Cranney has its own sheet metal shop, which helps keep quality uniform.
DANVERS, MA — Brian Cranney’s nickname is “Bear.” His height and dark hair make the inspiration behind the name partly evident. The rest is more difficult to perceive unless you spend some time with him. He’s a powerful, quiet, and honest businessman. He does not make empty promises.

He runs a company where good people are proud to work. That’s why Cranney H.V.A.C. won The News’ third-annual “Best Contractor to Work For” contest for the New England region.

Cranney H.V.A.C. is part of Cranney Companies, including Cranney Electric, which Brian Cranney formed 20 years ago. The all-commercial contractor also provides building automation installation and service. The company’s motto is, “One team, total solutions.”

The benefits of working for Cranney Companies are both tangible and intangible, explain vice president Dave Sanborn and operations manager Elliott Kanter, who heads the hvac division.

The tangible benefits go beyond medical/dental insurance and culminate in a sense of accountability for the company’s work. Top techs indicated that the company’s stress on accountability and a sense of pride for work well done are critical qualities of their jobs. Among the intangible benefits are Cranney’s civic involvement and compassion for employees.

Meet the fleet: Here's the full Cranney team. Brian Cranney is front and center.


The crux of the company’s treatment of staff rests in its commitment to servicing customers. Cranney recognizes that this business clich?oo often is an empty promise. “It should be an easy thing,” he says.

Kanter says the company pays its employees above average for the area, and that it expects more from these people. “They have to meet high standards,” he says. “We want people who can think on their own.” The best way to find them, he adds, is to track people you already know.

In 1998, the company started doing hvac work. “For a long time I wanted to start hvac,” says Cranney. “If we could provide the same quality service as we were in the electric work, it was a no brainer.” Once the decision was made, he ran ads, hiring someone to start up the hvac and build a team. It got off to a rocky start.

“Guys in the field had to take initiative early in the company’s hvac days,” Kanter says. They needed to — direct supervision had been lacking. In fact, when Kanter first started in his position with the division, he says most of his early calls were to business owners who were dissatisfied with the company’s hvac work. Kanter says he encountered cases where the jobs had been done incorrectly.

In what must have been an awkward moment, he went back to Cranney with the information. “Whose fault was it?” Cranney asked. Kanter replied that it was their own company’s fault. “Fix it,” said Cranney.

“Make it right,” Kanter recalls Cranney saying. “Make it something we would be proud of.”

Despite these early problems for the hvac company — or perhaps because of the manner in which they were handled, and the accountability the company showed — the contractor’s reputation for good service and responsiveness grew.

“In contracting, there is a black eye out there; there is no following through,” says Cranney.

“Customers are shocked when you call back right away,” no matter what time it is. “We have a handful of companies that handle all the customer’s service needs.”

“There’s a guy with a Cranney shirt on,” a customer might say. They can ask him a question, and even if it’s not his area, he will pass it on to someone who can handle it, who in turn will get back to the customer, whose question is answered quickly and efficiently.

The importance of accountability reverberates throughout the company. Profit sharing means that “The guys are returning materials, minimizing waste, maximizing profits,” says Cranney.

Profit sharing is one tangible benefit, points out Sanborn; materials are a tangible resource. The chief intangible resource is its people.

Field employees are encouraged to advance into controls work.


The Newsvisited Cranney Companies the day after the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl. Maybe the topic of teamwork would have surfaced anyway, but on this particular day it was on everyone’s mind.

“During interviews, we drill on teamwork,” says Sanborn. Thanks to the company’s community involvement, such as in a local cancer walk, “People are passionate about what they do here, and who they work for.”

In his nominating letter to The News, Kanter wrote, “When employees are faced with life-altering events, Brian has always been there with any support needed, but most importantly the paychecks keep on coming. I am not talking about days; I am talking about months with no loss of pay or benefits.

“We recently had an employee [Judy Martinez] donate a kidney” to her fiance, who was receiving dialysis three times a week and was still deteriorating. “She was out for seven weeks with no loss of pay or benefits,” says Kanter.

The fiance is doing fine now, relatively speaking. “At the time she became his donor, he was in a definite decline,” says Cranney.

Another example: “My first apprentice 20 years ago is now head of electrical operations,” Cranney starts the story. When that employee’s wife was stricken with cancer, the cancer walk got personal.

That employee plays a critical role in the company. During his time of family crisis (his wife eventually died), Cranney told him to spend more time with his family, which meant less time at his job. Sanborn picked up the slack. If he hadn’t played as part of the team, the compassion would have been empty words; the employee still would have worried about work that wasn’t getting done, or would have struggled to do it.

Sanborn modestly says, “If somebody’s carrying an anchor, you don’t throw them another anchor.”

Kanter points out that Cranney is not just participating as a local business owner in the North Shore Cancer Walk; he’s chairman. He also was the president of the local Rotary Club, the first blue-collar chairman of the North Shore Chamber of Commerce, vice president of the Boys and Girls Club, and is on the foundation board of a local hospital.

Cranney also organizes the Salem (MA) State College Speaker Program, which has brought in such notables as Sen. Ted Kennedy, George Stephanopoulos, Colin Powell, Desmond Tutu, Mike Wallace, Walter Cronkite, and Jack Welch. Welch’s Jack: Straight from the Gut, a business/philosophy book Cranney recommends, contains this passage:

“Building confidence in others is a huge part of leadership. It comes from providing opportunities and challenges for people to do things they never imagined they could do — rewarding them after each success in every way possible.”

Perhaps the Cranney team’s fondest memories are from the Rotarian project to restore a park for the handicapped while Cranney was Rotary Club president. Doctors, lawyers, and blue-collar guys worked together to restore the park, which has since been dubbed “Bear Park” in honor of Cranney.

The work paid off at the park’s opening, when a busload of handicapped youngsters was taken to the park. Their enjoyment and appreciation made it all worthwhile, agree Cranney, Kanter, and Sanborn.

On the surface it may look like shrewd PR. But when you spend some time with the Bear, you feel that it’s more than getting the company’s name out there. “It’s people,” says Cranney. “When you hire, you partner with people who do their jobs so well, you have time to find things to do.”

“I think it’s association,” says Kanter. “Cranney employees are part of a team they want to be on.”

Sidebar: Just The Facts

Name:Cranney H.V.A.C./Cranney Companies
Owner:Brian Cranney
Location:Danvers, MA
Years in business:20
Bulk of market:100% commercial
Total revenue for 2001:$10 million
Total employees:60
Total service technicians and installers:14
Average hours employees spend in training:25
Benefits offered beyond medical/dental insurance:Company pays 50% up front for job-related training. The remainder is paid when the employee completes the training. The company also pays 10 days’ vacation, eight holidays, two paid “floating” holidays, and funeral (bereavement) leave for immediate family. A $500 stipend is given for perfect attendance. The past four years, the company has done a 50% match on their 401(k) with no limit. There are two company parties a year, cruises, and NASCAR races.
The News selected this contractor because:The company provides an atmosphere in which all employees feel they are part of a family, yet they have the independence to make job-related decisions. The company’s owner, Brian Cranney, is also very humane, both to his employees and the community at large. This gives employees a sense of pride and security.

Publication date: 02/25/2002