Joe Versus the Manufacturer: Stealing Employees, Round Two

Editor's Note: All of the letters below are in response to Mark Skaer's editorial "A Question of Ethics," Aug. 14.


Mark Skaer's recent column regarding Joe, the poor contractor who keeps having his employees recruited and stolen from him by his primary equipment manufacturer, really struck a chord with me. Unfortunately, it says a lot about both the manufacturer and the contractor.

From the manufacturer's standpoint, there is certainly nothing illegal about stealing six employees from one of its loyal customers over the last eight years. However, at a minimum, I would deem it to be unethical.

The bigger problem in my eyes is with Joe. Had he set boundaries years ago, these two employees would still be with him. Why would he continue to buy and support this manufacturer? If he would have switched brands long ago, this manufacturer would no longer have contact with his people.

This situation raises a number of issues I see with contractors when doing training and consulting around the country. And it is primarily about self-image.

Despite all the talk and recent studies about the diminishing importance of brand in the HVAC industry, many contractors have such a poor impression of who they are that they feel they are nothing without a brand to stand behind. It is your business! You don't work for your manufacturer! When they steal your employees, you are the one who has to invest the time and money to recruit, hire, train, coach and motivate their replacement.

If Joe is taking care of his people, then taking a job with a manufacturer would be a step down rather than a step up. Even though life might seem mundane working for a contractor from time to time, it can't possibly be as mundane as working for a manufacturer, can it? And if we are running our businesses properly and profitably, working for a manufacturer should not be as lucrative as working for us either.

Is this a question of ethics? You're damn right it is. But more so, it's a statement about who we are and how we view ourselves as contractors.

Joe, if you're out there, what this manufacturer is doing to you is horrible. Unfortunately, the fact that you are letting it happen is far worse.

John O'Connor
O'Connor's One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning
Hastings, Minn.


Mark Skaer asked several important questions in his article on ethics in the Aug. 14, 2006 issue. I work as a field service rep for an HVAC wholesaler. Our company president has repeated over and over again that we will not solicit employees from our customer base even though they likely provide the experience that we need. On the other hand, if the customer employee requests an interview, we will seriously consider it. The opinion is that if the employee is looking for opportunities outside his present company, he/she is either unhappy with their present situation or looking for career advancement that is not available in their present environment.

Contractor Joe needs to realize that a good employee is not going to be happy doing the same job forever. He has the responsibility to provide them with advancement opportunities. If those opportunities are never going to be available in his company, he should be proud of the fact that he groomed an outstanding individual who was sought after by industry professionals. Contractor Joe should maintain communication with those individuals because they can still be an asset to his own business in the form of advisors, field service reps, etc., usually at zero cost to him.

I worked for two Contractor Joes who helped me advance to my present position. I could not have done it without them.

Jerry Benjamin
Gensco Inc.
Tacoma, Wash.


I have owned two successful HVAC companies, managed at four others, and consulted for even more. After 35 years in the business, I have learned that good ethics are difficult to find in employees and wholesalers.

If I had a wholesaler that kept stealing my most valuable asset (my employees) it would not take the loss of six employees to find another brand to sell. HVAC manufacturers are a dime a dozen, and they are constantly beating on the door to get us to sell their products. What is hard to find is a good wholesaler that has my best interest in mind.

Obviously this contractor is dealing with a manufacturer that does not have his best interest in mind. A great contractor sells his company and not the brand he is offering. The time to leave this manufacturer in the dust has long since arrived.

Jay Guliano
On Time Mall Inc.

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Publication date: 09/11/2006