Mark Skaer

I learned more than a few things at the recent 2008 Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Exposition in New York City. In addition to discovering that women simply go ape over chef Bobby Flay and that David Letterman is really a funny guy (and each, friends, is a long story), I also found out that my boss, along with twoNEWSeditors, could not work for Bradenton, Fla.-based contracting firm LPAC - at least not in their current hairy state.

Jason Merritt, operations manager for LPAC, informed us all that beards, long sideburns, mustaches, and long hair are not allowed or tolerated at his HVACR residential contracting company. Before the exhibit halls at the Javits Convention Center opened Tuesday morning, Merritt revealed the policy at an hour-long panel discussion with all of the winners inThe NEWS’2007 “Best Contractor to Work for” contest.NEWSbusiness editor John Hall emceed the informative, open-to-the-public discussion, as the winners provided insights into what makes their business environments click.

(NEWSeditor-in-chief Mike Murphy - at least currently - sports a goatee, while managing editor Kyle Gargaro and Hall each have a mustache and/or beard. There are times when each shave off their respective facial hair, but that is not negotiable at LPAC. Either you do so or work elsewhere.)


While such a policy may sound harsh and even politically incorrect, you will hear no complaints from LPAC employees and customers. Service techs arrive clean-shaven and looking professional, which is high on owner Lance Landrum’s must-have list. In fact, every Monday he offers professional haircuts for employees who need a trim at the in-house barbershop.

Not that it’s all rules, rules, and more rules at the 20-year-old firm. Merritt will tell you the 17-person company certainly has its share of fun. In fact, “have fun” was the overall, general advice from panel members, who believe fun and work can and should go hand-in-hand. It’s what keeps a business together.

“You’ve gotta have fun, too,” said Merritt.

“We believe in a more human approach to things and fun,” said Vicken Aharonian, who heads Combined Air Mechanical Services of Brampton, Ont., anotherNEWSwinner.

LPAC owner Landrum holds everything from a catered breakfast each month to an annual paint ball tournament. A.O. Reed & Co., another winner from San Diego, hosts a Christmas party for more than 500 employees, and each one attending gets to take home a turkey and gifts.

In addition to having fun at work, another strong suggestion the group provided involved hiring. More so than not, each said they look for attitude first. Ed Blum, manager of special projects for A.O. Reed, noted that his company “takes extreme pain in hiring.” Translation: If you do all that should be done at the front end of hiring - including a drug test and background check - your efforts will produce winning employees.

“We hire on attitude and appearance,” said Gary Marowske, owner of Flame Heating Cooling Electrical, a winner from Warren, Mich. “We can teach them the technical end.”


Audience member Glenn Carter said things that should make some contractor happy … which brings me to another thing I learned while in New York: If Carter shows the enthusiasm and drive he displayed at the panel discussion, he should go far in this industry. Either that or the Bronx native should take up acting or become a politician or lawyer, because he can certainly talk the talk.

Carter, who is soon to graduate from Lincoln Technical Institute with a two-year degree in HVACR technology, grilled the panelists with industry-related questions, hoping to collect solid hiring advice from the cream of the crop. He wanted to know what he needed to do in order to get himself employed by the best. Each contractor sitting at the table provided encouragement and/or a name of a contractor in his area that he should contact. It was great to see this exchange.

The 1989 graduate of Monsignor Scanlan High School had been a corrections officer at the NYC Department of Corrections for four years (April 1999 to December 2003) before deciding to get “a career.” After the panel discussion concluded, more than a few in the room came up to the future technician to provide more direction and/or encouragement.

At least Carter passed LPAC’s initial inspection. He did not have facial hair, and he was definitely well groomed, wearing a clean uniform. Admittedly, Murphy, Hall, and Gargaro each were well dressed, but because of facial hair, they would not have made the LPAC cut.

Not sure if your firm prohibits facial hair, but maybeThe NEWSshould practice what some of the better, leading contracting firms are preaching.

Publication date:02/04/2008