At Kennihan Plumbing, Heating, and Air Conditioning in Valencia, Pa., family is the company’s top priority. But for husband-and-wife contracting team Bill and Patty Kennihan, the list of people who qualify as family is a rather lengthy one that includes not only their children, but also their employees, customers, and community.

“You’re loved as family, and you’re treated as family,” said Becky Heathcote, office manager. Laughing, she added, “You even yell at each other like brothers and sisters — it’s all good.”

For the Kennihans’ dedication to their employees’ welfare and careers, the company has been recognized as The NEWS’ Best Contractor to Work For in the East region.

Grandma’s Guidance

Bill Kennihan first began his career in HVAC as a high school student in the 1960s. After graduation, he attended technical school and soon found himself working for his teacher alongside one of his classmates.

“We just kept going to technical school at night, going to every tech school in Pittsburgh for plumbing, heating, and electrical,” Bill Kennihan said.

In 1969, he founded Kennihan’s, which has been serving northern Allegheny and Butler counties in western Pennsylvania ever since. But Bill Kennihan could not have taken this professional step without the help of a very special lady.

“My grandmother is the one who convinced me to go into business for myself,” he said. “She loaned me $3,000 to get started.”

He said it took three years to pay his grandmother back, and she would not accept interest on the loan. “I owe her,” he said.

One Big Family

But Bill Kennihan’s grandmother wasn’t the only woman to help shape the future of the business.

“I was taking some business classes in community college, and I started to work for him,” Patty Kennihan said, recalling how she and Bill met. The couple wed 37 years ago and have worked together to grow the company, raising their children along the way.

“I wouldn’t be here right now if it weren’t for her,” Bill said. “She makes sure the bills are paid and keeps me in line.”

Bill Kennihan recalled that, as his young family grew, Patty Kennihan continued to dispatch service calls from their home. Then, in 1983, when their third child was born, they finally hired an office assistant.

Now, Bill works alongside Patty; his son and company vice president, Jerry Kennihan; his son-in-law and marketing manager, Jose Montes; and 11 other employees he considers his family, too.

“We treat them as family,” Bill Kennihan said. “Our employees — they’re sort of our kids. If they need something family-wise, we try to work with them. We pride ourselves on that.”

Jerry Kennihan said he has been working for his father since he was 14. “It’s great,” he said. “You’re constantly with them, but it’s comfortable working with family. You’ll always know the intentions are always the same. Everybody is working toward the same goal.”

Bill Kennihan said he looks at every new hire as a potential career-long employee and does whatever he can to prepare that employee for success in his or her career.

“When we first interview an employee, we always naively believe that we’re going to retire with that employee,” he explained. “As much as that’s not the real world, that’s how we go into every new relationship with an employee. We also believe that if we put the money and time into training — and it costs us quite a bit of money to do that — it comes back and helps us with the customer and what we do with installs. It may be a short-term cost, but it pays off because our installs are the best.”

Above and Beyond

In addition to providing ample training opportunities at no cost to employees each year, Bill Kennihan also provides numerous other perks, including 401(k) counseling, profit sharing, incentive programs, and health care benefits.

“We offer health care to all our employees, and we try to pay for it all, because my wife believes everybody should have health care,” Bill said. “Anybody that’s in our family has health care, and our employees are family, so they should have it, too.”

But it’s not just the job perks that put Kennihan’s at the top of the list. Bill Kennihan is known for going the extra mile for his employees, especially when they need it most.

“One of our guys had a kidney transplant, and Bill was right there,” Heathcote said. “Bill and Patty were right there in the hospital checking on them.”

She added that the Kennihans cut their own vacation short so they could not only attend Heathcote’s daughter’s wedding, but also made the wedding cake from scratch. “He made a complete drum set and a guitar,” Heathcote said. “He did it all, from the smallest cake all the way up.”

Montes said the company also provides employees with turkeys for Thanksgiving as a way of saying thanks. “They also recently gave each employee new jackets and coveralls,” he added.

The Kennihans also work hard to give back to their community. Each year, Kennihan employees take time to throw a football party at a local group home for retired military veterans. “We sit down with them to watch the Steelers game — they really, really love that,” Bill said.

“The techs love going to it,” Heathcote added. “We just go in and hang out with them.”

Heathcote said working for the Kennihans has been, in a word, great. She added, “Everything is about us, bottom line — if we’re not happy, we’re not going to be productive.”

She added that Bill’s passion for keeping his employees happy and productive — as well as his high expectations and ability to inspire the team to perform its best — is what makes him such an excellent employer.

“I don’t think I could find another employer like that,” Heathcote said. “You want to do well and make him proud of you for the work you’re doing for him. You don’t find that very often, and I don’t ever see myself leaving.”

Just The Facts: Kennihan’s

Contractor: Kennihan Plumbing, Heating, and Air Conditioning

Owner: William “Bill” Kennihan

Location: Valencia, Pa.

Years in Business: 45

Bulk of Market: 80 percent residential, 20 percent light commercial

Total Sales for 2012: $2.2 million

Total Employees: 15

Total Service Technicians and Installers: 10

Average Hours Employees Spend In Training: 41 or more hours

Benefits Beyond Medical/Dental Insurance: 401(k), HSA matching, disability and accident insurance, on-the-job incentive program

Industry Association & Contractor Group Members: ACCA, RSES, NCI, BPI, Dr. Energy Saver, IGSHPA, and Service Roundtable. Master plumber for Allegheny County. Licensed for water systems including wells and geothermal loops.

The NEWS Selected This Contractor Because: Bill and Patty Kennihan are dedicated to their employees’ welfare and careers and often go the extra mile to treat them like family.

Publication date: 1/20/2014 

Want more HVAC industry news and information? Join The NEWS on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn today!