20 Questions with Bill Gardiner, Chairman of Gardiner Trane
Originally published: 07.01.12 by Terry Tanker
Publisher Terry Tanker met with Bill Gardiner, chairman of Gardiner Trane, this summerjust prior to celebrating the company’s 50th anniversary in business. The two discussed business longevity, company growth, world travel, and future opportunities that will drive the company for the next 50 years.
1. One of your hobbies is traveling the world. Is it true you’ve visited over 100 countries?
That’s true. After I left the Army ROTC I traveled extensively. And then, over the years I’ve tried to show my family all of those wonderful places.
2. Your office has a wonderful collection of pictures. Is this another hobby?
Yes. A friend once told me pictures belong on the wall where they can be shared with everyone. At my office and at my home we are surrounded with great memories.
3. How did you get your start in business?
My father was an electrical sales engineer, and it was easy to follow in his footsteps. In my senior year at Iowa State, Trane interviewed and offered me a job.
4. What attracted you to them?
Trane has always been 100% commission sales and that appealed to me. It’s a culture that demands team-driven sales, and we’ve been very successful with that philosophy.
5. How did you become a Trane franchise holder?
Between 1957 and 1962 there was a push from Trane to sell air-conditioning. They were looking for reps that could sell and potentially manage a business. Their business model was changing, and in ’62, I had the opportunity to buy the assets of the company here in Cleveland.
6. Do you remember what assets you bought?
A truck, a few parts, and some office furniture. At the time we had four sales people, one serviceman, and a secretary.
7. As you’ve grown, have you stuck to a particular business philosophy?
To be successful you quickly realize a good team is essential to manage the many aspects of the business. A fundamental pearl of wisdom I received was to hire the best people, clearly explain goals and expectations, and then get out of the way. It’s amazing how well that has worked. Our company has grown from six to over 200. Our president, Bob Case, and controller Rick Reder, have excelled at running the company for many years.
8. I’ve heard you have a GoldenRule. What is it?
Actually, there are a couple. First, treat your customer like you would like to be treated. And then there is the “no surprises” rule. Really, it’s just about good internal communications.
9. Looking back after 50 years, what are your favorite milestones?
Outside of our growth, the milestones are the reflection of representing Trane for all these years and creating an atmosphere where associates feel like family.
10. What has been the key to your company’s growth?
It’s a combination of things. The most important is that we’ve enjoyed developing our client relationships. The entrepreneurial atmosphere we’ve built and our great associates have been the perfect blend for us.
11. Strategically, what areas have you identified as having growth potential?
Clients need help in two areas: intelligent controls and energy consumption. Our new division, Gardiner Energy Services, helps clients measure, monitor, and validate their energy consumption, and operate at optimum efficiency.
12. What do you see ahead for our industry?
A bright future: Opportunity is literally everywhere. Customers want better indoor air quality. Government building requirements are going to significantly improve with regard to energy efficiency. Monitoring, auditing, evaluating, and controlling the operation of the building are just more examples of what is ahead.
13. Many firms have struggled with employee retention.
How have you dealt with this? I’m delighted to say that one-third of our associates have been with the company between 10 and 40 years! Generally we lose people because of retirement. Our largest period of growth has been the last five years, and we are very proud of that.
14. How do you recruit new employees?
We’ve received recognition as one of the best companies to work for in the region, which has helped tremendously. But we actively develop associates from within: We hire engineering students and technicians as summer associates, and almost every one of them comes back to us after graduation.
15. How did your engineering background help you as a business manager?
Bankers think we are good business people because we are used to solving problems, and we have a method: We identify a problem, examine possible solutions, pick the best, and then we do it.
16. How did you learn what you didn’t know?
We used advisors for things we didn’t know or understand—experts in accounting, marketing or legal matters. That quickly lead to an advisory board, and they really taught us how you should manage and grow a company.
17. What did you learn through the advisory board process?
It’s a great process for learning. Meeting with an accountant, attorney, or marketing specialist one-on-one is fine; however, regular meetings with the advisory group and management team let you share information across business disciplines.
18. What accomplishment are you most proud of here at Gardiner Trane?
That we’ve built a culture and company based on trust, respect, entrepreneurial spirit, and friendship. Collectively our management team has worked very hard to do this. We’ve won several awards as one of the top places to work, and we believe this is the reason. I also believe this is the reason we’ve seen our most significant growth period over the last five years.
19. What special project you are working on?
I’ve worked toward instituting a Trane sales engineering program at Iowa State University. Trane and fellow franchise holders have worked hard to create a minor in sales engineering.
20. How are you planning to celebrate your 50th year in business?
We kicked it off by creating a great in-house video of the past 50 years. We’ve also planned a huge open house this summer. We’re proud of what the Gardiner Trane associates have accomplished in five decades and look forward to a marvelous 2012 to 2062.