Owners Pat and Mary Sue McNamee pose with installation manager Shaun McNamee (right) in the parts area of the company’s warehouse. (Photos by Ron Feurer.)
OCONOMOWOC, Wis. - Try saying the word Oconomowoc 10 times real fast. It might be fun. But it probably won't be as much fun as working for Pat's Heating and Air Conditioning Inc.

That's the main reason why the contractor was chosen as winner of The News' 2004 "Best Contractor To Work For" contest for the Midwest region. The employees feel like part of the family. And, to hear owner Pat McNamee tell it, they are.

"I want to treat employees like I would like to be treated - like family," he said. "I feel that it is important for employees to enjoy going to work each day, as well as to have fun together outside of work," McNamee said.

Pat and his wife Mary Sue often invite their staff up to their Northern Wisconsin vacation retreats to get away from the rigors of the residential new construction/service business and have fun. McNamee also buys season tickets to the Green Bay Packers' home games and gives them to employees. In addition, he has a stack of Home Depot gift cards that he gives out as "attaboys." Christmas parties have oftentimes been a weekend-long event, held at a Wisconsin Dells indoor water park, with the employees' entire families invited.

Service tech Kory Jordan, an 11-year member of Pat's staff, said McNamee takes the guys fishing at his northern vacation homes, adding, "Pat tells us, ‘My house is yours.' You feel like you are working for a friend."

For weekend fishing trips, McNamee gives everyone the Friday off - with pay. He doesn't mind making the investment. He equates paying for fun to paying for hiring and training a new employee.

The employees of Pat’s Heating and Air Conditioning Inc. gather in the company’s award-winning showroom.

Starting From Scratch

McNamee prefers to hire and train workers with no previous experience. First-year service tech Doug Schmidt is a perfect example. He was a garbage collector before joining the 23-person staff at Pat's.

Schmidt talked with Pat's brother Shaun at church and was told not to worry about his lack of HVACR background.

"They took a big risk on me because I had no experience. They saw something in me that I didn't," Schmidt said.

"We don't want to hire anyone with experience. We want to train them our way," explained McNamee. "There are a lot of home-grown guys here - people who started from scratch."

Sales and service manager Jason Punzel said that Pat's began an apprenticeship program two-and-a-half years ago, and HVACR experience is not a prerequisite.

"In the last three years we have not hired anyone with HVACR experience," Punzel stated.

He said that all new hires know exactly what they have to do and the rewards that go with learning.

"We have a list of things that people have to learn," he said. "The employees are then given a pay increase as they complete the various parts of our apprentice program."

McNamee takes the time to ensure that his employees are properly trained and have as much support as possible. New hires are usually put in the shop for three to six months, followed by six months working with installation techs, and then duct cleaning.

"At that point, we get a feel for what the person can do, and steer them towards installation or service," said McNamee.

"Additionally, we have them take a series of HVAC and electrical classes at our local technical college. We will pay for all costs associated with taking the classes.

Service tech Doug Schmidt (left) goes over some of the day’s service tickets with sales and service manager Jason Punzel.
"Over two-thirds of our service techs are NATE certified and the rest are working toward that. We will give them an hourly increase in pay if they become certified."

Training is ongoing, too. Besides the 100 hours of training per year for apprentices, service techs take 50 hours of annual training and installers must complete 20 hours of annual training.

McNamee puts out a newsletter twice a year, touting his NATE-certified techs. Jordan is one of them, a tech who came to Pat's with experience and one who can easily see the difference between Pat's and other contractors.

He heard about Pat's from a former fellow employee. He said that when he interviewed with McNamee, the owner drove him around to a few jobsites to show him what the company was doing. They clicked right away, and McNamee hired him on the spot.

"The atmosphere impressed me," said Jordan. "Pat is easy to talk to and is always available. I moved my home here to be closer to work - a good indication that this is where I want to be."

Schmidt agreed about the good atmosphere. "At my other job I was No. 1008, but here I am Doug," he said. "They have also made my family feel welcome, too."

He said he has more energy because he enjoys the job and his goals include gaining more HVACR knowledge. Schmidt added that he "doesn't go home grumpy."

McNamee started out as a 17-year-old in a high school co-op program and, after 10 years of working for other local contractors, started his own company in 1989. He said it is important to make people feel comfortable all of the time. "I always go out of my way to say thank you to someone," he said. "It shows people that you appreciate what they do."

He said all of his people work "with us" and not "for us."

That mentality and feeling of "oneness" makes Pat's a winner. It's not only fun to work there - it is family.

Mary Sue McNamee summed it up this way: "Each part that everyone contributes makes us a whole. Everyone contributes and completes the puzzle."

Sidebar: Just The Facts

Winning contractor:Pat's Heating and Air Conditioning Inc.

Owners: Pat and Mary Sue McNamee

Location: Oconomowoc, Wis.

Years in business: 15

Bulk of market: 60 percent new construction, 40 percent replacement and service; 90 percent residential, 10 percent commercial

Total revenues for 2004: $3.5 million

Total employees: 23

Total service technicians and installers: 17

Average hours employees spend in training: 100 hours a year for apprentices, 50 hours a year for service techs, 20 hours a year for installers.

Benefits offered beyond medical/dental insurance: Matching 401(k), annual bonus, paid training, company clothing, paid vacation, techs allowed to take company vehicle home at night.

Industry association and contractor group members: Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), ACCA MIX® group, Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES), technicians certified by North American Technician Excellence (NATE), Carrier Distinguished Dealer, Service Roundtable.

The News chose this winner because: The owners take the time to show how much they care about their employees. They promote a family atmosphere geared toward continual education and having fun.

Publication date: 02/07/2005