Dressed in a suit and standing under the bright lights of the convention’s main stage, Chuck Fell, 2014 president, Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA), conducted a question-and-answer session with sports television personality and journalist James “JB” Brown.

After asking the 1973 Harvard University graduate and current host of “The NFL Today” a number of sports-oriented questions, he followed with a dozen hard-hitting life-management inquiries, such as, “What’s the most important piece of advice you can give?”

After wiping sweat from his brow with a pocket handkerchief, Brown exhaled, nodded in agreement, and responded: “It’s important to be well-rounded and always be in the pursuit of professionalism. We all face situations in business, but, how do you deal with these these difficulties? What philosophies and principles do you stand on?” asked Brown. “I maintain, no matter the difficulty, if you’re rooted and grounded in strong moral ethics, you’ll stop thinking, ‘let me take a shortcut,’ or, ‘let me cheat a little bit here.’

“Winners never cheat — even in difficult times. I believe firmly in that,” added Brown. “People want to be around people who win, and it takes teamwork to make a dream work.”

JB’s answer resounded with the more than 2,200 individuals who, together, made MCAA 2015 a once-in-a-lifetime week chock full of teambuilding, networking, learning, and a large dose of fun in the sun.


The conference, which took place March 7-12 in west Maui, Hawaii, featured keynote speeches from Leon Panetta, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA); John Green, the author of “The Fault in Our Stars;” Michael A. Pleasant, assistant general president, United Association (UA); and oceanographer Dr. Robert Ballard, who may be best known for finding the Titanic in 1985.

Several business strategists, including Jake Appelman, principal, FMI Corp.; Paul Doherty, president and CEO, The Digit Group Inc.; Perry Monaco, customer success manager, LinkedIn; and others offered their individual brands of occupational therapy. The conference also featured a trade show and a student chapter exhibit. And, while MCAA offered plenty of career-building opportunities, it left time for lots of fun, too. The association hosted a golf tournament, a 5K run/walk, an opening reception, a dessert party, and a performance by Grammy-award winning performer Jennifer Hudson, amidst other networking opportunities.

The Next Generation

MCAA declared 2015 the year of the intern. “Our goal is to double the number of interns gaining real-world work experience in the mechanical industry,” said Fell. “MCAA Great Futures has more than 200 résumés from students seeking internships or full-time jobs and more than 120 students attended the convention. It’s our aim to help build our industry this year and for years to come.”

An “Acquiring Talent for Your Company” roundtable discussion, facilitated by MCAA Great Futures, allowed attending students, contractors, and advisors to have an open discussion about interning, hiring, firing, and more.

During the rapid-fire question-and-answer session, students asked a six-member panel questions such as, “When you review resumes, which specific questions do you tend to ask?”

Stephen Hengl, principal and director of purchasing and project design, Hermanson, Kent, Washington, said the questions are important, though he’s often more interested in an interviewee’s level of engagement.

“My philosophy is hire the fire. I want enthusiasm. I can teach the right person how to do the things we do, but I can’t teach him or her to be engaging and enthusiastic,” he said. “I’ll ask interviewees questions about their hobbies and what they like to do in their spare time, because this is a people-oriented industry. We want people who do well with people.”

Michael J. Gallagher, president, John F. Gallagher Co., Eastlake, Ohio, said, “I typically hire students I have a relationship with. We bring interns in at a very early age and that partnership between us and future employees tends to start very early.”

The contractors in attendance were also invited to ask questions, such as: “What are you looking for in an internship that would make you stick around with a company?”

Andrew Milota, a senior at Southern Polytechnic State majoring in construction management, said: “I don’t want to stay in one place or position during an entire internship. I want to see different parts of a company; to learn how each branch works. I prefer to do something for a couple of weeks and then try something else. If you get locked into one position, you’re not learning as much as you can, and it could lead to a very unenjoyable summer.”

In all his years of experience in the hiring of young mechanical contracting prospects, Blake Wentz, department chair of civil, architectural engineering, and construction management, Milwaukee School of Engineering, Milwaukee, said the most important thing for students and company representatives is to get involved as often and early as possible.

“Figure out what school you want to attend and immediately get connected. If you’re a contractor, get in front of the kids as much as humanly possible. If a student recognizes you or your company by name, you’re winning. The competition is there; you should be there, too.”

David Davia, executive vice president and CEO, Colorado Association of Mechanical and Plumbing Contractors, Denver, said it’s important to encourage young students to share their opinions.

“Let the students design what their year is going to look like. Ask them for feedback and encourage them to speak up,” he said. “Showcase the opportunity you offer as a mechanical contractor. Highlight your nuances and opportunities. Tell your story and let them know you want them to be a part of it.”

Success in Succession

Annually, MCAA hosts a student chapter competition that allows young professionals to demonstrate their knowledge of mechanical systems, project bid proposals, and other contracting demands on stage in front of prospective employers. This year, the team from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, received top honors. Students from the University of Washington in Seattle earned runner-up honors; and Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, and Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston rounded out the top four.

McMaster earned a $10,000 reward, the University of Washington took home $5,000, and the final two teams earned $2,500 each.

Getting to Know You

David Avrin, also known as The Visibility Coach, told attendees it’s not who you know, but who knows you, during an educational breakout session. “There’s been a profound shift in the marketplace, from selling to buying. When you walk into a car dealership, the salesperson doesn’t need to sell you anything. Most consumers already know what they want and have done all the necessary research,” said Avrin. “Information is much more convenient and accessible. I mean, when was the last time your kid said he or she needed to go to the library to look something up?”

