President Ray Isaac, Isaac Heating and Air Conditioning. (Feature photos by Max Schulte.)

ROCHESTER, N.Y. - This year, we are happy to name a well-deserved repeat winner in the Northeast region. Isaac Heating and Air Conditioning first wonThe NEWS’Best Contractor to Work For contest in 2003. The essentials haven’t changed: It’s still a family business for more than one family. The compensation and benefits are excellent. And training opportunities have grown through the contractor’s in-house institution, Isaac University.

But those aren’t the only reasons why the company has won this prestigious award. “Back in 2003, our whole way of leading the organization was different,” said president Ray Isaac. “We were selected in 2010 for a whole different set of reasons.”


Among today’s priorities is the goal of putting employees first. “We feel it’s a great approach.” The contractor gleaned the idea from a local food market.

“It makes sense,” Isaac said. There are plenty of companies that say the customer comes first … but the staff is miserable. When that’s the case, it’s unlikely that the customer is really going to feel like No. 1.

The contractor’s idea is to make sure employees know that they are more important than the client. “We’ve fired clients,” he said. With new customers it makes still more sense to take the employee’s word over the client’s. After all, he’s known the employees longer.

This kind of prioritization “frees you to make decisions that are in the best interest of the company,” in addition to keeping the workplace fun and healthy. And at Isaac, having fun is nearly as important as any other benefit.

Steve Pryzlock, shop foreman, Isaac Heating and Air Conditioning.


Marketing liaison Christina Westmiller, who nominated the company in this contest, said, “I’ve had jobs where I dreaded going in. Not here. It’s fun. We all have stress and deadlines, but if you enjoy the people you work with, it’s so much better!”

Westmiller described some of the ways the contractor creates a fun workplace. In addition to benefits like company vehicles for techs, uniforms purchased and laundered by the company, and tool accounts, employees receive discounted cell phone plans, technicians get company cell phones to use, and the salesmen have smart phones. “Each employee also receives a holiday bonus,” she wrote, “and we continually do drawings for the employees to win free concert tickets, sporting event tickets, etc.”

An employee empowerment fund (EEF) gives each employee $200-$300 to make customers happy and it can be applied based on their own judgment, with an EEF notation on the invoice. “It comes right out of the marketing budget. I used it myself,” Westmiller said. That offers its own kind of fun, which is based in job satisfaction and just feeling good about what you’re doing.

NATE-certified technician Troy Anderson, Isaac Heating and Air Conditioning.


“I feel lucky to be here,” said Troy Anderson, a 28-year-old service technician. “People from other companies have told me they would stay at Isaac as long as they could.” He appreciates the things management does to make the company better.

Anderson came to Isaac with no experience in HVAC; he had been working as a painter, but two and a half years ago, he started looking for something else. He read an ad for a free, 10-week course at Isaac; the company said it would hire up to 30 from 200 in the class. “I did well and they brought me in,” Anderson said. “I did ride alongs, then went to Isaac U.” Now he is nationally certified for furnaces, a/c, and boilers. Because he was so young, the company appreciated that he didn’t have bad habits to break that older techs may have.

Technicians with little experience are placed in level one, or the first year of training, at Isaac U. During their first six weeks, they attend weekly training and ride along with a seasoned tech. After they finish the first year, techs advance to the next level in training. When they complete the fourth year, they complete certification through North American Technician Excellence (NATE).

Tom Neary, residential service team leader, and Rich Ganino, residential service technician, Isaac Heating and Air Conditioning.

“I interview every employee before we hire them,” said Isaac. “I need to make sure there’s a good fit.” Drawing a comparison between hiring an employee and choosing a spouse, Isaac added, “There are a lot of good men and women, but they shouldn’t all be married.”

When talking with employees he said he asks them, “Do you need anything? Are you having fun?”

“Since I’ve been here, it’s been employees’ needs before customers’,” Anderson said. For instance, “If the roof is icy, they won’t send you up. With this company, they try to make it seem like no one is a number.” In addition to birthday cards from the president, and thank-you notes for hard work, he said he appreciates having a good backup staff. “There’s always someone you can call. If you’ve got questions, call.

“They’re more worried if you don’t call,” he added. “They like to hear questions.” This helps ensure that jobs are done right the first time; otherwise, Anderson said, “You’re just setting yourself up to come back out.”

Marketing and events coordinator Christina Westmiller, and president Ray Isaac, Isaac Heating and Air Conditioning.

On twice-yearly reviews, callbacks are the No. 1 performance measurement. Management also wants to ensure that techs and salespeople are offering customers the best value rather than lowest cost, Anderson said. This means knowing how to educate customers on the best payback.

His favorite thing about the job, though, is the job itself. “No two days are alike.

“Our customers are very loyal to Isaac,” Anderson continued. “We may be priced a little higher, but they get better quality. It’s the right formula.”

“People have left here, gone to a competitor, then came back,” said Westmiller. What strikes them is “how much more a technician is given to get the job done and make sure the client is taken care of. Going someplace else is like a culture shock.”

Administrative assistants Michele Rider and Annemarie Giambalvo, Isaac Heating and Air Conditioning.


The company’s “Raving Fan” Program offers additional rewards directly related to customer satisfaction. “When a customer calls in or sends a ‘Raving Fan’ review on an employee, we reward the employee with Raving Fan Bucks,” Westmiller said. Employees can spend their fan bucks on HDTVs, Xboxes, bikes, gift cards, or other items out of a catalog.

Like the EEF, the fan program comes out of the marketing budget. Each entry is reviewed. If just the tech is mentioned, Westmiller checks to find out who else may have been involved in the job, from the receptionist and dispatcher, to the tech and whoever else at Isaac may have assisted him.

The company conducts an Employee Loyalty and Satisfaction survey annually to look for ways in which it can improve, as well as for areas employees are happy in. An open-door policy gives each employee access to their immediate supervisor, VP, or HR, all the way up to the president of the company, at all times.

An employee advisory committee, comprised of 20 employees from various departments, was set up to be a direct link between employees and the president. At monthly meetings, this committee does things like initiates new programs, policies, and benefits (such as sick days, health care, etc.) that come from suggestions they receive from the Employee Loyalty and Satisfaction surveys.

In addition to donating to a large number of charities, the company takes care of its own. One installer had a heart attack while he was at a customer’s house, recalled Westmiller. “He was out of work for a while, and it was financially killing him, so everybody pitched in to help him.” After all, families stick together.

“I love coming in every day,” said Isaac. “My idea of a family business is, working on things as a family. You can have a disagreement but you’re still family. It’s a more sincere and genuine relationship.”

Just the Facts: Best Contractor To Work For

NAME:Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning Inc.

OWNERS:Bill and Jim Isaac

LOCATION:Rochester, N.Y.


BULK OF MARKET:60 percent residential, 40 percent commercial




BENEFITS BEYOND MEDICAL/DENTAL INSURANCE:Free U-Haul when an employee moves; technicians drive a company vehicle, wear uniforms that are purchased and laundered by the company, and receive tool accounts; all employees receive discounted cell phone plans, and all technicians get a company cell phone.

THE NEWS SELECTED THIS CONTRACTOR BECAUSE:“Isaac is a world-class organization,” wrote marketing liaison Christina Westmiller. “Their priorities, core values, and mission statement (‘lead at all levels’) put the employee before the company. “Being a family-run company for 65-plus years, they understand how important family is and try their best to maintain a good balance between work and their employees’ home lives.” In addition to donating to a large number of charities, the company takes care of its own.

Publication date:01/31/2011