At some point in a contractor's quest to build a profitable HVAC business, he/she may acquire another company. Many contractors have done this, and it's interesting how acquisition results can so widely vary. Sometimes the new employees mesh with the philosophy and the mission of the company, taking off like gangbusters. Other times, however, contractors find that their new employees struggle with their new identity, new ideals, and new culture.

This is one of those stories. (The names have been changed to protect the guilty.)

When Ron, owner of multiple locations in multiple states, acquired a company, he encountered some resistance from the employees. The new employees didn't buy in to the new culture and the new standards. At the top of the list was his strict 100 percent drug-free policy.

Ron has pushed a drug-free culture for decades in all of his companies, but at this particular company, nine of the employees refused to take the test. When contractors have employees dealing with that kind of change and they refuse, there is a lot of stress going on at the company. The problem is, these employees are the company. If they are having a rough time in the business, they are going to go into the field and take those feelings with them.

When word finally got to Ron that unrest was settling in, he went to that location and called a meeting. He had it early in the morning so everyone could be there and he could look them all in the eye. At that meeting, he set out what he was there to do. He shared his vision of building a dominant company. He shared his vision of giving 100 percent satisfied service where the client couldn't lose. He shared his vision of a totally drug-free company.

But he didn't just share a vision of a drug-free company; he told them why it was so important to him with two stories.

The first story happened in the mid-'80s at Ron's HVAC Co. Two employees were moving a boiler up the stairs when the one on the bottom slipped. The boiler fell and smashed his foot, which he had to have amputated. The thing is, he was high on drugs at the time. It was a bad situation, but it would have been worse if the other guy, who was drug-free, had been the one at the bottom. That's when he made the decision to be a drug-free company.

The other story was a recent one from the news in Florida where a young girl was attacked and killed by a service technician whose defense was that he was on drugs.

He told those stories to illustrate the dangers of working with a fellow employee who is on drugs, and to show how drugs can cause harm to the drug user and to other individuals. The point was that being drug-free wasn't only for the company. It was for the employees and the clients, too.

With that, Ron shared the vision of what they would gain if they followed his vision. Those employees now have full medical care for the first time ever. They have a 401k, paid vacations, and more. All of the changes were made to create a better environment for the employees. Everyone wins.

In fact, here's a great example of the impact of those changes. One of the Spanish-speaking installers came up to Ron after the meeting and had a friend interpret for him. He told Ron how he'd worked for the company for years.

Two years ago when his first child was born, they didn't have insurance. It took him over two years to pay off the hospital bill. Now, he'd just had his second child, and under the new insurance plan, the hospital expenses were completely covered. He was crying as he expressed his gratitude for how much better life would be for his family. Instead of paying the hospital for years, he'd be able to invest in his children's futures. He was so thankful.

Even though he'd been there the whole time, it took Ron sharing his vision in person to get that story out of him and for the other people to hear the enthusiasm and excitement he had for the new environment.

The managers had never taken the time to share the vision. As a result, they were met with resistance and challenges. To get an old company, or a newly acquired one on track, contractors need:

  • Vision: Employees must share the company vision for the future being built. Vision is where contractors want their company to go.

  • Culture: Develop the culture to achieve the vision. Culture is how a team works to achieve the vision. What do contractors want in their company? Honest, dependable people? New and clean trucks? A drug-free place where everyone works as a team? Benefits for employees?

  • Company benefits: Not only do contractors need them, but they also need to explain them. Let the employees know how things will be different. People don't know the value of benefits until they don't have them, and they cost a lot. Be sure to lay out the benefits of following the company vision.

    Amazingly, in two weeks following that meeting, Ron's employees were $120,000 above their goal. What changed? It was the same company, the same employees, and the same customers. What changed was their internal pride and perspective. Whether acquiring a company or not, share the vision with the team and let them know where the company is headed. If you do, they'll help you make money every day.

    Terry Nicholson is president of AirTime 500. For more information on AirTime 500, call 800-505-8885. Nicholson can be reached by e-mail at

    Publication date: 02/20/2006