Avrin said an individual’s reputation is his or her brand, and the same rings true for companies and corporations. Crafting a memorable brand is as important now as it was 100 years ago, and will be just as important in 100 years.

“Everyone says they are caring, committed, and can be trusted. Everyone says their people are better than yours. Of course they are. Consider the alternative — no one’s going to say their people are subpar or less committed than the competition,” he said. “As a customer, if I’m hearing the same rhetoric from each of the bidders, I’m likely not going to be able to tell the difference between company A and company B. That being said, I’m probably going with the low bid.”

While it may be easy to simply trash the competition, Avrin re-
minded contractors that everyone still in business today is good at what they do.

“Those who didn’t make cuts or streamline their organizations during the Great Recession didn’t survive, or they’ve been reduced so much that they’re not meaningful,” he said. “Those still in business are good. Now, they may not be spectacular, but, they’re in business, which means they’re good enough to be chosen over you. As a business owner, you must recognize that.”

Avrin closed his session by asking: “To what question are you the answer?”

“What question would elicit your name as the best response? Are you the safest? If so, prove it to the customer and then market yourself accordingly. Are you the most reliable? Prove it and market it,” he said. “The four most dangerous words
in business are: All things being equal. When all things are equal, we shop on price. If the prospect is shopping solely on price, they’re not seeing a difference between you and your competitor.”

Changing of the Guard

At the conference, Fell congratulated MCAA for the work it accomplished in 2014.

“Thanks to our board of directors, committee members, and our national staff, we’ve had an extremely productive year.”

Through a partnership with the UA, the association made great progress on its Capitol Hill executive agenda, said Fell.

“In December, President Barack Obama signed the Pension Reform Act of 2014 into law. That successfully completed phase one of our three-year-long campaign to restructure federal law related to multiemployer pension plans. We helped enact the technical corrections and provided the most severely distressed plans with remedies they can use to avoid insolvency. The passing of additional legislation will allow for innovative and flexible plan designs that meet worker and employer needs well into the future.”

At the close of the conference, Fell passed the role of MCAA president on to Steve Dawson, president, Harrell-Fish Inc., Bloomington, Indiana.

Dawson said the No. 1 priority during his tenure is to help raise awareness of a talent shortage currently plaguing the mechanical construction industry.

“The mechanical industry is highly technical, challenging, and very rewarding. I want to help attract top talent to our industry for either the office or the field,” he said in a company newsletter. “If I can help raise awareness about our industry, more people will want to be a part of it, which is critical for our future success.”

Additionally, Tom Stone, president and owner, Braconier Plumbing & Heating Co. Inc., Englewood, Colorado, was selected as president-elect; Greg L. Fuller, president and owner, North Mechanical Contracting Inc. and North Mechanical Services Inc., Indianapolis, was elected senior vice president and treasurer; and Michael A. Brandt, president and CEO, The Smith & Oby Co. Inc., Walton Hills, Ohio, was elected vice president and assistant treasurer.

MCAA also welcomed Robert Hightower, president, Apollo Mechanical Contractors, Kennewick, Washington; Robert J. Beck, executive vice president, John W. Danforth Co., Tonawanda, New York; Robert M. Bolton, CEO and president, Arden Building Cos. LLC, Pawtucket, Rhode Island; Dennis G. Corrigan, president, Corrigan Bros. Inc., St. Louis; Brian C. Hughes, executive vice president, Hughes Environmental Engineering Inc., Montvale, New Jersey; and Jody Ralston, president and CEO, High Purity Systems Inc., Manassas, Virginia, to its board of directors.

Air Masters Corp., Fenton, Missouri, received the E. Robert Kent Award for Management Innovation, recognizing its stationary CNC pipe fabricator that mounts or attaches to the end of any pipe roller bed; Maureen Weidner of Southern Polytechnic State University received the Educator of the Year Award; and James J. Murphy Jr., CEO, Murphy Co., St. Louis, received the Distinguished Service Award — MCAA’s highest honor.

SIDEBAR: Young Prospects Choose HVAC

Editors of The NEWS visited the Student Chapter Competition, held at the Grand Wailea Resort at MCAA 2015, and asked students: “Why did you choose HVAC?”

• “I’m currently a civil engineering student and it’s interesting to see how civil and mechanical engineering work hand-in-hand. It’s fascinating to see just how much work guys in this industry do on a daily basis.” — Matthew Travilla, senior, Fairleigh Dickinson University

• “The unique projects and the ability to create custom projectsdrew me in. In the mechanical industry, you can do a lot more and see a lot more than you can on the general side.” — Zack VanEveren, junior, Colorado State University

• “I grew up around HVAC as my dad and brother are in the business. I love being around the machinery and the environment. In the future, I hope to work as a project manager for a small company. I’m not interested in companies that are too large — I like the family atmosphere of a smaller company.” — Justin Blackledge, senior, University of Nebraska 

• “Mechanical contracting offers new workers an opportunity to make a name for themselves. In the general contracting industry, it’s going to take 10 years before you start to progress.” — Nathan Decker, junior, California State University at Sacramento

• “I grew up in the industry, my dad did service for a while. I’ve done labor under him, doing residential HVAC. Once I went to school, I took this route because it’s what I know. Someday I would like to own my own company in the Bay area of California.” — Joshua Osorio, junior, California State, Chico

Publication date: 4/13/2015

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