Tom Godby sits behind his desk at his new HVAC contracting business, built from a “clean sheet of paper.”
INDIANAPOLIS - Tom Godby seized the moment. Back in the late '90s, during the heyday of contractor consolidation by the Wall Street investors, Godby saw the opportunity to sell his HVAC business in Indianapolis to consolidator American Residential Services (ARS) for a good sum. It was also an opportunity to explore other business ventures in the community.

And Godby did well, too. He began a series of other ventures, including Care Ambulance, which currently operates ambulances serving central Indiana; and Polymer Technology Systems, which produces a variety of health care diagnostic products. Godby is also part of the management team for the Indiana Business Bank.

But he still had an interest in returning to his HVAC roots. Godby had founded Godby Brothers, a mechanical contracting company, back in the late '60s with "me and a pickup truck" he noted. He realized then what he knows now - he needed to have good people to run a successful business.

"I made mistakes, but fortunately I surrounded myself with good people," Godby said.

When the urge came to start up a new HVAC business, named Godby Heating & Air Conditioning, he knew he needed to have the right people in place in order to make the new startup work.

"I waited and waited until I got the right people," he said. "I turned 61 in October, and I want to have good, strong, young talent to take this over when I retire. I have a great management team assembled from a cross section of industries in Indianapolis."

The business, characterized by service and replacement and new construction markets, opened its doors in November 2004, and is already projecting $8 million in sales for its first year of operation.

Godby credits his management team, a.k.a. his dream team, with the success of the company. And he also knows the importance of having a good, established name in the community. "Our name is our goodwill," he said. "I could never quite grasp that until we went back into business. "Once we opened our doors, our phones have been ringing like nuts."

Looking To The Future

Godby is not content to stand pat and bask in the success of his return to the Indianapolis HVAC market. He said his company will double its sales next year to $16 million at a time when he plans to enter other markets, including plumbing and electrical.

His plan is to become a full-line mechanical contractor and work in the design/build light commercial market, too. Godby also has his sights set on increasing his share of the residential service and replacement business.

"It's interesting to build a company from a clean sheet of paper," he noted. "Most air conditioning companies have evolved. We had the capital to assemble a team and see who would work the best together. We had time to think about this and plan."

But being successful doesn't exempt Godby from some legitimate concerns about the HVAC industry. He is concerned about the changeover to 13 SEER, believing that it will have a positive affect on the industry but "it is still an unknown."

"I'm also concerned about product availability," he said, citing the rapid growth of China and its hunger for steel and other products; and the demand for equipment in the Gulf Coast region now.

For now, Godby is happy with his company's progress, and he has some advice for other people starting out in the business. "You've got to have capital and a great relationship with your bank and your suppliers," he noted. "You really have to plan and budget. You need to know where your sales are coming from and you need to know your market. When you start up, things happen very rapidly so you have to tweak the plan.

"Most of all, you need cash and people. I'll take credit for the name but, without a doubt, it has been the organizational team that has been phenomenal. You can't do it by yourself."

At an age when many people are retired or planning their retirement, Godby is still planning what he wants to do each day he goes to work. Why?

"We are having a lot of fun right now and I wouldn't be doing this if it weren't fun for me."

Publication date: 10/31/2005