Keith Paton will take the reins as chairman of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) at the group’s annual conference in St. Louis, March 28-30. Paton is the first chairman in two years who is able to accept his role in-person. He is the vice president of Ivey Mechanical Co.
THE CHAIRMAN: Keith Paton, vice president of Ivey Mechanical Co., will take over as chairman of ACCA at the group’s annual meeting. He is the first chairman to take office in person since 2019.
ACHR NEWS: How did you become involved with ACCA?
PATON: More than a decade ago, the owner of our company said, “We’re building a service business here. You need to get in contact with people who are like-minded.” ACCA fit the bill. I met Joe Nichter, who retired from Comfort Systems USA Southwest in 2021 and is a former ACCA Chair, and we became friends. He said, “You know, you have some things that ACCA could benefit from, and you could benefit from them. You should get involved at the committee level.” I became involved with the commercial contracting committee with the idea that I would get more commercial contractors involved with ACCA.
Then I decided I wanted to get involved in an ACCA MIX Group. It took me several years to find a MIX Group that worked for me, but during that time, other groups still let me come in and visit to learn best practices. I did that for a few years before getting our own MIX Group in 2013. This year, I’m out of it because Comfort Systems competes with several people in the group, but I still stay connected with the members because the bonds you form in an ACCA MIX Group are priceless. The people in that group have really helped me and my company become better.
ACHR NEWS: What do you see as the biggest issues facing the industry right now?
PATON: Hiring, training, and retaining people is a major issue right now, and supply chain issues will be an ongoing problem for at least half the year. Government intervention is another issue — the stuff Chris Czarnecki (ACCA’s government relationship manager) and the ACCA team do with lobbying and speaking for us at both the federal and state levels is amazing. They were a major part in making us essential workers when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and there isn’t a week that ACCA isn’t on Capitol Hill meeting with members of Congress and their staffs or on calls or virtual meetings with regulatory groups, educating them about contractors’ struggles and needs.
We also want to improve our relationships with our allied contracting organizations, which are state-level contractor organizations. We are building those relationships up so that they are truly beneficial for both organizations — and so that as a team, we can fight for contractors across the country.
ACHR NEWS: How can ACCA help contractors meet these challenges?
PATON: ACCA has a lot of ways they help support individual companies, and for that company, it’s a pretty good deal. They are heavily involved in training, regulations and codes, and corporate partners. They also offer the online member forum, which is a good place for people to ask questions and find solutions. Plus, you can join or form an ACCA MIX Group, and that is one of the greatest ways contractors can find mentoring and advice.
ACCA has a lot out there, but contractors must dig in; it won’t just come to you. ACCA’s staff is very willing to help. All you have to do is call or shoot them an email. … ACCA has a new tiered membership. Depending on the level you choose, you get access to all of ACCA’s ComfortU training, ACCA Bucks to spend without having to pull out your credit card to pay every time, and access to the best association staff at your fingertips. You can even join month-to-month.
ACHR NEWS: What do you hope to accomplish in your year as chairman?
PATON: I’d like to establish a more defined place for large commercial contractors. We need to figure out where that is and build those relationships. What do the larger commercial contractors need? Some of these larger companies already have infrastructure in place and a lot of training built up. Those aren’t the places that ACCA is needed in these companies.
However, ACCA can provide them with support on legislative and regulatory issues and be the boots on the ground for them on these things. These areas take a lot of work, and when we have more people working towards ensuring that contractors are protected, everyone wins.
While supporting large commercial contractors, we’re not going to abandon or reduce our support for the residential and light commercial contractors; that’s not the goal at all. We want to expand what we are already offering to meet the needs of another critical market sector.
ACHR NEWS: What is your own background?
PATON: After college, I went to work for a family-owned residential company in the Dallas area. The owner sold that company after a few years, so I went to work at a commercial contracting business. I was there for 17 years until they were bought by Ivey Mechanical Co. At that point, I became more involved in the service business, and I was transferred to the home office in Kosciusko, Mississippi.
As of December 1, 2021, Ivey Mechanical Co. became a part of the Comfort Systems USA companies. We’re running the business like we always did. The only change we’re seeing is in the reporting back to corporate. They’re publicly traded company, so that changes things a little bit, but not much. We fit in well with them, both culturally and through the services that we have to offer each other.
ACHR NEWS: What is your job like day-to-day?
PATON: We have eight services throughout the Southeast. My job is mostly about continuity, seeing what we can do to grow our business and take advantage of synergies and efficiencies. At every location, we have a business unit president who oversees a large construction operation, along with service. I work with them, bringing a service set of eyes to the equation, because service is very different from construction.
ACHR NEWS: How do you convince people to get more active in leadership roles with ACCA?
PATON: We get them involved with committees first. That’s my philosophy, and I’ve been working very closely with outgoing ACCA Chair Brian Stack of Stack Heating, Cooling, Plumbing, & Electric in Avon, Ohio, to foster this strategy. By joining a committee, people can find out what’s going on within ACCA and how it affects the membership. They also learn the infrastructure. Then, if it’s something they really want to do and they have the time for it, they can become a board member.
When you are more active in leadership roles with ACCA, you meet a lot of different people and see different business models. It’s about getting outside the box that you are in every day. Once you join, you’ll see a lot of opportunities out there. I encourage anyone interested in joining a committee to email email@example.com to get more information.
ACHR NEWS: How is it working with other players in the industry, such as the manufacturers and distributors?
PATON: My desire is to always strengthen those relationships. We like to get together with the manufacturers and learn how we can partner better on an individual company basis. Contractors can’t survive without the manufacturers and vice versus, so continuing to foster those relationships is important.
The same goes for distributors. We have been working with them for years to make sure that we are all working towards mutually beneficial relationships. We are planning some events with distributors in the future so that we can have more contractor-to-distributor conversations.
ACHR NEWS: You talked about how you had to leave your MIX Group due to consolidation. That’s a growing trend. How will ACCA handle that?
PATON: There’s going to be an effect. Some of the consolidations are companies of fairly large size. It’s going to take an understanding of value. Overall, our industry is going to get smaller. Despite this, I see value in consolidation because there’s a lot you can do more efficiently with a larger company.
ACHR NEWS: Any message you would like to deliver to your fellow contractors?
PATON: I’m just really looking forward to this year. It’s a great big unknown for us, but it’s also exciting. We had two years of no face-to-face meetings and a lot of video conferences. I’m tired of video conferences, just like everybody else is, but that’s a reality of life. We have a lot of opportunities out there now and we are primed and ready to build for the future.