Frank Lacny grew up working in his dad’s gas station. As automobiles began debuting air conditioning units, his dad sent him off to school to learn how to fix them.
From there, Lacny attended an HVACR trade school.
After graduating, he spent time working at a refrigeration company, which merged with a large boiler/burner company in Chicago. There, Lacny gained experience working on burners and large industrial boilers. Several years later, in 1984, he elected to start his own company, American Combustion Service Inc. (ACSI).
“I guess it has always been in my blood,” Lacny said about owning his own company. “I grew up working in my dad’s gas station and since he was a businessman, I wanted to be one too. Things had gone sour at the company I was working for, and I just decided it was time.”
ACSI, based in Mokena, Illinois, is an industrial and commercial contractor that employs 27 people and boasts 16 fleet vehicles. It specializes in natural gas, light oils, heavy oils, coal, propane, sawdust, and more and operates service, mechanical, and refractory divisions. The company will finish 2016 with a 15 percent growth when compared to its 2015 numbers and serves as an active member of Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA), Mechanical Service Contractors of America (MSCA), Mechanical Contractors Association – Chicago (MCA), Refrigeration Services Engineers Society (RSES), and Chicago Pipefitters – Local 597.
ACSI focuses on serving its customer base and strives to put customers first.
“When it comes to burners, boilers, and combustion systems, we’re the best,” Lacny said. “We have a great reputation and are always fair with our clients. Our customers value our commitment and almost always become repeat clients. When we get a new client, we want to keep them forever, not just do one job for them and say ‘goodbye.’”
Several utility companies announced rebates for projects completed between June 1, 2016, and May 31, 2017, and ACSI began stressing the importance of how these incentives may help businesses pay for energy-efficiency projects.
“It’s a no-brainer,” Lacny said about helping companies earn any available rebates. “We have been pushing energy efficiency for years — before all these utility companies started offering rebates. When our technicians tuneup a burner, we don’t just go in and take readings. Our goal is to make meaningful adjustments — to squeeze out all the efficiency attainable. Between burner tuneups, steam trap surveys, or installing a highly efficient burner, we have helped our clients receive well over $1 million dollars in rebate money from area utility companies.”
Lacny said incentive applications can be difficult to understand and the difference between getting it wrong and getting it right can mean several thousand dollars of incentive funding.
“Our team is familiar with the rules, and we help our customers get the funds they qualify for,” he said.
CARING FOR EMPLOYEES
In addition to caring for its customers, ACSI also takes care of its employees. In fact, employment has remained consistent over the years with many long-term employees.
“We have a great group of people working here, and a company is only as strong and resourceful as its employees,” Lacny said.
Theresa Prskalo, office manager for ACSI, has been with the company for 32 years and was Lacny’s first employee. Coincidentally, she’s also his sister-in-law.
“When Frank started the company, I was the office girl,” she said. “He ran the service and did everything on his own; I just did the paperwork. He grew the company from the ground up.”
Since they are family, Prskalo said they’ve learned to separate work life from home life. “Here at work, he is my boss, and at home or by my sister’s house, we are family. We’ve learned to keep it separated.”
Prskalo said her favorite thing about working for ACSI is the family atmosphere.
“It’s something we’ve been able to maintain after all these years,” she said. “We all treat each other as if we are family. It makes the workday nice, because we truly care about each other. If someone needs help, we all pitch in. That’s what has kept me here all these years, not because I’m related to Frank. I don’t want to sound biased, but Frank treats everyone with extreme fairness. He is very generous and has a great heart. He makes sure you know you did a good job, and that means a lot.”
Lindsey Gutowski, safety manager and assistant purchasing agent, has worked for ACSI for 10 years. Gutowski actually left the company for a year because she was put on bedrest when she was pregnant.
“I cannot say enough good things about Frank or ACSI,” she said. “On a personal level, my family went through a lot of hard times. We lost two babies, so I had to be on bed rest with my son. I’m not a stay-at-home mom-type person, and when I was ready to come back to work, my position had been replaced, but I told Frank that if something opened up to please let me know. He said he’d make something for me and took me right back. We are family here, so he wasn’t going to leave me hanging. And that’s why I’ve never left.”
ACSI has seen some changes in the industry in its 32 years, but Lacny said the largest changes to his business have been the use of computers, cellphones, and the internet.
“They’ve made us more efficient by allowing us better communications,” he explained. “When I was in service myself with my old employer, we had pagers. You would have to go and find a payphone to call in. We didn’t have cellphones back then. Communication is extremely helpful. Also, all the field techs have smartphones, so if they have technical problems, they can look up whatever piece of equipment they’re working on and get information right from their phones.”
Lacny said his most difficult challenge to date is doubling his service department because finding good technicians is becoming increasingly hard to do.
“We’re getting fresh apprentices out of school serving their five-year apprenticeships with us, but finding a seasoned journeyman has been very difficult. It’s hard to find someone with a good attitude and work ethic. You get a guy that bounces around every few years, and it makes you wonder what the problem is — why can’t he last anywhere? If individuals are changing jobs every few years, it’s a red flag for me, because it takes me three years just to get them broken in.”
Lacny said more needs to be done to recruit new talent to the HVAC industry in order to combat the technician shortage.
“Not all of us are college material,” he said. “We need to reach out to the men and women at the high school level, wake them up, and let them know about the opportunities in this field. I am currently involved with the local high school’s welding program.”
ACSI is constantly evolving with the times and doing all it can to keep up with new products and technologies in the market. The company is also evolving internally, as Lacny, now 65, is currently grooming his son to take over the company.
“My goal is to move the company to the next generation,” he said. “We have a plan in place, and I’m grooming my son to take over. We’re working on getting him acclimated to the business side of things – like how to read financial statements and interpret company numbers. I’m kind of slowing down a little right now, but I’m still there. I’m just not quoting as many jobs as I used to — I’m kind of taking a backseat, but I’m there if anybody needs me for anything.”