SAN ANTONIO — Like a new pair of cowboy boots or a 10-gallon hat, SMACNA tried on this sprawling Texas city for its 71st annual convention.

It was a new location for the Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors’ National Association’s gathering. Despite the images of the legendary Alamo used to promote the conference, the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country is long way from the landmark. But the luxury accommodations and lush landscaping of the hotel probably gave many members plenty of reasons to stay put.

Former president picked as Contractor of the Year 

Richard Rivera, SMACNA’s 2011-2012 president, has been named the group’s Contractor of the Year.

“This year’s contractor is a seasoned pro who is addicted to sharing the good word about SMACNA and turning contractors into members,” said current association President Randy Novak.

Rivera worked for 15 years to convince the Toronto Sheet Metal Contractors Association to become part of SMACNA. The addition of the Canadian chapter brought national SMACNA 85 new members, representing 2.6 million man-hours of work.

“This was a huge accomplishment, but Richard was not satisfied,” Novak said. “Two years later, again with his assistance, SMACNA added two more Canadian chapters in Ontario — each bringing with them half a million man-hours. There is no bigger champion for SMACNA than this year’s Contractor of the Year: former SMACNA President Richard Rivera.”

Besides his term as SMACNA president, Rivera has also served as a member of the executive committee and board of directors.

The Contractor of the Year Award is given each year in memory of Snips magazine founder Ed Carter and his son, Nick Carter, the magazine’s longtime editor and publisher.

SMACNA brought a number of experts Oct. 12-15, 2014, to speak to members about improving their sheet metal forming businesses or just to entertain, as in the case of comedian and TV star Billy Gardell of “Mike and Molly” and country singer LeAnn Rimes. Also among those booked were U.S. Olympic wrestling champion Dan Gable and anti-distracted driving activist David Teater.

One well-attended talk was given Oct. 13 as part of the Residential Contractors Forum. Mike Rogers of OmStout Consulting told attendees during “Beyond the Box: HVAC to Home Performance” that the average American home has $80,000 worth of potential business, from indoor air quality to insulation and energy savings work. 

SMACNA members who perform residential work should get some of it, Rogers said.

“You deserve a profit at the end of the day,” he said.

The key is to look at the house as a whole system, rather than just focusing on the HVAC market.

“If you pay attention to how everything fits together, you will do a better job at delivering comfort to your customers,” he said.


SMACNA announces Chapter Executive of the Year

Thomas P. Keating, executive director of the SMACNA Colorado Chapter, has been named Chapter Executive of the Year.

The award, formally known as the Petersen-Dunn Award, is presented annually to the SMACNA chapter executive who has made a substantive contribution to their local association and to SMACNA as a national group.

“This year’s executive is no newcomer and there is no more deserving recipient for this year’s Petersen-Dunn Award,” said 2013-2014 SMACNA President Randy Novak. “Tom has cultivated one of the most positive local labor-management relationships in the industry, negotiating some of the most innovative provisions in labor agreements to help his contractors compete in a very tough, competitive market. One of the most popular speakers at SMACNA’s collective bargaining orientation, Tom is an expert in preparing for labor negotiations and gladly shares his knowledge and strategies with his fellow chapter executives.

“As busy as he is serving his chapter, he also volunteers to serve as an Article 10 panelist to arbitrate and resolve local grievances,” Novak added. 

Such work is typically highly profitable, Rogers added. Marketing “home performance” services is a way out of low-margin work. It also helps set your company apart.

“I think most of the (residential) HVAC industry… is missing a huge opportunity for more revenue, more business and more profitability.”

From hot and cold spots to mold, noise, windows, green HVAC and bad IAQ, “Homes have a lot of issues,” he said.

“Most homes suck,” Rogers said to some laughter. “Or depending on ventilation issues, most houses blow. What I am trying to say is most houses don’t work.”

Home-performance contracting is a chance to sell more services to customers.

“One of the hardest things to do in our business is get new customers,” he said. With home-performance services, “People have more reasons to call and you have more stuff to offer them.”

The Great Recession is over. Stop waiting to see if you should spend money on your HVAC construction company. That was the message from SMACNA speaker T. DeWayne Ables during his Oct. 14 session, “Five Critical Elements for Growing Design and Construction Firms.”

Ables, the president of Pioneer IQ, brought along a bevy of charts, graphs and data to make his case.

“I’m telling you now is the time to invest in the growth of your organization,” he said. “Project volume has really started to pick up.”

