20 Questions with Ann Kahn, President of Kahn Mechanical Contractors.
Originally published: 02.01.12 by Terry Tanker
Publisher Terry Tanker had the opportunity to interview Ann Kahn, President of Kahn Mechanical Contractors. They talked about energy-performance contracting, core values, and getting through tough times.
1. Do you have a favorite hobby?
I enjoy traveling more now than ever. International, national — it doesn’t matter.
2. Is it true that in addition to being the company leader, you’re also the head chef?
Our company runs on food! Many times we are replacing equipment on weekends, and the system has to be operational Monday morning. Working 24/7 has enough challenges, so I like to make sure hunger isn’t one of them.
3. Any big projects right now?
Externally, we have several, both public and private work. Internally, we are in the process of buying a crane for handling some big equipment for those external projects. Normally we rent cranes, but the numbers proved purchasing one is more cost effective.
4. So, your day can consist of cooking, a little finance and buying cranes?
That’s what I love about our company. First, it’s about our people and customers and then you just never know what’s behind the next door.
5. Where do you see the commercial market headed in the next three years?
I can’t tell you where it’s headed but I can tell you where I’d like it to be—going forward at full throttle, but with a healthy respect for long term stability.
6. What’s your company’s sweet spot?
Design build. However, as things began to slow down we moved into public work sector largely to take advantage of being a minority (female) owned company. As a result, over the last several years we’ve really become known as the go-to firm in Dallas for this type of work.
7. What role is performance contracting playing in the commercial market?
As energy becomes more expensive, you’ll see this segment grow significantly. Of course I can only speak to what I see happening in our market in North Texas. Right now the larger players in this space are Johnson Controls, and Schneider Electric. We’re currently working with Schneider to install equipment in projects where they have sold a performance contract.
8. Do you see Kahn Mechanical moving into this space?
Probably not as I understand the process now. However, I will say that when we are involved in design build projects I see significant similarities in many areas with energy efficiency and savings being the most noticeable. We just haven’t tied our work to an energy contract.
9. Can you discuss the core values your company is committed too?
The values actually came from my parents, and they are the values I was raised by. One of my roles is to conduct the orientation interviews with new employees, and we discuss our six core values. (Integrity, reliability, quality of service, communication, respect for the individual, and community service). We try to vet everyone to make sure they are a fit, but it’s at this stage where I can really tell who is going to fit and who may not.
10. Do you have a great customer service story you can share?
We were working on a school renovation project, and there was a huge rainstorm over one weekend. A bus rolled up early Monday morning, and our project manager and one of the welders saw that the kids were about to be unloaded in a giant mud field. They ran and laid down plywood all the way to the entry. As they began to help the students off the bus they realized everyone on board was disabled. I only knew about this because the principal wrote us a very nice thank you letter. It made me very proud.
11. What is your favorite aspect of running the business?
I’m responsible for the financial end of the company and I do like that as well as playing with our website. However, the people are my favorite part.
12. What responsibilities are you delegating that you’ve done in the past?
Josh, my son, recently took over the task of purchasing all of our insurance.
13. Are you working on any pet projects for the company right now?
One of my little niches within the company is to quote our preventative maintenance agreements.
14. Why do you enjoy doing that?
I enjoy all of the customer interaction.
15. How do you attract new business?
So much has come and comes from relationships we build. The networking we’ve done has been so valuable.
16. What’s it like to compete in a male dominated industry?
I’ve never felt like it was an issue in Dallas. I’ve never felt like a “woman in air conditioning.” And, I’ve been around the industry a long time so I think people are used to me.
17. What has been your toughest year?
Probably 1989, my husband (Fred) and I had just divorced, businesses everywhere were closing, and maybe we should have, too; but we didn’t. Our retained earnings were six figures into the negative side of the ledger. It wasn’t pretty!
18. What did you do?
Fred agreed to let me manage the business (his expertise was in engineering). We couldn’t afford advertising back then, so every day I would dress very professionally and literally knock on at least 10 doors, introduce myself, pass out literature about the company, leave a card, and get a name. Looking back, many of those cold calls turned into business and long-term customers. That coupled with strong determination and an awesome bunch of people made the difference for us.
19. Were there strategic moves you made when you began running the business?
We had a plumbing division. It was not profitable, so we exited that business.
20. Do you recall a specific job that helped you dig out of the hole you were in?
Not really. It was several years of sweat and tears and tough decisions. When a truck was falling apart, I had to say, “fix it” when I knew how desperately we needed a new one. When I knew raises were in order (or I wanted to cash my own check), I learned to take a deep breath and hold the line. When a vendor wanted to know when to expect payment, I set forth a plan and stuck to it.
All that time, we made sure the customer came first and was fully satisfied with our services. It just all came together, and all of a sudden, we saw daylight!