MAUI, HI — Let’s not kid ourselves. The main reason a record number of contractors and their families — and that’s more than 2,200 strong — opted to attend this year’s Mechanical Contractors Association of America’s (MCAA) annual convention was because of the initial draw: Maui.

Heck, a newborn baby did not stop Detroit, MI contractor Mary Marble of J. A. Marble Co. from flying over to the wonderland of pristine beaches, massive volcanic mountains, beautiful flowers, and a perfect climate.

“I didn’t want to miss this,” said Marble, even if it required towing along husband Drew and mother-in-law Marilyn to help care for baby Katherine.

Another great attraction was the “you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it” Grand Wailea Resort & Spa, site of MCAA’s major events and educational programs.

In addition to the sun, surf, and a spectacular setting, MCAA provided what many believe to be its best-ever educational focus, which, as it turns out, may have been the biggest hit of all. In between the inspirational opening speech from astronaut Neil Armstrong and the motivational closing address from former Chicago Bears football coach Mike Ditka, there were a multitude of speakers and experts for MCAA members to listen to and learn from. This year’s program focused mainly on the areas of information technology, the human resources challenge, and leadership.


Former Porsche automobile company ceo Peter Schutz provided one of the more stirring talks in his special session, appropriately entitled “Leadership: Extra-ordinary Results from Ordinary People.” In his eyes, the only lasting competitive advantage that organizations, including contractors, have in today’s global market is their ability to obtain extraordinary results from ordinary people.

“How many of you believe that your competitive edge can consist of finding and hiring people that are more intelligent and more innovative than those who work for your competition? How many of you believe that?”

After a slight pause, he blurted, “Well, folks, let me burst your bubble. It’s not likely to happen.”

He went on to state, “You are fortunate if you can find enough people that are adequate to do the job, people that will show up on time and put in a full day for you.

“You see, my friends, the only competitive edge I have ever known is for us, as managers, to learn how to get extraordinary results with ordinary people. The only way is for us, as managers, to be more professional.

“I believe that every manager has exactly the organization they deserve. You have hired these people. You have trained them. You have created the operating environment in which they have become whatever it is they are. If there is anything I have learned it’s that you cannot clean up a whorehouse by firing the piano player!”

After the contractors stopped laughing, he made this point: “If you want to elevate the performance level of the organization, my friends, it has to start with you. It has to start at the top.”

According to Schutz, people are capable of performing far beyond their capabilities when an organization’s leaders and managers are able to answer five questions:

1. Why are employees here? “If people believe they are busting rocks, that’s all they will do. …People working together will be more productive.”

2. What is expected of an employee around here? “We are helping to win a race. You have to make sure there is content or ownership [for the employees] so they feel a part of the team.”

3. How are they doing? “Managers have to supply workers with goals.”

4. What’s in it for the employees? And

5. If an employee fails to perform, where does s/he go for help? “If you punish failure, you may end up at a place where people do not like change.”

Schutz drew on a personal experience, describing how an exhausted Porche racing pit team crew, in less than an hour’s time, disassembled and reassembled a hot, blown racing car engine in the middle of the night — a job that, under ordinary circumstances, would take six to eight hours. In his estimation, that’s the kind of extraordinary result that one can expect from ordinary people when leaders of organizations communicate their vision, implement decisions using a democratic process, and implement them flawlessly using a dictatorial system.

“Do those things that will get you that 52-minute repair,” he summarized. “You must give the opportunity for your people to shine. It is this pride and passion that they must have.”


An organization’s most valuable asset is the people that fuel its growth, guide its development, and benefit from its success. Two MCAA speakers, Bob Spence and Lee Smither, stressed these facts in their respective sessions.

In his talk, “Excellence Begins with People Selection,” Spence, president and ceo of Creative-Leadership, Inc., detailed his company’s five-step systematic hiring process, the Choosing Winners™ system. He maintained that building a successful business begins with finding the right people.

“When it comes to hiring, let’s do it right the first time,” he said. “It is costly otherwise. Don’t look at hiring as something different. You should be as thorough here as in any other part of your job. …The worst thing about a mis-hire is working with them.”

Breaking down his five-step hiring approach:

1. Define a strategic approach to preparing accurate position specifications that detail the desired values and traits, responsibilities and desired outcomes, and the specific educational, experiential, and skill sets desired and needed for success in the targeted position.

2. Implement what Spence called “scoring,” an efficient, effective, and economical method for evaluating résumés. “In preparing the résumé scoring form, weighted point values are used for the various requirements, preferred, and desired criteria,” he explained.

3. Screen, which equates to a thorough telephone interview. “A well prepared and conducted screener interview requires up to one hour, depending upon the position and the person,” said Spence.

4. Probe. This is a structured descriptive behavioral interview, which Spence’s company conducts.

5. Confirm, with an on-site interview process. “No one should ever interview without having interview questions prepared and written in advance of the actual interview,” he said. “It is best to use questions that describe a specific situation and then ask the interviewee to respond with specific behavior or actions.”

His bottom line? “Hiring is a discovery process,” he said. “Get a system going to make sure you get the right hire. The key, though, is to have a system.”


In a later session, Smither, director of Corporate Consulting with FMI, zeroed in on another managerial responsibility, “How to Motivate and Inspire Employees.” “It’s not easy,” said Smither. “However, this is probably the biggest strategic problem in our industry.” In Smither’s estimation, the reasons why some contractors have better people are because they hire them right, pay them well, manage them right, “create a place where they want to stay,” and get rid of the non-performers. Hiring them right, he explained, includes “looking at every new hire as a $100,000 to $500,000 investment. “Think about people like you do equipment,” said Smither. “They [Employees] are not replaceable assets. We have to think that people are your most valuable asset.” In regard to pay, Smither believes its best to pay above-the-market salaries for above-average people. He also thought it best to offer a performance-based compensation system, reward employees for the right results and the right behaviors, plus provide short-term and long-term benefits. “Long-term benefits built into your company are good for retaining people,” he said, noting that one contractor he worked with offered his superintendents and upper management a one-month paid vacation after five years of service. “If this keeps a good person, that’s a good thing.” In regard to managing people, he mentioned several key points:
  • When you take action, you are working.
  • Management is getting results through other people.
  • You need your people more than they need you.
  • You get paid for their results, not yours.
  • You can’t afford a housecleaning.
  • Doing what comes naturally is often wrong.
  • “Think about how you manage people,” he said. “If you have people that are driving people away, put that person elsewhere.” Smither listed his seven key employee motivators: money, independence, involvement, recognition, fear, stimulation, and environment. In regard to recognition, he said, “You just can’t do it enough.”

    Look for more 2001 MCAA convention coverage in future issues of The News.

    Publication dates: 03/05/2001