If you are a fan of auto racing - especially of open-wheel cars, as I am - you know the name Roger Penske has come to mean the epitome of success. Penske-owned cars have won a record 13 Indianapolis 500s. This year, Buddy Rice, driving for Rahal-Letterman, came home first. Nevertheless, Penske's record over the years has been truly amazing. There are 33 cars in the race, and yet, year after year, his cars are typically the ones to beat.

While I admit frustration if I'm hoping a non-Penske driver will win, I cannot help but have tremendous respect for what he and his teams bring to the sport. And what is interesting to me is that the principles he has applied to develop this successful racing team are the same principles we can apply to have a successful HVAC business. What are his secrets? Well, they aren't really secrets, because he openly discusses the methods he uses.

Penske's Principles

The first step is choosing the right people and then letting them do their jobs. This is such a basic premise it should be obvious, but how many times do we hire or keep the wrong person in an important position, which holds back our entire organization? Hire the right people, give them the proper tools, and let them do the job. Of course, you have to monitor results, but if you get the right people, it isn't necessary to micromanage.

Next is the need to be extremely well organized. A look at the Penske garage at Indy shows the attention to detail and organization. There is an old saying - "a place for everything and everything in its place." Look around your shop and office. Do you practice that? Is your shop laid out efficiently?

Are your processes organized efficiently so that materials and personnel are utilized in their most effective manner? Studies have shown that the biggest cause of unproductive time on jobsites is not caused by employees failing to work hard. The cause is our failure as contractors to have all of the right tools, materials, etc., on the job in the right place at the right time so the employees can produce.

After organization comes preparation. The Penske team works to make sure they are the most prepared team when race time arrives. Keep in mind that they won the Indy 500 three years in row - 2001, 2002, and 2003. Yet which team had the driver with the most practice laps in 2004?

Yes, Helio Castroneves of Team Penske had more 2004 practice laps than anyone else, even though he won in 2001 and 2002. Why did he have so many practice laps? Because the team members know that a variety of weather conditions can occur during the race, and they wanted to practice in all of those conditions so that they would know the proper car setup for the conditions occurring on race day. In addition, on the final practice day they spent more time than anyone else practicing their pit stops.

The final element to a successful race team or a successful HVAC business is execution. We need to put into place all of the elements we have organized and prepared and execute them better than our competition. No one can perform perfectly every time. Penske's team didn't execute properly in 2004. Two botched pit stops, one by Castroneves and one by Sam Hornish Jr., proved to be the difference. But you can still count on Penske to be back in 2005 with a well-prepared team.

Choice vs. Execution

It seems to me that one of the biggest problems that we HVAC contractors have is that we spend

the majority of our time on execution. We spend very little time on choosing the right people, and not nearly enough time on organizing and preparing our systems.

As a result, we have to spend far too much time and money on the execution phase. Many of us are so busy putting out fires that we don't take the time we should to find out the cause of the fires.

I encourage you to run your organization like Penske. Get the right people, spend your time in organization and preparation, and let the quality people you hired do the execution. Like Penske, you may not win every race, but you will be successful.

Guest columnist Butch Welsch operates Welsch Heating & Cooling in St. Louis. He can be reached by e-mail at Welsch1@primary.net.

Publication date: 07/19/2004