CLEONA, Pa. — For many people, a job is simply a job. It’s a nine-to-five, day-in, day-out situation that people put up with in order to pay the bills and raise a family. But some people wake up in the morning and look forward to the challenges of the day ahead.

Impossible? Not for the employees of G.F. Bowman Inc., the company chosen by The News as the 2002 “Best Contractor to Work For” in the North Mid-Atlantic region. The reason for the honor is simple. Larry Bowman, owner of the company, has realized that you need to give your employees a reason to come to work every day.

He has accomplished this by fostering a work environment that allows technicians to forge their own path. The company’s methods embody his philosophy: If you give them the training and opportunities, along with incentives for their hard work, technicians, as well as the company as a whole, can flourish far beyond expectations.

Larry Bowman (center) conducts an in-house training session with (from left) Jon Sherman, Byron Marshall, Joe Hile, and Wilson Newhouse.

The Choice To Succeed

G.F. Bowman Inc. was started by Larry’s father, George, who opened its doors back in 1967. In 1984, Larry took over the business. In the last 36 years, a lot of changes have taken place.

“It’s unbelievable. In my dreams I never would have anticipated all of this,” said George Bowman.

Larry’s father has witnessed the way the family business has evolved over the years, growing in market share and taking on more and more employees. He’s also seen the success that his son and daughter-in-law, Brenda Bowman, have had with the business. “I don’t know where he gets all of his ideas,” George said about his son.

Larry Bowman has had a lot of ideas. He’ll admit that he has made mistakes, but it’s easy to see that most of the ideas Larry has implemented into the business have been a rousing success. You don’t keep 30 service and installation technicians around by making poor choices.

One of the biggest decisions that Larry and Brenda made evolved a couple of years ago. The management team decided that they needed a way to evaluate how well their employees were doing in the field. At the same time, they wanted to find a way to give something extra for those who go above and beyond. Out of that idea was born the Service Efficiency Profit Sharing (SEPS) and the Project Efficiency Profit Sharing (PEPS) programs.

The SEPS program is for the service technicians, while the installation team takes part in the PEPS program.

There are many factors involved in the program, but according to Larry and Brenda Bowman, the basic goal is to “reward technicians for keeping a job under the estimated cost while still providing a service or installation that meets or exceeds the highest of standards.”

When a job comes in under the estimated cost, the extra money is split on a predetermined percentage basis. Some of the money goes back into the company, while the rest is split among the employees on the job. This does not mean that technicians take shortcuts or compromise quality. Not only does the job have to come in under budget, the policy clearly states that all work must meet or exceed the company’s established standards of quality and workmanship.

“These are perks for exemplary work,” Brenda said about the PEPS and SEPS programs.

So far, the program has been extremely successful. Incentive payouts for the company have increased over the past year by 49.2 percent, which represents an increase of over $35,000. According to the Bowmans, the employees have the opportunity to earn higher wages while working fewer hours. The PEPS and SEPS programs have also fueled a good-natured competitiveness among the technicians.

“It’s really built camaraderie and teamwork,” said Larry.

He stressed that the most important benefit of the PEPS and SEPS programs has been to establish a way for technicians to set their own course of action. The more work each technician puts into each job, the more that person gets out of it. Through careful analyses and tracking of each job or service, it is easy for the company to see which technicians are forging ahead and which ones require additional training. The decision, according to Larry Bowman, is up to each technician.

The G.F. Bowman managerial team includes (standing, from left) Bruce Klein, Tom Keefer, Larry Bowman, Gary Berkhimer, (kneeling, from left) Dave Fessler, and Wilson Newhouse.

Having A Voice

Not only do technicians have the ability to help determine their financial status, they also have a great deal of power in determining the direction of the company.

“There is open communication between the management and our employees,” said Gary Berkhimer, general manager for G.F. Bowman. “The [employees] have great ideas, and in many cases we implement their ideas.”

Many of the technicians at G.F. Bowman said that Larry has an open-door policy. If there are any issues that need to be dealt with, Larry will listen.

“If there is ever a problem, you can just go in and ask. You don’t have to be afraid of the boss,” said service technician Joe Smith.

Smith said that he has worked for other HVAC companies where communication was very poor. Having the ability to express ideas was a breath of fresh air for Smith. In fact, the technician served on the company’s Benefit and Policy Committee.

