ORLANDO, Fla. — The 2019 Ruud/Rheem Pro Partner Driving Greatness National Conferences met at the Dolphin Resort, within earshot of Disney World, on March 25-26 and March 27-28. By 9:15 on opening night, the Disney fireworks could be seen outside, but most of the attending Ruud contractors were still found roaming the aisles talking to exhibitors, eating dessert, and sipping on beverages. The exhibits and dinner opened at 5 p.m., after completion of the general session, when Ruud leadership welcomed the crowd and provided an industry update.

Fast forward two nights later, and another high-energy event unfolded. Following the Ruud Pro Partner conference, Rheem contractors from across the U.S., Canada, and several other countries began the process all over again. The immense task of conducting two huge brand meetings back-to-back was an amazement in itself. Key leaders from Rheem Mfg. Co.: Mike Branson, president, Air; Randy Roberts, vice president of sales, Air Conditioning Division; and David Utter, senior sales manager, Brand Loyalty Programs, engaged contractors at both conferences. All delivered inspiring messages, while Utter played general emcee.

Branson’s opening remarks expanded on the meetings’ Driving Greatness theme by reminding the audience that, “Greatness is a choice, and choosing to become a Pro Partner is choosing to be great.”

He then continued with a fiery product quality message.

“I joined this company 10 years ago to be a part of something great,” he said. “Most of you are family-owned companies; this is a family-owned company. Our owner made significant investments to develop innovation and change that would create the greatest heating and cooling company in the world. Our goal is to be the recognized leader in quality and reliability. We doubled down on innovation when others were slowing down after the Great Recession. Now look where we are today.”

The crowd erupted with applause and support. The next dealer video testimonials from each respective brands’ conference solidified the sentiment in the room. Ruud dealers and Rheem dealers are a happy bunch of contractors.

Thousands of contractors soaked up some sun, entertainment, education, and camaraderie among their peers. Attendees enjoyed their choice of training topics, including improving profitability, developing winning teams, marketing to digitally savvy consumers, and how to develop and support a culture of innovation. The meeting offered Ruud/Rheem contracting companies the second time in recent memory to network with peer contractors, kick the tires on products, and talk with a number of Pro Partner vendors. The first Pro Partner conference was held in Las Vegas in 2017.

“That event was such a success that it was an obvious choice to continue the tradition,” said Paula Morgan, trade show manager for Rheem. “It looks like it continues to grow in popularity among our dealers.”

And according to the Ruud and Rheem officials who were at the meetings, there will be more Pro Partner conferences in the future.

The second day of each conference featured keynote presentations from veteran Air Force F-16 pilot Captain Scott O’Grady and former NFL coach Joe Gibbs. O’Grady was shot down over Bosnia-Herzegovina while flying a NATO mission. He spent six days behind enemy lines and came away from the life-changing experience with a new perspective on thriving and surviving. Gibbs, a three-time Super Bowl winner, a three-time NASCAR champion car owner, and owner of Joe Gibbs Racing, had the Pro Partners listening intently between bouts of high-energy laughter.



O’Grady, whose experiences were chronicled in the New York Times bestseller, “Return with Honor,” and the movie “Behind Enemy Lines,” shared his very moving story with the contractors. Aside from the dangerous escape facilitated by the U.S. Marines and the six-day struggle to stay hidden from captors, O’Grady shifted the conversation to everyday heroes.

“What makes somebody a hero?” he asked. “As a young person, I remember my heroes in life weren’t entertainers or sports celebrities; they were people who did something to help someone else. People helping people. That’s what happened when 61 U.S. Marines went in on a rescue mission behind enemy lines, and 62 people came out. They came for me. They saved my life. I looked around that helicopter when we were flying out, and I saw the camouflaged faces of Marines who averaged in age to be about 19 years old. I thank God every day for what that group of young Marines did for me that day. That was the best feeling in the world. When we landed, everyone called us heroes, and I asked why? All I did for six days was try to survive. Those Marines who saved my life, they are the heroes.

“The greatest definition of leadership was told to me by General Normal Schwarzkopf,” O’Grady continued. “He said, ‘It’s taking charge and doing what’s right.’ When we do things in this world to help other people, the only reward most of us get is that feeling you get in the heart. In your life, in your business, people depend upon you to help them, and that is the best service you can offer. They look to you for leadership, and you give that to them every day when you make decisions that affect them and their families.”



“Joe Gibbs won three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks, none of whom will likely be in the Hall of Fame. Twenty-seven years ago, he started Joe Gibbs Racing and now has three NASCAR Championships. How do you start a culture like that?” asked Mike Lepp, senior athletic advisor, Joe Gibbs Racing.

Lepp spoke to large groups of contractors during two sessions per conference, where he shared tips on how to develop positive attitudes, create winning cultures, continuously improve, and benefit from ritual and routine.

“Embrace continuous improvement because victory lies on top of a mountain of mistakes,” Lepp said. “Focus on getting the culture right and the rest will follow.”

Lepp’s sessions laid some of the groundwork for the self-proclaimed “Old Coach” who later dazzled the audiences with gridiron tales and commonsense management and leadership traits.

When Gibbs took over the Washington Redskins, the first advice he was given was to get John Riggins back on the team. His first impression of Riggins was that the fullback from Kansas was a head-case.

