LAS VEGAS — If you’re reading this article right now, then it’s safe to assume you’ve heard of George “Butch” Welsch. Aside from being a regular contributor to The NEWS, Welsch is president of St. Louis-based Welsch Heating & Cooling Co., and the man … well, he’s a legend.
Welsch was recognized at the 2017 Service World Expo as one of this year’s three inaugural Legends of HVACR Award winners.
A LEGENDARY CAREER
Welsch has worked in the HVACR industry for 54 years — but it shouldn’t be too surprising because, like Welsch said, “To be a legend, you must be old.
“I am fourth generation [owner of the company],” he said. “My dad’s grandfather started the company in 1895. Welsch Heating & Cooling Co. is the oldest heating and air conditioning company in the St. Louis area and is celebrating its 122nd year in 2017. In an industry where company life expectancy is around four years, that alone is an amazing accomplishment.”
As the oldest son of a dad in the HVAC/sheet metal industry, it was sort of expected for Welsch to go into the family business.
“I don’t believe I ever really gave much thought to any other occupation,” he said.
So, during summer breaks in high school, he started working for the business. As he looks back, it appears as though he was given tasks that would test his dedication to the job.
“At that time, we assembled our own 6-inch round dampers with a bearing on one end and a handle on the other,” he said. “My first job was to make 3,000 of those dampers. Whew! Three-thousand was and is a big number, but I got them done.”
Who knows where Welsch would be today had he given up halfway to 3,000. He didn’t give up though — he passed the dedication test and went on to excel in his career, influencing and effecting positive change throughout the industry.
“I established my long-term goal regarding the heating and air conditioning industry,” said Welsch. “At that time, I didn’t want to tell anyone that I was a furnace man because the reputation of furnace men was at the absolute bottom. Unfortunately, we had two companies here in the St. Louis area that would go door-to-door, especially in poor areas or where the residents were elderly. When they arrived at the door, they would offer to do a free check of the individual’s furnace. If there wasn’t something wrong with the furnace when they arrived, there would be before they left. At that time, they offered to repair the furnace for an exorbitant amount and often would scare the homeowner by saying if they didn’t make the repair, the results could be dangerous and even fatal. Because of complaints from individuals who had been cheated by these schemes, furnace contractors were No. 1 on the Better Business Bureau’s [BBB’s] complaint list. My goal was to do whatever I could to make our business one that I could be proud to say I was a part of. It took a number of years, but now heating and air conditioning contractors are not even in the top 10 on the BBB complaint list. I obviously didn’t do it myself, but I believe I have been influential in helping make it happen.”
Influential seems like a gross understatement. In the late 1960s, Welsch became involved in the local chapter of NESCA — now known as ACCA. He served on the board of directors and in several officer positions, including president of the local chapter in 1972.
Also in the 1960s, Welsch became involved with the local chapter of Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) by serving on several committees.
“I have served in all local officer positions, including serving as local president for an unprecedented three-year term,” he said. For the last 40 years, he has served on the Welfare/Pension Trusts and the local Labor Committee.
His first year of involvement with SMACNA on the national level occurred in 1972 when he served on the National Residential Committee, the Convention and Trade Show Committee, the board of directors, and more.
Then came the highlight of his career — “I had the pleasure and distinction of serving as national president of SMACNA during the year of 1988-1989,” he said. “During that year we [Welsch and his wife] made 67 trips in the 52 weeks.”
One of his most memorable moments from this time was the opportunity to attend the inauguration of President George H.W. Bush and to visit the White House on two occasions.
A DECORATED MANTLE
“In 1995, our company received the Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville Family Business of the Year Award,” said Welsch. “In 1996 our company was honored by the Better Business Bureau in St. Louis with its Customer Satisfaction Award (now known as the Torch Awards); in 2010, our company received the Maryland Heights Century Award for outstanding contributions to the area for over 100 years; in 2012, I received the St. Louis Port Authority’s Management Person of the Year Award; and in 2013, I was honored by the St. Louis Council of Construction Employers (CCE) as their Management Person of the Year”
His list of activities in which he was either involved in, honored at, or both goes on — it could exceed the word count of this article. Fifty-four years is a long time, but it’s the way they were spent that makes them legendary.
While Welsch’s career accomplishments are enough to overfill most contracting business owners’ agendas, he still made it a priority to honor his roles as a husband, father, grandfather, neighbor, and tennis player.
Welsch, like everyone else, is a regular person; he’s an active member of his country club, serving as chairman for the LPGA Tour event as well announcing swim meets for 39 years.
“I will be attending my 70th Indianapolis 500 mile race in a row,” he said. “The Speedway ticket office tells me that I am the longest consecutive ticket holder in their records. For us, this is a family event.”
Welsch has no plans of retiring … ever. And, as if he isn’t already busy enough, he continues to take on new responsibilities.
“My plans for the future are relatively simple,” he said. “My wife and I have a time share unit in Longboat Key, Florida, where we stay two times year for three weeks each stay. A little over a year ago, I was elected to the board of directors of the time share association, and I am spending some time involved in that even while in St. Louis. I plan to continue working as long as my mind and body will allow me to do so.”
Welsch said he feels fortunate that he’s been involved in enough programs and events both in the industry and in his personal life to keep things fresh and exciting.
“I never felt like my life got stale,” he said. “I am extremely proud to be considered a legend of the HVACR industry. When I think of all of the people who I have read, heard speak, and respected in this industry through all of these years, to be considered a ‘legend’ makes me very humble.”
Publication date: 10/16/2017