Engineers design and contractors build. Fusing the best of both worlds is Jonathan F. Lazarus, founder, owner, and president of Eagle Air Conditioning Inc., a White Plains, N.Y.-based commercial HVAC contractor.

Engineering Roots

Lazarus earned his biomechanical engineering degree at New York University in 1976 and fully intended a long, lustrous career in the field. After leaving school, he landed a job as a entry-level consulting engineer. In 1981, after cutting his teeth for five years, he left the consulting world to become the chief mechanical engineer at Wolff and Munier Inc., the 10th largest mechanical contracting firm in the nation. Throughout his day-to-day operations, Lazarus began to feel that the position just wasn’t a proper fit.

“I was interested in biomedical engineering and that is truly what I wanted to do. So, I smartly surveyed all the people in the field, and they were all unhappy because they didn’t make enough money,” he said. “A friend of mine said, ‘why don’t you look into HVAC, which features all sorts of controls and design opportunities.’ I then met with another engineer and further discussed HVAC, and eventually took to it.”

The Eagle Has Landed

In August 1984, Lazarus opened his Eagle Air Conditioning Inc., continuing to design new systems and re-engineer existing systems to make them more efficient and better suited to today’s building needs.

“I’ve always looked for design-type jobs and HVAC offered a new approach to the basic engineering work I’d grown so accustomed to,” he said. “As the business grew, I discovered my niche market is where an owner buys a building with multiple mechanical issues. The owner then calls a bunch of contractors, they rip the mechanicals out, put new stuff in, and, in a lot of cases, the building is worse off than when they started,” he said. “I then swoop in and say ‘hey, hire me for $5,000, I’ll give you an engineering report, tell you what you can keep, what you can’t, look at different layouts, duct sizes, give you a report, and let you know just what you need.’”

Eagle Air Conditioning Inc. has provided services across the Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam county areas, offering reliable services that include complete system designs, cooling tower replacements, automated control services, energy reduction engineering, and much more. In addition to new clients, the company currently maintains more than 100 unique commercial service contracts.

“As a contractor I was in the right place at the right time and was able to use my engineering skills to my advantage. I got lucky,” he said. “When I first entered the business, this was more of a white-collar job, which was great for me. Now it’s sort of back to a blue-collar environment, but we’re talking the new blue collar. The new blue-collar worker has to be equipped with computer, controls, and new technology skills. It is very hard to keep up as everything you just learned becomes obsolete when you get around to implementing it.

“The development of Internet-based control systems has truly changed the industry. We have had to send our technicians to classes as far as three states away to stay up-to-date with consumer demands and technological advancements.”

Economic Impact

Since buildings have grown tighter and the real estate market has dried up, Lazarus admits that his diagnose-and-repair approach may not be as effective as it was 30 years ago.

“I’m not sure what the future holds for this specific niche market. All the buildings that were built in the 1960s, I’ve already renovated those buildings,” he said. “The more modern buildings don’t have those same problems. Therefore, I’ve seen my returns diminish a bit.”

While enduring the ongoing recession very successfully, Lazarus said Eagle Air Conditioning is suddenly starting to feel the economy’s tightening grip. “This year is the first time we’ve been caught up with seeing what everyone else is complaining about,” said Lazarus. “Our sales haven’t gone down that much and our volume isn’t down a lot, but profit margins are down due to the cost of service. Gasoline and insurance have become real issues. Things aren’t really that far off, however, the revenue simply hasn’t been where we’d hoped it would be.”

Lazarus credits his vast knowledge base and his ability to connect with all types of individuals as the key to his success.

“My engineering background has proven very helpful in helping me obtain a wide variety of accounts. Whether it’s building owners, real estate moguls, Ivy League professionals — they all turn to me because I’m intelligent and can intelligently examine and explain the issues they are experiencing,” he said. “I do believe, above all else, this has been my distinguishing feature.”

Inventing a Future

After nearly three decades in the business, Lazarus still enjoys coming to work every day.

“I still get a charge out of designing something, installing it, and watching it perform as its supposed to. I’m not just talking about a diffuser in the lobby, I’m referring to a custom-designed rust-removing system for a cooling tower, removing humidity from a pool, stopping mold growth inside a basement, and more,” he said. “These are the things that make it easy to get out of bed in the morning.”

When he does finally fizzle out, he said he is pleased that his son, Matt Lazarus, 27, is studying to become an heir apparent.

“I don’t plan to completely disappear and I’ll hopefully continue some form of part time work here as a consultant with Eagle,” he said. “But I certainly wouldn’t mind cutting back my work load.”

While away, Lazarus said he may concentrate on his passion to create something of his own — in hopes of perhaps adding his own personal touch to the technological tidal wave that has engulfed the industry.

“I’ve always had an affinity for patents and inventions, and it’s always been a pipe dream of mine to invent something worthwhile,” he said. “I’ve worked on new types of split systems, and other ideas, however, nothing really came to fruition. Inventors often times get very lucky, as it takes a lot of luck for something to catch on and sell.”

And while he hasn’t booked anything yet, he said a much needed vacation is on the horizon.

“I’ve been so busy that over the last 30 years, I’ve never really taken an extended vacation,” he said. “That is something I certainly plan on doing very soon.”

When asked where he planned on visiting, he simply answered, “Any place where my cell phone doesn’t ring.”

Publication date: 11/5/2012