New ACCA Chairman Shines Light on HVAC Workforce and Technology
Steve Schmidt, president of Frederick, Maryland-based Frederick Air Inc., founded his business in 1992 on his personal convictions of honesty, integrity, and faith in God. And since day one as a business owner, Schmidt has been a member of ACCA.
“I got involved because I wanted to find a network of contractors who could provide unbiased advice to a young business owner,” Schmidt explained. “It was one of the best business decisions I have ever made. My son, who will eventually take over the business, recognizes the value of our membership and will continue to be heavily involved with ACCA as well. The ACCA contractor network is unmatched, as are the business programs.”
Now, after 35 years in the industry, Schmidt is preparing to take over the reigns as ACCA’s chairman of the board in 2018.
“I am honored to have been selected by the contracting industry to lead this important organization,” Schmidt said. “For the first few decades, my business took the majority of my attention. I didn’t plan on being so involved in a nationwide organization. I was focused on building my company’s brand and name in Frederick County, Maryland. It wasn’t intentional, but I am proud that the hard work I was doing in my own little community was noticed by leaders in the contracting industry decades later.
“I’ve had the opportunity to improve the lives of thousands of homeowners by providing safe, efficient, and comfortable homes,” he continued. “I appreciate that my colleagues have recognized my commitment to servant leadership and are giving me the opportunity to make the country a better place for HVAC contractors. I should probably take some time to reflect on this journey, but I’ve got plenty of work to do for my fellow contractors.”
According to Paul Stalknecht, president and CEO of ACCA, Schmidt is the typical ACCA member, and the organization is excited to have him as a leader for the next year.
“A family-owned business, Steve started his company from the kitchen table,” Stalknecht said. “What gives Steve a uniqueness is, from the get-go, he knew he had to be bold and that he had to make some very necessary investments in his company to grow and strengthen his business to be the best contractor he could be in his local area. Steve became very active in his local community, especially meeting with the high school and community college educators in his area to talk about the HVAC industry, giving them guidance on the necessary tools they would need to work in the trades. He’s been very aggressive in doing that, and as a result, he has told me he doesn’t really have a workforce development issue. Because he has a local pipeline of people in the community who do two things: They respect his first-class professionalism as a company owner, and they know his company because he is seen and involved in the local community.
“Steve is one who will tackle the workforce development issue head-on for those contractors who sit there and say they can’t find any talent,” Stalknecht continued. “And when you peel the onion back, you find out the contractor has really done nothing to be bold or creative in solving his workforce development problem and expects others to do it for him. Steve is one who puts his boots on, identifies the issue, says he’s going to tackle it, and puts his whole heart and effort behind it. He is a very interesting individual, and I think you’re going to see him really advocate this year that contractors have to stop pointing the finger elsewhere and realize they have control over their own destinies and they can be very successful in developing a workforce in the future if they get involved, rather than the traditional ways contractors in the past have tried to get new employees.”
Schmidt will take over as ACCA chairman from Don Langston, president and CEO of Aire Rite Airconditioning & Refrigeration Inc., Huntington Beach, California, at ACCA’s IE3 Show. Langston will become immediate past chairman on the board of directors.
“Steve will be a very effective chairman,” Langston said. “Steve is the right man as we strive to improve the value of membership in ACCA to our contractors and industry partners. The changing demographics of the workforce are causing us as contractors to re-evaluate how we recruit, train, and retain employees. Without good people, we as contractors are limited in our ability to grow. ACCA is attacking this problem head-on, and Steve has been working with me very closely as we move forward with several new initiatives.
“Steve will be very hands-on with our association leadership and staff,” Langston continued. “Being within a few hours of our corporate headquarters allows Steve to have much more effective in-person meetings. With my business located in southern California, it has kept my in-person meetings to only a couple of times a year. Nothing beats getting everyone’s legs under the same table and meeting face-to-face.”
MAKING HVAC GREAT AGAIN
Frederick Air services and installs residential and light commercial equipment in Frederick and the surrounding areas.
