John Cloutier is committed to excellence in every task he attempts. It is his unfailing commitment to his employees, however, that set him apart as winner of The NEWS’ Best Contractor to Work For contest in the Canadian region. As president of Nordic Mechanical Services Ltd. in Edmonton, Alberta, Cloutier has come to understand that when he commits to the betterment and contentment of his employees, he commits to the success of his business as well.
Born the son of a dairy farmer, Cloutier was the fifth of 10 children. After high school, a friend of his father’s peaked his interest in sheet metal and plumbing. He, in turn, pursued an apprenticeship.
“It was in my third year of apprenticeship that I found my love for people drawing me into the sheet metal company’s office environment,” remembered Cloutier. “There I became an estimator. After I completed my journeyman certificate, business training, and gained the amount of experience deemed necessary, I set out on my own in 1984 and began Nordic Mechanical Ltd.”
The company was primarily a design-build HVAC installation contractor entity. It later evolved as Cloutier began to take an interest in the service side of HVAC contracting. In 1994, and with the purchase of The Linc Service Franchise, he began Nordic Mechanical Services Ltd.
“As a cold-start services company, I employed one office person and one technician,” said Cloutier.
Today the company employs an average of 60 to 70 people overall, 42 of which are service professionals. “With the enthusiasm our team and community hold, the future looks bright.”
STAFF SUPPORTEven though Canada’s government and business systems differ from the United States’, Cloutier’s future holds many of the same uncertainties that U.S. contractors have been facing and will continue to face in 2009. Economic stability is one of the priorities on Cloutier’s list.
“Just as in the States, our economy is largely petroleum-based, and it has made many in Alberta somewhat nervous,” he said. “We at Nordic Mechanical Services, on the other hand, provide a service which is required for day-to-day operation.”
Despite the required service that provides the company with some protection, Nordic Mechanical Services is continuing to provide a higher level of service and paying extra attention to detail in order to ensure that it is the HVAC company that gets the call.
Its attention to diligence begins at 7:45 a.m. every Monday with a service team meeting. There, announcements are made and milestones are celebrated - birthdays, anniversaries, new team members, sales successes, etc. Every Tuesday the management team meets to review the past week and look ahead to the coming week to ensure that no call or business matter falls through the cracks.
Cloutier spends the rest of the week supporting his sales, operation, and technician staff.
“My time is split 50/50 between the office staff and the field staff,” he said. “I am best at mentoring, coaching, supporting, and leading the team.”
As a mentor and coach, Cloutier approaches every situation with a listening ear. “I like to listen first, and then provide the individual an opportunity to provide a solution to the challenge that has arisen,” offered Cloutier. “I have found that if I listen to my team, they often have the answer.”
TRAIN AND RETAINPutting together a good team doesn’t just happen. It takes planning, perseverance, and an investment of time and resources. According to Cloutier, Canada is currently experiencing a shortage of trade workers across the board, not just in the HVAC field. Beyond the increased programming at local and national trade school levels, he feels that it is the employers’ responsibilities to engage the young people of the community and be willing to invest in their training, especially once they have been hired.
“We actively seek out newer tradespeople so they can be groomed for service, otherwise, our hiring practices are typical of most organizations,” he noted. “The difference would be that we make hiring decisions based more on the applicants’ attitudes than on their aptitudes. We can teach the technical.”
As contractors invest in staff training, there is always the risk of losing the investment if the person leaves. Nordic Mechanical Services takes that risk and pays for all trade training/schooling. All sales and administration staff are sent to formal and follow-up training for their particular roles as well.
“We are all encouraged and supported to get all the training that we can,” said Lance Malinski, general manager projects division, Nordic Mechanical Services. “Quite often comments are made about the amount of training that Nordic Mechanical Services employees receive and questions are asked if the corporation is worried about training and losing its investment.”
Cloutier answers this question with one of his own.
“As business leaders we fear if we train our people they might leave,” he said. “But, what if we don’t train them and they stay?”
Maintaining and retaining a satisfied staff goes beyond training. Approximately 10 percent of the business at Nordic Mechanical Services is reactive spot calls. The remaining 90 percent exists as maintenance agreements.
“We do not face the burn out that the majority of our competitors face,” said Shaunalee Boyle, senior account executive, Nordic Mechanical Services. “We rotate our after hours calls. Otherwise, our guys get a 40 hour workweek come rain or shine, 50 weeks out of the year.”
Nordic Mechanical Services is a non-union shop, but to ensure its competitive edge in the technician market, the company’s pay increase policy keeps in line with the annual union pay increases.
“This is a place to build a career,” said Allison Dennis, senior account executive, Nordic Mechanical Services. “It isn’t a job. People are valued and cared for in this organization.”
Malinski pointed out that, “There is a sense of pride and ownership right through the ranks; we all take extreme pride coming into work every day and doing the right thing for both our internal and external customers.”
Combining these factors and an open-door policy, Nordic Mechanical Services has a waiting list of technicians wanting to work for the company.
SENSE OF FAMILYSupport, training, and finances are important to each staff member, but it is the team’s cohesiveness - which Cloutier helps build - that creates a family atmosphere. For many, it is this sense of family that makes Nordic Mechanical Services the place to work.
“The most significant benefit of working at this company is its unwavering commitment to its family culture,” said Boyle. “I have never believed I would work somewhere till I retired - until now.”
Like a family, the staff participates in activities such as company provided breakfasts and luncheons, golf tournaments, parties, trips, etc. More importantly to the staff and to its president are the regular community outreach activities to which Nordic Mechanical Services donates to and participates.
“What makes Nordic Mechanical Services different is its family-oriented, fun, laid back, hardworking attitude,” said Dennis. “We are rewarded for the hard work that is accomplished and there is tons of laughing.”
When challenges arise, this family pulls together. “In challenging times, we seem to be our strongest,” pointed out Malinski. “We work as a team in a family atmosphere. When challenges come, each and every one of us steps up to persevere through whatever challenge we face.”
SUCCESS 101What is Cloutier’s secret of success? Unfortunately he had no exact formula to offer, but he did mention four principles that have steered his course correctly for the past 15 years - the ability to work, service leadership, professional and family support, and an excellent team to work with.
“We have an unbelievable team at Nordic Mechanical Services and we know that every person and building we are involved with will see a positive outcome,” acknowledged Cloutier. “We are committed to that.”
Just the Facts: Best Contractor To Work ForCONTRACTOR: Nordic Mechanical Services Ltd.
OWNER: John Cloutier
LOCATION: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
YEARS IN BUSINESS: 15
BULK OF MARKET: Commercial
TOTAL SALES FOR 2008: $13-14 million
TOTAL EMPLOYEES: 60-70
TOTAL SERVICE TECHNICIANS AND INSTALLERS: 42
AVERAGE HOURS EMPLOYEES SPEND IN TRAINING: 500
BENEFITS BEYOND MEDICAL/DENTAL INSURANCE: $500 sign-on bonus, seven paid holidays, paid vacation (two weeks after one year, three weeks after five years), paid training, retirement package, performance bonuses, overtime, new vehicles that can be taken home, uniforms, cell phones, boot/shoe allowance, and tool allowance (large tools provided, company pays 50 percent of other tools that employee can keep).
INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION & CONTRACTOR GROUP MEMBERS: University of Alberta Family Business Institute, Linc Service
THE NEWS SELECTED THIS CONTRACTOR BECAUSE: The committed nature of its president to each employee and the overall family attitude expressed has created an environment that is financially thriving and an ideal workplace in which others are seeking to participate.
Publication date: 01/26/2009