Steve Quinn, owner of JD Swallow Heating & Cooling in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, has modest goals for the company over the next five years, but working to achieve those goals is what has helped him win the Best Contractor to Work for Award in the North Central region.
“First and foremost, I want to see personal growth in all my people,” said Quinn. “I want for them to be happy and have success. Whether success means we have five employees on staff or we grow to 50, I want to know everyone feels valued and is successful in both their personal and professional lives.”
JD Swallow was founded 47 years ago and services the residential marketplace in the Ottawa area. The company features 18 employees, 12 of which are service technicians and installers.
Tale of the Tape: JD Swallow Heating & Cooling
OWNER: Stephen Quinn
LOCATIONS: One central office with 12 trucks servicing the Ottawa area
YEARS IN BUSINESS: JD Swallow started in 1968 and was incorporated in 1988
BULK OF MARKET: Residential
TOTAL SALES FOR 2016: $2 Million
TOTAL EMPLOYEES: 18
TOTAL SERVICE TECHNICIANS AND INSTALLERS: 12
AVERAGE HOURS EMPLOYEES SPEND IN TRAINING: Minimum of 60 hours per year
BENEFITS BEYOND MEDICAL/DENTAL INSURANCE: Retirement savings plan, company vehicle, tool allowance, uniforms, paid education to upgrade licensing or knowledge, flexible hours, profit sharing, and team participation in creating policies.
INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION & CONTRACTOR GROUP MEMBERS: Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI), Ontario College of Trades, and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
THE NEWS SELECTED THIS CONTRACTOR BECAUSE: JD Swallow offers great benefits, approachable leadership, and ownership as well as a great desire to invest in employees. Numerous charitable initiatives, training opportunities, and prospects for advancement within the company helped owner Steve Quinn earn this recognition.
In earning this award, Quinn beat out competition from the North Central region, which includes Canada, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.
“Winning something like this means I’m doing the right things,” said Quinn. “I’ve been trying to do right by the company since I took over as owner. It means we are working toward changing the culture, and we have created a great culture if everyone considers this to be a good place to work.
“We are trying to do things nobody else has ever done them,” Quinn continued. “We are creating market-dominant positions, and we want to be like no one else is.”
Quinn never refers to himself as the boss, owner, or president of the company. Instead, he presents himself as a team leader. “I think employees appreciate that,” he said. “I work with them. I am the general, and they are my troops. They would all go into battle for me at any time, and they know I would take a bullet for them.”
It’s a sentiment clearly shared by those around him.
“Steve is an extremely honest man,” said Matt Dewar, a project manager who has been with the company for four years. “It carries through everything he does. He’s always hands-on, supportive, and available 24/7, which is something you really don’t get anywhere else.”
Similarly, Phil Shultz, a service specialist who has been with JD Swallow for three-and-a-half years, believes Quinn’s leadership style reflects the care he has for everyone at the company.
“Employees appreciate his honesty,” said Shultz. “Steve is all about the employees. He gets the concept of keeping us happy and knowing that means our clients will be happy in return. If I have any needs, I just talk to him, and he finds a solution. If I am short on a paycheck, he will be sure to help, when needed. If I am dumb enough to spend all my money, then he will work with me to help me out. He really takes good care of us, no matter the circumstance.”
Those circumstances can sometimes extend beyond the workplace, as Shultz said Quinn was a great shoulder to lean on when needed recently.
“My father passed away about four months ago, and he was so supportive,” said Shultz. “He gave me plenty of time off, as much as I wanted or needed, and lent an ear to me whenever possible. I’ll be honest, I’ve shed tears with Steve. That’s not something I’ve done with a lot of people. Night and day, if I need something, I just give him a call. This is the only HVAC company I’ve ever worked for, and I have had no inkling to look for another company. The culture and the environment here are everything you could ask for in a workplace.”
Darcy Gourlay, the company’s bookkeeper, joined the company under unique circumstances in 2015 but quickly became a welcome part of that culture.
“JD Swallow was actually the HVAC company for my home in 2011,” she said. “In 2015, the company had an employee become very ill, and I was available to fill in. We lived in a small village, where you see everyone and know everyone. Steve and Trudy Quinn asked if I could step in, and I was more than willing to help. I ended up staying permanently. I knew the company as a customer and really appreciated the services it had to offer. I was later able to find employment at this place with such great service and people with warm, encouraging temperaments. When I got here, it was really interesting. That point in time was hard for everyone because the lady I replaced had become fatally ill, so it was hard, but the people were welcoming and warm. It’s an inviting culture.”
For Quinn, ensuring his employees are continuously striving for greater success is vitally important.
“Encouragement of the entire team is critical, as is training,” he said. “I try to take corrective actions and not discipline. I teach, but never yell. I try and work at what a leader would be and not a boss. The training everyone goes through is all specialized. It’s whatever training individual technicians need. If someone is struggling with electrical work, then we will get personalized training for that area of need. There is also mandatory training required by the government that everyone goes through. We do everything to keep employees safe.”
Over the last 12 months, employees have spent an average of 41 or more hours in training, and each level of certification an employee earns is beneficial to them. If an employee earns a new level of certification, Quinn will reimburse the expense of the course (in some cases paying for the course in its entirety.) Employees can also earn pay raises for their efforts as they increase their value to consumers.
“It’s mandatory to continue gaining skills and training on new things,” said Dewar. “That’s important to the techs and really refreshing because in this city, technicians can get stale and robotic.”
Shultz said that, at times, Quinn himself will accompany the technicians to training courses.
“Once every week or two, you get an email with training opportunities from Steve,” he said. “I’ve gone through multiple training courses, some with Steve personally. I went to a heat-loss/heat-gain course, and we both got certified. He is the type of person who won’t ask employees to do anything he would not do himself.”
The types of training available extend beyond HVAC-specific skills. Within Quinn’s office is a vast library of books and videos centered around leadership, success, and being part of a healthy team environment.
“On my desk, as soon as you come into my office, there is a little library of resources,” he said. “If anybody wants to take a look at a book or a DVD, they are more than welcome to grab them and work with them.”
Gourlay said Quinn buys the resources out of his own pocket, just as extra-curricular options for everyone with no force or mandate to utilize them. “It’s the little things like that that really set him apart from others.”
Also helping to set the company apart is its commitment to charitable causes. JD Swallow offers paid compensation should an employee wish to volunteer and support local causes during business hours, such as at a soup kitchen. The company also supports youth sports, and, perhaps most prominently, works with a local family radio station to collect and distribute pajamas each Christmas.
“We are the founding sponsor for the local pajama drive,” said Quinn. “What that means is we work with the food banks around the city and provide them approximately 3,000 pairs of pajamas. An idea turned into a concept, a concept into reality, and every year it just gets bigger and bigger. It’s great to be a part of.”
Publication date: 1/30/2017