20 Questions with Mike Reilly, President and Owner, EWC Controls
Originally published: 02.01.14 by Terry Tanker
HVACR Business Publisher Terry Tanker met with Mike Reilly, President and Owner of EWC Controls, to discuss manufacturing, family businesses, and how his company can help provide contractors solutions to customer problems.
1. Reilly – are you from a large family?
(Laughs) Yes, I am the second youngest of nine children. All of my relatives live within 45 minutes of each other. All together there are 27 of us. Holidays are interesting. We’re a close family and get together every month for Sunday dinner.
2. What advice did your parents give you that stuck?
My Dad once asked how much I wanted to earn for a living. I was in high school and my job paid $5.50/hr. He asked, “ How much do you want to make when your older”? I told him I want to make $25/hr when I graduated college. He asked if I thought that was enough and left it at that. I think that always stuck with me because he didn’t press the issue.
3. What college did you attend and what did you study?
I went to Villanova University, and studied economics. I remember being fascinated with the election of Ronald Reagan. After he was elected interest rates dropped and the economy improved significantly and I was intrigued by how that happened.
4. What did you do after graduation?
I went to work for the Goody Company, selling hair care products for several years and then went to work for the Sherwin Williams paint company. I became a regional manager serving the Metro New York area. In my late twenties I went to work for EWC Controls and have been here ever since.
5. How did you get into the hvacr industry?
I was settling into a career in the paint industry, and my father-in-law (Chris Hiotis) approached me about coming to work for him at EWC Controls. He talked me into giving it a try. I started out in the purchasing department.
6. Did you have reservations about entering a family business?
Yes, it was a really tough decision. I knew it could affect my relationship with him as well as my wife. There were lots of questions. How would we get along in business? What if our relationship went sour? How would that impact my marriage?
7. Was it apparent he wanted a successor or was it simply a trial to see if you liked the business?
It was a trial for both of us. I wanted to test the environment. Chris, although he never said it, had to gauge whether or not I could take over and be a leader, manager, and eventually owner.
8. This may be the last opportunity to share a “Chris” story. Do you have one?
Honestly, we got along great. But, when I first started we carpooled to work. One day I forgot to tell him that I had a late meeting planned and wasn’t sure when it would wrap up. He had plans that evening to meet some buddies. My meeting ran really late, he missed his friends — that made for a very quiet ride home.
9. How did you like being in purchasing?
I learned a lot starting in that role. Getting to know the vendors, the raw material they supplied, lead times, inventory, cashflow and product cycles to name a few.
10. What else did you learn in that role?
EWC’s roots started in the manufacturing of power transformers for military and commercial use. Some of our products are in smart guided missile systems, helicopters, airplane cockpits, the Space Shuttle and many other applications. Those beginnings lead to a very stringent quality control program that we continue to use today.
11. Can you outline your progression through the company?
After working in purchasing one of the inside sales/customer support jobs opened up and I moved into that role for two years and then I moved up to the National Sales Manager position. During that time I was also trained by the engineering department technical support to help service contractors calling in from the field. Five years later I moved to VP of Marketing and Sales and then to President.
12. When did you two begin to outline a succession plan?
About ten years after I joined the company we began the formal proceedings of a buy-out.
13. What, if any, were the hurdles?
There were very few transitioning the company from one owner to the next. The hurdles came from government regulations and taxes. Transferring ownership in a company is a taxable event but we sought professional help and things worked out.
14. What changes have you implemented since you’ve taken over?
The company was very well run before I took over so my responsibility is to continue that success. I’ve tried to make EWC Controls more visible within the industry by having a greater presence at association and industry meetings.
15. What associations are you active in now?
AHRI, I’ve served on the Board as a Product Section Chairman in the Zone Control Technology section. And, I presented at the ASHRAE Annual Meeting on behalf of the ClimateTalk Alliance. And, for fun, I sit on the board of our local little league and serve as their player agent to the league.
16. Really, Little Leaguer’s need a player agent now?
Within Little League a Player Agent’s role is to make sure each player is in the proper age division, they meet the league requirements for residency, the draft process is fair for all players, and during the season the parents and players can go to someone if there are any issues.
17. What’s the fastest growing part of your company?
We’ve always focused on growing our core business through new product introductions and improvements to existing products. This has supplied us with steady growth over the years. I think we’ve done a good job teaching our employees that getting the order is good, but getting the customer to re-order is better.
18. What do you want contractors to know about EWC Controls that they may not know?
We may not be a household name, but we’ve built one of the best reputations for high quality zoning and controls products with unparalleled customer support. We’ve just entered our 53rd year in business and as a third generation owner I would welcome them to visit our website or give us a call to see how we can help them.
19. Is there a niche market you are targeting this year?
Yes, we’re making a big push into the “communicating equipment” market. We’re also targeting the volume control damper market. We introduced a line of dampers in January and are moving forward aggressively into that market.
20. Why these markets?
We see growth potential for years to come. ?We also have great products for both markets.
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Common sense – it’s simply knowing the difference between right and wrong. It entails a personal and subjective process of analyzing a situation and finding a solution that works. For most people I think it’s their first instinct, the rational thing they would do without giving the situation a thought. Again, I said for most people.