And don’t wait, he added. Another recession may be sooner than you think.

“Some of you guys might think I am crazy to say this, but the next recession is four to five years away,” he said.

Ables listed these actions to ensure your sheet metal products business is able to grow:

  • Purpose and direction. Figure out why you exist and where you are going.
  • Potential. Prioritize what you want to do and eliminate what is not worth the effort. Evaluate sectors and understand buyers. Know what you are going after — and why.
  • Penetration. Develop a plan to enter a market.

“Make sure you’re hiring for that industry sector,” he said.

  • People. Recruit expertise for your HVAC market niche.

“Once you get really clear on industry sectors you are going to pursue… make sure you have industry expertise on your team.”

With the construction industry’s still-high unemployment rate, you should be able to find talent, Ables added.

  • Progress. Create a “movement.” You don’t want to be the only person running the company.

“A movement can be made with one person or two,” he said. “You can’t get people to move unless you create some urgency.”

New association president brings specialty contractor focus to industry position

Pronouncing Tom Szymczak’s last name is perhaps easier than it looks (“Sim-check”), which is good, because it’s a name SMACNA members will be saying a lot in the next year.

Szymczak became the association’s 2014-2015 president at the end of the 2014 convention.

The 59-year-old is president of SSM Industries Inc. in Pittsburgh, a $70 million sheet metal works and mechanical HVAC contractor that specializes in nuclear power plant work, along with spiral duct and other industrial projects. It’s primarily involved in projects in Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Ohio and parts of New Jersey.

Szymczak purchased the company formerly known as Schneider Sheet Metal from owner Frank Schneider in 1989. The complex deal took 18 months to complete and involved 14 investors. (Szymczak is one of three current owners.)

It was at that time that the sheet-metal-foreman-turned-company owner became involved with the association through its western Pennsylvania chapter.

In that chapter, he served as president, director, officer and member of the apprentice committee. It didn’t take long for Szymczak to advance to the national level. There, he has served on the directors board and the pension task force, products and programs, and the budget and finance committees.

“It’s a very good group, very informative,” he said. “A lot of product information comes through it and the ability to have a lot of contacts. It’s a great organization. Well run, with really good people.”

Adding the title of president to his resume is something Szymczak said he is really looking forward to.

“I think the opportunity to get out and see more of the areas, more of the people involved with SMACNA,” he said. “Hopefully, the opportunity to advance the industry, to build a stronger relationship with the labor side.”

As a former member of the Sheet Metal Workers union, Szymczak said he believes he offers a unique perspective.

“My background actually came out of the Sheet Metal Workers, and I feel that I have a lot to offer in relation to management and labor activities,” he said.

While Szymczak started in the sheet metal industry after graduating high school in 1973 — he joined the union through Local 12 two years later — sheet metal has been in the Szymczak family for generations.

“My father was a sheet metal worker (and) my oldest brother went into the sheet metal trade when he got out of high school,” he said.

Szymczak started working at Schneider Sheet Metal in 1979. He said he watched the industry transition from hand drawings and layout done at benches and tables to the computer-controlled plasma tables and press brakes of today.

“Quite a change,” he said.

He has been president of SSM since 2004.

Szymczak is to take over as SMACNA’s president when economic activity is finally starting to pick up across the country and the markets that SSM serves.

“It hit (Pennsylvania) pretty hard,” he said. “(The downturn) lagged behind most of the country by about two years, so where a lot of sectors had started to come out a year ago, we’re just starting to see the climb out of the hole about now.”

As a large contractor spread across six states, Szymczak said SSM may have been more fortunate than most when it came to surviving the deep HVAC construction recession of 2008-2012.

“We handled it relatively well,” he said. “We’re fortunately diversified enough. We have five sectors in our company. With our ability to travel we do a lot of traveling from state to state for work. It’s benefited us quite a bit to come through this. We were able to find something somewhere.”

The company’s current employee count is about 350, a figure Szymczak said he expects to remain stable, along with the company’s workload.

“This year is going pretty good,” he said. “I don’t see us having a big increase in our volume. I look for it to remain somewhat flat again with a little increase. But overall… I see projects that had been kind of stagnant starting to redevelop, so overall I see the uptick coming.”

And that’s good news, he added.

“I think we’re finally getting movement in the right direction.” 

 For reprints of this article, contact Renee Schuett at (248) 786-1661 or email