

BY THE NUMBERS

Coach Vince Lombardi was known as a stern taskmaster and demanded that his players practice and repeat even the simplest skills. Grandson John Lombardi has learned during his relatively brief HVAC career that doing simple things can make a huge difference in the success of a company. A new maintenance program has been a major focus since Lombardi came on board with Comfort Control Systems.

“My father always told me that sports are a good thing because it provides goals to measure yourself, and you can receive immediate feedback,” said Lombardi. “Some people only look at their profit and loss statements annually. I look at them every day. That immediate feedback enables us to make decisions that will impact our bottom line in a favorable fashion.”

Since joining Ron Quick, the president and owner of Comfort Control Systems, the two have been able to create some dramatic results in just two years. Callbacks have been reduced from 5.4 percent to 3.1 percent through a combination of more training and incentives. Nonbillable calls were reduced by almost 7 percent, and leads from service have increased by 21 percent.

Quick said, “Hiring John was the best move to make at a time when we were becoming complacent. He knows the numbers and the benchmarks of where we should be; my expertise is more on the technical side. We balance each other very well.”

Both Quick and Lombardi believe that the company has maximized its growth potential in the Green Bay market unless it were to make major changes in its strategic direction. That is not something that either man anticipates. However, both expect that the most logical method for expansion is to play off of the opportunities that a stronger service business will create.

In pursuit of that stronger service business, Quick and Lombardi are working to enhance the company’s core strengths.

Quick said, “In 2005, 30 percent of our leads came from service. In 2006, that has changed to 51 percent.” In addition, the company is averaging more leads per day and a higher average ticket since instituting the maintenance program. However, the president and vice president aren’t the only movers and shakers in the company. One of the veteran service technicians, Dale Fischer, has been the person pushing for North American Technician Excellence (NATE) certification within Comfort Control Systems, and conducts much of the training himself. Of the 11 people who have taken the NATE core test, nine received passing scores. That is much higher than the national average pass rate, which hovers around 65 percent.

With the combined efforts of Quick, Lombardi, and solid employees like Fischer, Comfort Control Systems looks headed for greater successes in the years to come.

Lombardi began his career in HVAC with a free lunch, spent six months training under Bill Efird at various Service Experts locations, then came to Green Bay on a consulting project. He found that Green Bay was a great place to live and work, and found the HVAC business offered everything he needed. Does he ever miss the NFL? “Only on Sundays,” admits Lombardi. “But, Monday through Saturday is fantastic.”

Welcome to HVAC, rookie.

SIDEBAR: ON THE SIDELINES

John Lombardi, vice president of Comfort Control Systems Inc., in addition to his HVAC responsibilities, writes a monthly column for the Packer Report and for its online version, which is read by Packer fans around the world. His Sunday afternoons are often spent in the Lambeau Field press box during Green Bay Packers home games.

Dec. 17, 2006, found Lombardi hanging out in the stands with some high school buddies from Detroit, as they watched the Pack narrowly defeat the Detroit Lions. Before the game, I walked with Lombardi around the parking lot of the stadium, which bears a statue of his grandfather at the main entrance.

The Packer pride that is evident in Titletown U.S.A. oozes like soft green and yellow cheese through the neighborhoods on football Sundays. Cheesehead mania was alive and well in the backyards surrounding Lambeau as the aroma of brats and beer filled the parking lot air.

A little football talk ensued, but most of the conversation was about heating and air conditioning. Lombardi pointed to the tailgate party of one of the company’s staunch competitors that had decked out a small bus in Packer green and gold. “They’re a pretty good company,” said Lombardi, with a competitive lilt to his voice.

Another reporter from the Packer Report recognized Lombardi, but otherwise, it was a rather quiet walk. Though involved in several charitable activities around Green Bay, Lombardi usually keeps a somewhat low profile around the community.

As Comfort Control Systems President Ron Quick said, “John is kind of a reserved person. Though the name Lombardi is god-like around Green Bay, the thought of his local connection to the Lombardi legend never really entered into our discussions about the business.”

Though there may be at least one opportunity for a new customer - a shout-out to the lady in the airport gift shop who was impressed that I was going to the game with Vince’s grandson - you’ll find him at Comfort Control Systems behind a desk.

Publication date: 01/29/2007