“After about 10 years of working for a few HVAC service and install companies, I took a look at the policies and procedures others were using and simply thought I could do it better,” Schmidt said. “I made a plan to start my own company and implemented it. I started out with shared office space and a shared receptionist. Short of the shared receptionist to answer the phones, I was the entirety of the company. I did all the work in the field, all the sales, all the accounting — everything. I was free to treat customers the way I wanted to be treated, and I’ve built my business on creating and maintaining the ultimate customer experience. I cared about my customers and was careful to hire people with the same attitude and work ethic. I’m not saying there were not a few major bumps in the road, but, 25 years later, I have a staff of 30 people who love their jobs and demonstrate their commitment to the highest customer service every day.”
Schmidt sees a career in the trades as a lifelong opportunity.
“We truly have an industry where we are helping others every single day,” he said. “Our profession is vital to the American economy and the health of our population. HVAC and refrigeration systems make modern medicine possible, keep our foods fresh, allow information technology systems to operate, and sustain life. It is impossible to imagine an America without the modern refrigeration or cooling systems that keep people alive.”
However, that doesn’t mean the industry is without challenges.
“The biggest challenge that I have overcome was what other contractors are concerned about every day — finding quality staff who share my values,” Schmidt noted. “When I started my business, I spent a lot of time in my community making sure people knew me, my business, and my principles. I have spent decades working in the schools in my county to ensure they are emphasizing technical education and enrolling students into programs that get young people ready for the skilled trades. This took a lot of valuable time away from service calls or system leads for me when I started, but I was diligent, and remain so, because I knew it would pay off as my business expanded.
“Today, I am one of the few contractors who doesn’t have a workforce problem,” he continued. “When a position becomes available, I am able to call any school in my county and get a list of young people who want a career with a good company, who we know can excel in the trades.”
PREPPING FOR WHAT LIES AHEAD
Most economists are forecasting significant growth in 2018, but Schmidt said he sees a lot of growth beyond the coming year as well, especially as it pertains to the connected home market.
“Contractors are the key to this business, but we have to be willing to work on internet-connected equipment,” he said. “Professional contractors have built up great trust in their communities, and our customers continue to reach out to us for new services and products. It’s a terrific opportunity if your customers trust you.”
Schmidt also noted the industry is in a transitional period, and there are opportunities to take advantage of the next generation of contractors.
“Millennials are buying businesses or starting their own companies, and ACCA has to be there for them,” he said. “As an association that has been led by baby boomers, we must adapt. With this in mind, I worked with outgoing chairman, Don Langston, to create a membership task force, which I currently chair. One of the goals of this task force is to identify new communications and marketing tools to engage these young business owners and to figure out the business tools that they will need to succeed. As the chairman of the task force, I have been able to manage the dozens of contractors, and guide the discussions. This is invaluable experience that will serve me well [in the coming term].
“I have the great honor of working with an awesome staff and my son Dave every day,” Schmidt continued. “In anticipation of my increased role at ACCA, and as a point of pride to me, I have delegated much of the daily operations of Frederick Air to Dave. This has two important results. One, this will enable me to dedicate more time to ACCA. Two, I now have first-hand experience in succession planning and transition. A large percentage of contractors are either about to, currently are dealing with, or need to begin planning their succession. I will be able to relate and lead from my personal experience.”
Overall, Schmidt said 2018 will be an exciting year to lead ACCA.
“The contracting industry is on the verge of breaking into new markets, and ACCA is expanding its staff and presence to ensure contractors have access to the knowledge and resources we need to take advantage of these opportunities,” he said. “We need to be aware of the changing consumer base, and the coming experience-based economy. I want to lead the contracting industry into the future. This will require ACCA to continue to emphasize workforce development issues. It will also require a dedicated focus on technology. Technicians and installers will need to be capable of working with internet-connected devices, equipment, smart controls, and more. Don Langston’s tenure has laid the groundwork for us to advance these workforce development issues and expand ACCA’s horizons. I’m excited to continue to champion these issues for the contracting industry.”
Publication date: 2/12/2018