“Riggins told me, ‘Coach, get me what I want, and I will make you famous!’” Gibbs said. “I thought the guy was a fruitcake; all I wanted to do was get the guy back on the team, make some people happy, and trade him off as soon as I could. I didn’t need somebody like that on my team.

“We are dealing with human nature; people are the most important asset for every company,” he continued. “People start out in life self-centered, but don’t ever underestimate them. Riggins turned out to be everything he told me he was, and he was the ultimate team player.”

With a wide grin, the coach exclaimed, “John Riggins made me famous!”

“Everyone wants rewards,” Gibbs said. “I found a couple of La-Z-Boy recliners to put in the locker room. Whoever had the best game got to sit in a recliner in the front of the team during the next week’s pre-game meeting. I’m telling you, football players will kill for a La-Z-Boy recliner. It’s about the recognition of one’s peers; everyone performs better with recognition.”



Ruud/Rheem presented a $25,000 check to Homes for Our Troops (HFOT) and a $25,000 equipment donation with a matching donation for any additional equipment donated by the dealers. At each meeting, a HFOT spokesperson appeared both on video and in-person to deliver a message of thanks and hope for other veterans with injuries.

“I believe in service by volunteering,” Capt. Bobby Withers said to Rheem attendees. “I was always interested in the military, went to military school, and on Sept. 11, 2001, I walked into the office to see if our contracts were in for new assignments, and I stood in front of a television with the rest of the world, watching the tower bombings.”

A deployment to Afghanistan changed Withers’ life when an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated; he lost most of one leg and the back part of the other. Four years ago, HFOT stepped in to help out, and now, Withers is once again self-sustaining in his own home, volunteering to help other veterans, and running 5K, 10K, and half marathon races, with an eye on the Marine Marathon Oct. 27, 2019.

Staff Sgt. Chris Gordon recalled his similar story with HFOT to the Ruud conference attendees. HFOT came into his home to make it more accessible for daily living.

“It’s really doing what it says,” Gordon said. “It’s changing peoples’ lives.”



A highlight during each of the two-day conferences was a Pro Partner panel discussion in which dealers from around the country discussed topics of interest, such as recruitment efforts and distributor-manufacturer relationships.

During the Ruud Pro Partner panel, Steve Driskill of Texas commented on employee retention.

“We are now working toward stopping the six months to two-years syndrome of employees testing the waters and leaving us,” he said. “Our focus now is on the eight- to 10-year plan. And it’s working. We’ve structured our company to offer long-term career pathing and find this is making a difference.”

When discussing how to best accelerate company growth, the consensus of all was that making personnel changes in order to put the right people in the right seats on the bus was most important and often the most difficult management hurdle to overcome.

“If you are going to be a Ruud dealer, you may as well go all the way,” Jason Quist of Minnesota said, in reference to program utilization.

As for adapting to change, he said that putting the right people together is making a difference.

“Our 55-year-old sheet metal expert is teaching a 24-year-old how to bend metal, and the 24-year-old is teaching the 55-year-old how to use his cellphone on the job,” Quist said.

Frank Casey of New Jersey said the distributor relationship with Ruud is what has really made the difference for his company.

“It’s seamless, and I honestly wonder sometimes whether my sales rep works for the distributor or for Ruud,” he said. “That kind of being in sync with each other is very important for the successful operation of my company.”

During the Rheem Pro Partner Panel discussion, Doug Brewer of Wisconsin said that staying positive has a lot to do with keeping people happy and thus keeping them employed for the long term.

“We bought a company recently,” he said. “The day I walked in, the owner was yelling at his two employees. (No wonder they were having problems.) When we eventually closed the negotiation, the owner recommended I should fire those two people because they were worthless. They are two of my finest people.”

Jason Fox, a Milwaukee Rheem dealer said, “We have greatly reduced customer service complaints by creating a new one-person conflict resolution program. We have all been on one of those phone calls with someone at a company who can’t solve your problem. They send you from place to place, and you finally get frustrated being put on hold and talking to three people who don’t understand your problem. Our policy is that the first person who picks up the phone at our company can resolve a customer’s problem. And some of them aren’t that complicated; it is surprising what free movie tickets or a free dinner will do to correct problems.”



Roberts spoke during the conferences to an audience approaching 4,000 contractors.

“Today we know throughout the industry that almost three of every four units bought are base efficiency,” he said. “But, what is the future? Will it always be that way? The internet of things enables Rheem to provide diagnostics across heating, cooling, water, pool heaters, and commercial refrigeration equipment that cuts down on callbacks and puts you in better communication with your customers. The world of innovation at Rheem is shaking up the way things used to be and looking to the way things are going to be.”

In one of the video testimonial sessions, Fred Canady, owner of Canady Precision Air, commented on distributor/manufacturer relationships, noting that it’s the reason many dealers have chosen the Rheem brand. He also challenged the attendees to compare response times of manufacturers for any service requests.

“We don’t run into a lot of problems, but we all have questions occasionally, and I would put Rheem’s response time up against anybody,” Canady said.

“I don’t think Rheem takes enough credit for the good things they do in this industry,” a contractor from Deerfield, Florida, said during the evening expo. “I’ve been a Rheem dealer for 23 years. They have always been straight-up with me; I don’t think there is anyone who is better to work with.”

The event unraveld perfectly, in true Disney fashion.

Publication date: 6/10/2019

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