This is my favorite time of year. It’s the time we honor the winners ofThe News’“Best Contractor To Work For” contest. This is the time Newseditors get to meet, greet, and shake hands with some of the most innovative hvacr contractors in the business.

Read about these winners. Take notes. By all means, feel free to give each a call if you so desire. They are more than willing to help a fellow contractor if they can. They certainly care for their employees and customers.

Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed spending the day with Russ Donnici, owner of Mechanical Air Service, selected the best contractor from the West-Pacific region.

I now have 15 pages of computer-printed notes in my possession from that visit. That’s the hardest part about the reporting business — you have all this great information, insights, and anecdotes, but it has to be boiled down to 1,500 words or less. It can be as challenging as getting a teenager to help around the house.

THE DRIVE TO SUCCEED

What strikes me most about the 2001 winners is the intense drive each possesses. Donnici, for instance, started his business 25 years ago from his garage. He now operates a successful business that generated nearly $2 million in revenues last year with only 10 employees, located in an industrial center.

Not that he had a clue as to where he was going nearly a quarter of a century ago. He was 25 years old, with one child and another on the way. “Nobody wakes up and knows this business,” he told me. “It’s a constantly evolving process.”

Looking back, he added, “I’ve always believed that I can do anything anyone else can do. It might take me a little longer, and I might not make money on the first job I do, but that’s my education. The next time I’m going to be better, and the next time I’m going to do it even better.”

Through it all, Donnici obviously kept it all in perspective. He managed to keep business life separated from family life, a trait I do admire and respect.

“I never did any office stuff at home until my kids went to bed,” he said. “I came home and played with the kids. We did our ‘stuff’ and then I worked at night. It paid off.”

Son Matt, who is now a project manager, and daughter Danielle, who will be controller, are expected to take over the company reins this year, partnering with Robert Jackson, who is vice president of operations. This evolution makes Donnici beam from ear to ear, knowing his children are keeping his tradition and company alive.

“I don’t think my dad planned for us to take it over,” admitted Matt. “But it’s something we wanted to do and I know he’s happy about it. He built a foundation for us to grow on.”

LEAD BY EXAMPLE

In this issue, take note of what employees say about John Kerner, president/owner of North Mid-Atlantic region winner Cox-Powell Corp. and Standard Sheet Metal Corp., based in Norfolk, VA. Do you allow an employee an extra day off of work each month? Do you buy employees safety shoes?

CMS Mechanical president Bob Hull knows what its like being a technician. It’s why our South Mid-Atlantic/Southeast winner from Melbourne, FL, does everything he can to retain them. “I’m sometimes criticized for taking the tech’s side,” he said. “But that’s where the rubber meets the road.”

YPS out of Austin, TX, our South/Southwest region winner, has that same “I care” atmosphere. Owners Glenn Randle and Scott Pargin have been on the other side of the fence, too. “Scott and I were employees before we became owners,” is how Randle put it. “We know what employees want.”

Do you start every Tuesday morning discussing “the problem of the week”? This is one of the training techniques developed by owner David Ross at Advanced Filter & Mechanical, Puyallup, WA. As one thankful employee from the Northwest/Upper Midwest winner noted, “The more you know, the more valuable you are to customers.”

It’s hard to find a more compassionate man than Brian Cranney, owner of Cranney H.V.A.C./Cranney Companies, Danvers, MA. When employees are faced with life-altering events, our New England region winner is there for support — plus paychecks. Can you say that?

No one has to tell me employees appreciate Dr. Roseann and Peter Cyngier, owners of Cyngier Heating & Air Conditioning, based in Cleveland, OH. Our Midwest winner provided more testimonials from employees than any other entrant.

These are the best, folks. Read. Learn.

Skaer is editor-in-chief. He can be reached at 248-244-6446; 248-362-0317 (fax); markskaer@achrnews.com (e-mail).

Publication date: 02/25/2002