MISSISSAUGA, Ontario - Keeping a family culture while continuing to grow your company is one of the toughest things to achieve in the business world. Bradley Mechanical Services has been able to accomplish that feat.

The 20-year-old company has added six employees during the last couple months and is planning to add about 12 more by the end of the year. From 1989 through 1991, the firm was named one of the fastest growing companies in Canada by Profit magazine.

The company recruits and retains top talent by fostering a family environment, listening and acting on concerns of employees, and investing in the employees in the form of training and time.

"Some people might say I am too loose, but I am having really good success," owner Brad Arnold said about his management style. "There are some things that I could do better at, and every day I learn and I grow. I get my training and go to my seminars."

Arnold's management style and the company's commitment to training and safety helped make Bradley Mechanical Services the Canadian Region winner in The News' 2004 "Best Contractor To Work For" contest.

Owner Brad Arnold (right) talks with Wilf Theriult. (Photos by Charles Kochman.)

A Family Theme

While sometimes the talk about a "family atmosphere" is simply lip service, with Arnold it is the real deal. "This is absolutely a family-type environment. One of my HVAC apprentices is dating my stepdaughter, so it is absolutely a family environment, especially in that respect," Arnold said.

"I don't look at them like employees, I look at them as friends. I don't like to use the word associate because that is not personable enough. I want mutual respect and mutual understanding."

Arnold endorses the philosophy of "the team that plays together, stays together." In addition to the usual golf outing or Christmas party, Arnold organizes new and interesting experiences for his crew. Just a few weeks ago, the gang spent a day at the Air Combat Zone having a good time climbing into an F-18 flight simulator, followed by having a few chicken wings at a local restaurant.

According to Arnold, as the business gets bigger, these types of outings get more important.

"One thing I am starting to realize is, as we are growing and going forward, I am not in contact with technicians as often as I used to be. I miss that. That prompts me to put together more social events and make sure I continue that contact," Arnold said.

That family atmosphere pays off for Arnold as all employees feel they have a real stake in the company. This means a good relationship between the plumbing and HVAC divisions. Last holiday season, Bradley Mechanical had the misfortune of running into about five big emergencies between Christmas and the New Year's Day.

"A boiler head exploded and had to be changed - that was an around-the-clock job. Several water main breaks occurred at the same time. I had HVAC technicians in a hole digging a trench at 2 a.m. to replace a section of the water main. Whatever has to be done gets done. We are a very close-knit group," Arnold said.

Controller Sue Partyka (right) goes over papers with Ashton Arnold.

Recruiting And Retaining Employees

As with most regions, the greater Toronto area suffers from a shortage of qualified skilled technicians. "I shake every time my guys go into a coffee shop because there is usually a recruiter in there," Arnold said. "The labor pool is very shallow."

Arnold uses the good reputation of the company to recruit new employees, while creating an environment that makes sure they want to stay.

To be sure they have a steady paycheck, technicians have the ability to bank hours during busy times. In addition, during slow times, or perhaps when a technician is sick, they can go into a negative bank time, where the company loans them hours.

"Brad is real flexible," five-year technician employee Telly Monoholias said. "He treats you real fair. When you need a day off, he will get you a day off. He is really concerned about everybody here and listens to what you have to say."

Arnold also makes sure to acknowledge a job well done. If a letter or telephone call comes into the office praising an employee's service, the worker receives a $25 gift certificate.

Customers who call in a compliment are encouraged to write it out so it can be displayed in the office. A recognition program is part of Bradley Mechanical's company-wide meetings, which are held every other week.

"It is important not to get recognition from just me but from their peers," Arnold said.

Those meetings are also an opportunity to make sure everyone in the company is on the same page. Both divisions of the company are at the meeting, so everyone knows the direction of the company.

"It is important that we all meet together because if you do not, all of a sudden you have a rift between the divisions," Arnold said. "Meetings are a time for feedback. Everyone is encouraged to speak their mind and tell us what the problems are. And as long as resources allow, we will deal with any suggestions."

Arnold also takes the time to sit down with each employee once a year to see what the employee has accomplished the last 12 months and set goals for the upcoming year. Arnold says he believes in mutual respect and mutual understanding.

"You need to treat people the right way," Arnold said. "This industry is very cyclic. There are upturns and there are downturns, and there are a lot of people who have been here for a few years and have lived through many bad cycles and a lot of good cycles."

Arnold's wife, Lynn, who is company treasurer, says one item links all the employees.

"It is their work ethic," Lynn said. "The workers are always here for the company. We are a small, close-knit group, and that is the way Brad and I like it."

Technicians Patrick Stroinski (left) and Telly Monoholias look over one of the many volumes of educational material Arnold keeps onsite.

Safety Is Top Priority

Arnold focuses on keeping his employees safe and keeping them learning.

Arnold estimates each of his technicians spend more than 200 hours each year in training. Bradley Mechanical pays half the cost upon completion of any trade- related training program. If the class is mandatory or safety related, the company pays the entire cost.

"Brad really encourages us to go to school," two-year technician employee Patrick Stroinski said. "We hear about it all the time."

Certifications are linked to pay at Bradley Mechanical. The more versatile the employees become, the larger jobs they get sent out on, and the higher their wage.

"I am a firm believer in lifelong learning," Arnold said. "If you don't continue to learn, you become stagnant, and that is not good for anybody. I am always pushing people to become multi-skilled. There isn't a certificate I don't have. If I were to go out and get another trade, it would need to be basket weaving because I have all the licenses."

Bradley Mechanical also makes safety a big priority.

"A lot of the safety is done in-house. We are very big on safety," Arnold said. "I want everybody going home at night with their fingers and their toes. I don't want anyone doing anything unsafe, and if they see anyone doing something unsafe I want them to take responsibility and take action to correct the situation."

Sidebar: Just The Facts

Sidebar: Just The Facts

Name: Bradley Mechanical Services

Owner: Brad Arnold

Location: Mississauga, Ontario

Years in business: 20

Bulk of market: Commercial

Total sales for 2004: $3 million

Total employees: 31

Total service technicians and installers: 24

Average hours employees spend in training: 200 hours per year

Benefits offered beyond medical/dental insurance: Life insurance, voluntary group registered retirement savings plan, company clothing, gift certificates for customer compliments, flex time.

Industry association and contractor group members: Linc Service, Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA), and Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Contractors of Canada (HRAI).

The News selected this contractor because: Despite rapid growth, Bradley Mechanical Services has been able to keep a family-like atmosphere where employees feel they have a stake in the company. Extensive training, open communication, and employee recognition are a few of the ways owner Brad Arnold treats his employees as friends instead of merely as co-workers.

Publication date: 02/07/2005