According to Larry, he offered his employees the opportunity to develop the company handbook, which would dictate the guidelines, rules, and benefits of the business. Volunteers were invited to attend a meeting. Twenty-nine attended and elected a committee of 13 employees. These 13 employees met every Monday for seven weeks, going page by page through the existing employee handbook and recommending changes.

Smith said that the committee was successful, and in the end Larry accepted about 90 percent of the suggestions made by the committee.

“He trusts us to do what is in the best interest of both the employee and the company,” said Smith. “And he does what he needs to do to keep us happy. No other company would have considered this. They would have run screaming.”

Train, Train, Train

Steve Dubendorf, installation technician for G.F. Bowman, also agrees that open communication is one of the company’s best attributes. Dubendorf has worked for other HVAC companies where technicians were left on their own. For example, one company he previously worked for would assign him jobs by putting paperwork in his mailbox. Dubendorf said he rarely received any feedback or information from the owner directly. At G.F. Bowman, “You can get help here whenever you need it,” he said.

Part of this help comes in the form of training and education. The company is a huge proponent of continuing education and keeping technicians and office staff continually up to speed. According to Dubendorf, “If you want the extra education, you can get it here.”

For example, the installation technician said that he and a few other technicians were recently provided with a trip to Pittsburgh to attend a boiler seminar. Not only did Larry pay for the trip and the seminar, he gave the technicians some extra spending money.

According to employees, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the training that is provided through G.F. Bowman. The company provides a weekly training session for its technicians, as well as a monthly meeting to get all employees together and discuss events happening within the business.

Other training includes seminars through the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES), and through manufacturer-sponsored training programs that are held both in-house and off site. In the last year, technicians averaged 80 hours of training each.

The company is also concerned about soft skills training and enrolled the staff in a Dale Carnegie course. The Bowmans also joined Contractors 2000, an independent contractor group designed to help companies grow their businesses. According to Larry, the company’s affiliation with C2000 has helped G.F. Bowman develop effective in-house training programs. The company has also used C2000 to send technicians to customer service and sales courses. All training and association memberships are paid for in full by the Bowmans.

“We’ll spend the money on training because it tells our technicians that they are important to us and it gives them the skills needed to face the day-to-day challenges of this industry,” said Larry.

Work Hard, Play Hard

Technicians at G.F. Bowman are expected to work hard, but things aren’t all work and no play with the company.

For example, the Bowmans try to avoid technician burnout by providing the company with an “old-fashioned, country-style” breakfast. The breakfast happens twice a year, once at the beginning of the cooling season and again at the beginning of the heating season. The large breakfast event helps kick off the busy months ahead.

Other employee events happen throughout the year. An annual family picnic is held, as well as an annual dinner. Each of these events has a theme.

Last year’s family outing was a weekend-long camping trip with a catered picnic and passes to Knoebel’s, an amusement park in Elysburg, Pa.

Recently, the G.F. Bowman annual dinner featured a casino theme. Employees were given gambling chips and were allowed to play games of chance throughout the night. At the end of the evening, the chips were exchanged for gifts.

The Bowmans admit that these activities are not something they have to do. For them, it’s not only fun, it’s a way to thank their employees for the success over the years.

“Our industry is a lot like family,” said Larry. “And we are trying to maintain the family we have inside the company.”

Sidebar: Just The Facts

Name:G.F. Bowman Inc.

Owners: Larry and Brenda Bowman

Location: Cleona, Pa.

Years in business: 36

Bulk of market: Service — 60% commercial, 40% residential; Installation — 75% commercial, 25% residential

Total revenue for 2002: $5.7 million

Total employees: 48

Total service technicians and installers: 31

Average hours employees spend in training: 80 per year.

Benefits offered beyond medical/dental insurance: Paid vacations, paid training, uniforms, tools, paid holidays, and a 401(k) with employer contribution are offered, as well as profit sharing programs, incentives, company vehicles, trade organization memberships, and a corporate YMCA membership. The company also offers free and liberal use of all company equipment and facilities, including wash bays, automobile lift, tools, meeting rooms, and work space.

The News selected this contractor because: G.F. Bowman Inc. offers a comfortable work environment that allows employees to grow in the industry and determine their own career destiny. The company blends work and play, while providing technicians with the ability to increase their wages through generous profit sharing programs.

Publication date: 03/10/2003