Lori Mazza, executive assistant of The Unified Group, talks with Rob “Waldo” Waldman, the keynote speaker at the group’s national meeting in San Diego. Mazza handled the introduction of Waldman, a former F-16 fighter pilot who provides consulting services to businesses.

SAN DIEGO - The distinct sound of Hornet fighter jets can be heard above the calm suburban surroundings of Miramar Marine Corps Air Station. More than 10 military bases are in the Southern California area, and the sight of military personnel and aircraft is a common occurrence, especially around San Diego, home to Coronado Naval Amphibious Base, North Island Naval Air Station, and the San Diego Naval Submarine Base, in addition to Miramar.

During the opening session of The Unified Group’s Annual Meeting, the roar of an Air Force F-16 taking off echoed against the meeting room walls. It was Rob “Waldo” Waldman’s cue to take charge, and take charge he did. The former fighter pilot had flown 65 combat missions around the world, primarily in Kosovo during the crisis in that Eastern European area. However, his Nov. 9 mission was to whip the membership of The Unified Group into a near frenzy of excitement and enthusiasm as the three-day meeting kicked off.

Approximately 30 contracting companies were in attendance at the Paradise Point Resort and Spa, which played host to the meeting of commercial mechanical contractors. During the course of the meeting, there was ample opportunity for members to beef up on strategic planning for their respective businesses, including discussions of profitability, leadership, creating functional teams, and an enlightening panel discussion with employees from Pacific Rim Mechanical, a San Diego-based company.

Jim Bartolotta, a partner of The Unified Group, complimented all the attendees in developing one of the best contractor associations serving the needs of the commercial industry. Bartolotta noted that there are 12 openings for new members and encouraged the current membership to be on the lookout for a few good companies for various markets.

However, the opening session stole the show.


Waldman related not only some harrowing experiences as a fighter pilot, but the intriguing story of his wingmen. He told of an Air Force concept that every person in the air and on the ground is an integral part of the team that not only keeps pilots alive, but helps them win. He easily bridged his stories of heroism and teamwork to the business sector and HVAC. “It’s not easy to win. Every day people are taking shots at you; the labor force, the competition from manufacturers, the competition down the street,” said Waldman.

Every person on a team must know their role in order for the team to be successful. Each role has to constantly be refined and rehearsed. Waldman called this the “chair fly” concept. It is Air Force terminology for practicing every conceivable situation that might be encountered. When stressful situations occur at work, one can already know the automatic response to any situation if it has been properly prepared for in advance.

Waldo, as he was known to the crowd, stressed teamwork as a key for success in business, just as it is critical in life and death situations. “The first part of every plan is preparation,” he said. “Of course you have to consider your daily planning as an important part of your business. But, what are you doing to prepare for new technology? What are you doing to study your competition? How are you building relationships with your wingmen?”

Waldman sometimes humorously reinforced his points as he referred to combat situations he had encountered as a fighter pilot. With regard to one particular incident where he was strapped in the tiny cockpit and flying directly above surface to air missiles, he joked with the crowd, “I’m a recovering claustrophobic and I’m afraid of heights. I had to get out of there.”


“Everyone has fear of failure,” he continued, “and sometimes a fear of success.” By “checking six,” another fly-boy term, everyone on the team backs each other up. Every wingman has a responsibility to watch out for the other guy. Though “wingman” is typically a term reserved for those flying in formation, Waldman mentioned that after every mission he went to each member of the team, ground and air, and thanked them for being his wingman. In fact, his typical greeting after climbing down from his F-16 after a mission - “I’m proud to be your wingman.”

According to Waldman, a leader must acknowledge each employee as a person and an integral member of the team in order to get the best performance toward the goal. “At the end of the day, it is the customer who benefits. Teamwork is all about relationships, and those relationships translate to your customers experiences with your company,” he said.


During the three-day meeting, The Unified Group members shared best practices with each other in the hallways during breaks and at social gatherings, as is the custom at most industry meetings. However, one of the highlights during the daily sessions was a panel discussion that featured employees of Pacific Rim Mechanical, one of the larger members of the organization.

Pacific Rim is located in San Diego, so it was relatively convenient to bring seven members of the company to the session to share their stories about a particular best practice that is close to the hearts of the editors of this magazine. Each year, The NEWS features contracting companies from around the country who have been nominated as the “Best Contractor to Work for” by an employee. Pacific Rim might do well to enter next year’s contest.

At Pacific Rim the theme is putting employees first. The Thursday afternoon panel discussion was a testament to the philosophy that by treating ones employees well, that they in turn will treat the company’s customers with the utmost respect and care.

Al Sanchez, service manager, had worked at another Southern California contracting company, Linford Services, until it was purchased by Encompass, the former consolidation giant.

Pacific Rim had also been one of the Encompass acquisitions and was merged with Linford. Sanchez had developed a special relationship with his crew and was initially concerned that the Pacific Rim merger would not work out well.

Sanchez said, “I love this trade. I wouldn’t think of doing anything else. I wanted to keep doing the things I had been doing, working with my crew and having fun. Pac Rim let me continue to do those things, and I found out that the work atmosphere was even better than I expected. The way in which this company treats its employees is unmatched.”

The often eloquent Sanchez drew friendly barbs from his fellow employees. “Al should be in sales,” laughed salesperson Mel Marshall as Sanchez rolled on, engaging an audience that was obviously hanging on his every word.

“We attract superstars, and they bring us more superstars,” said Sanchez.

Some of the stories shared by the seven employees from various departments included one of an employee who had contracted cancer. The owners told him to take care of himself and that everything would be in place for him when he returned.

The company paid his wages the entire time he was out of work, and did even more to help the man’s family when he eventually lost his battle with the disease. An annual golf tournament provides funding for assistance to the family. Others told of similar instances of an immense caring for employees as if everyone were part of the same family.

As several service and sales personnel were on the panel, some of the discussion drifted toward working relationships between the two crews.

According to one employee, the communication between sales and operations is the linchpin for success at Pacific Rim. Even in a company with more than 500 employees, rather than go around each other to a department head to solve problems, employees are comfortable in handling issues directly with their co-workers.

Marshall closed his comments by saying, “I hope you can emulate some of our culture in your office. It’s fun to go to work.”


The Unified Group, an independent association of 53 of the country’s elite HVAC commercial contractors, presented its Member of the Year award to Charlotte, N.C.-based AirTight Mechanical at the organization’s annual meeting.

Greg Crumpton, president and founder of AirTight Mechanical, received the award because he and his company embody the qualities that define what The Unified Group stands for.

Crumpton has been extremely active in the organization since becoming a member in 2004 and contributed to training, marketing, membership, and business opportunities development.

According to Julie Bishop, executive director of The Unified Group, “AirTight Mechanical was honored this year for their many contributions. Greg is not only a strong advocate for our group, but for the industry as a whole. He’s a true leader with a caring spirit, and he has created a unique company culture at AirTight because he is a believer in, and a promoter of people. We’re proud and blessed to have Greg and AirTight as part of The Unified Group.”

For more information, contact Julie Bishop, executive director, at 888-714-5990, ext. 223 for more information on The Unified Group.

Publication date: 01/15/2007