The keys to success: loyalty, honesty, and an endearing spirit. Those are the attributes Jerry Hurwitz and his crew at J&J Air Conditioning have used to build a multimillion-dollar HVAC enterprise — one job at a time.

Securing Success

Since 1978, Hurwitz has strived to create a successful working environment. Starting with just two technicians, the company has since flourished to include 56 employees, 53 vehicles, $10.4 million in revenues, and thousands of satisfied customers.

He credits his golden success to his golden approach.

“I’ve always believed in treating people like I want to be treated. I set a standard early; if I can do the little things, in an honest fashion, that would set the tone. It’s certainly made a huge difference,” said the 70-year-old company president. “I try to be impeccably honest, and I hope my employees are the same.”

He said doing the right thing is about being honest and honoring your word, but it’s also something less tangible.

“I like to put myself in the position of my customers and employees. How would I want to be treated? How would my actions make me feel if I were on the receiving end? I always side with: what’s good for our customers is good for J&J.”

The company grew to 39 employees in 2000 and flourished even further to 64 employees in late 2008, before the impending economic downturn slashed the company’s staff to 50 employees in 2010. Today, the company has added another half dozen workers, to a manageable 56 employees.

“Right now we’re at about 9 or 10 percent profit, which is significant,” he said. “We’re going to be ahead of 2011, which is great. However, while we’re ahead of where we were in 2011, we’re nowhere near our numbers from 2008. In 2008, our numbers grew 14 percent over the previous year. We were soaring; it was an incredible year. Then we fell hard, down 30 percent. That is a huge drop.

“Things are picking up overall, but I’m a bit worried about next year as the presidential election sort of brought everything to a halt.”

Knowledge Is Power

While Hurwitz admits he struggled through high school, and his first attempt at college was a failure, he now recognizes the crucial role education plays in success.

After earning his high school diploma, Hurwitz progressed to college, but dropped out at the ripe age of 19. After drifting around in his hometown of Wilmington, Del., for three years he picked himself up and moved to the San Francisco Bay area. In this new environment he decided to try school again, but instead of a university, he signed up at Laney Community College, in the refrigeration and air conditioning program. He supported himself while in school by working nights and weekends in gas stations. His first job out of school was with a refrigeration wholesaler. Eight years later, while working full time at the wholesale supply company, Hurwitz earned his bachelor’s degree from San Jose State College.

During the daily grind, Hurwitz befriended a coworker who doubled as an educator at San Jose City College. As the teacher aged, and eventually called it a career, he convinced Hurwitz to apply for the teaching position. After some careful coaxing, Hurwitz applied and landed the gig. He retained his teaching position for more than 13 years.

“I was teaching at a community college — me, a guy who’d been a terrible student, who barely got out of high school,” he said. “It was the most incredible experience.”

In 1983, Hurwitz created his own training curriculum, the Air Conditioning Instructional Research (AIR) program. The educational institution offers a full schedule of courses for mechanics, journeymen, and the general public, and is preparing for its 30th anniversary.

“We have nine classes we put on each year,” he said. “These are three-hour courses that run six weeks and focus on basic refrigeration to computers to HVAC technician production and beyond.

“We publicize AIR and use it as a marketing piece,” he said. “We show it to our customers to demonstrate how committed we are to enhancing our mechanics’ training, and improving the community. Many of our competitors don’t send their best guys to our classes because they are afraid we’re going to hire them.”

Hurwitz is a big fan of trade schools as well, acknowledging that most of his new hires boast some form of trade school experience.

“We tend to hire apprentices. We collect resumes from trade schools and call those guys up to give them a test. While we’re giving them the test, we’ll make observations and pick the top five applicants based on scores and our general feeling. We then boil it down to one or two finalists before making our decision,” he said. “Guys coming out of trade school may not have the field experience, but have the tenacity and intelligence. We then say, come join us, we have a training program of our own, and not only will we supply you with continuing education, but train you in the field.”

Hurwitz said he has never stopped learning, gaining constant knowledge as a member of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), Building Owners and Managers Association International (BOMA), International Facility Management Association (IFMA), the Unified Group, and others.

“When I first got into the business, I didn’t understand anything. I was just sort of floundering around. I went to some of these organizational meetings and said, ‘Holy cow, this is how things should be done,’” he said. “When I returned from these events, I’d come home with a wealth of information. Sometimes one pearl of wisdom is worth a million dollars of returns.”

Medals and Trophies

Hurwitz and his staff have a trophy case filled with awards and accolades.

In 2000, Hurwitz was honored in The NEWS’ inaugural “Best Contractor to Work For” contest. He’s also been recognized as an ACCA “Excellence in Training” winner, as a commercial contractor of the year, and more.

Most recently, J&J Air Conditioning was selected as one of the “Top 10 Places to Work in the Bay Area” by the San Jose Mercury News.

“The flattering part about this award was that this was initiated by one of our guys. It was a secret ballot and every one of my employees either went online or dropped ballots off in the newspaper office,” he said. “We weren’t managing this process; I didn’t even know about it. We’re proud that it was a secret ballot, supported by our employees and the people in the community.”

Hurwitz said the most valuable reward to him is knowing that he has helped provide stability for his 50-plus employees, their families, and others throughout the community. “We do an annual picnic and we open it up to family members and extended family members. This year we had about 257 people at the picnic,” he said. “Every year, this event touches me. Just to step back and say, ‘Look at the impact our company has.’

“You see children, grandparents, mothers, and at that moment you recognize the value we have as a company. It’s moments like this that make it all worthwhile.”

Publication date: 11/12/2012