20 Questions with Steve Saunders. President, Tempo Mechanical, Dallas, Texas

Originally published: 11.01.12 by Terry Tanker



Publisher Terry Tanker recently spoke with Steve Saunders of Tempo Mechanical in Dallas. Tempo, an employee-owned company,  is a leader in green building practices.

1.   How do you unwind when you’re not working? 

I have three main activities. On weekends I take long bicycle rides. I spend as much time as possible with my 12- and 14-year-old daughters, and I am a voracious reader. 

2.   I heard you are taking guitar lessons. What is the first song you want to learn to play? 

My first choice is the Battle Hymn of the Republic. It’s a song that I can sing. And, even if I can’t sing on key, as Oscar Wilde once said, “I can sing with wonderful feeling!” 

3.   What is your business philosophy? 

We  summarize our philosophy in an equation: (EO + SL + PE) x (ME + B2) x (EF + E2) = P3  or; (Employee Ownership + Servant Leadership + Performance Excellence ) x (More Efficient + Bigger and Better) x (Environmentally Friendly and Energy Efficient) = Deliver things that are good for People, Profits and Planet.

4.   That is one of the more complex philosophies I’ve come across. How was it developed? 

The first part we got from TD Industries (EO + SL + PE), our former parent company. When we became an independent entity in 1998, our leadership team focused on key objectives, and we developed the second thrust (ME + B and B). Toward the middle of last decade it became clear that energy and the environment (EE and EF) were key elements of a direction. 

5.  You’re a dozen years into an ESOP. How has that worked out? 

In short, the ESOP has been a roaring success. Without the participation of the Tempo and TexEnergy Partners we would never have had the capital to purchase the company. 

6.  Have there been specific business-performance benefits? 

Without the financial resources and emotional strength of employee ownership, we would have never survived the housing recession and the banking crisis. I feel comfortable with employees as business partners and would choose that strategy again.  

7.  What other strategies did you employ? 

The single most important strategy was to pursue transparency with our suppliers and financial institutions. We opened our financials completely and answered every question truthfully. 

8.  What do you know now that you didn’t know then? 

Leadership is much more challenging than I had ever imagined. 

9.    Can you give me an example? 

Our early leadership team (especially me) expected that financial success would be both easier and faster. The economy and our own shortcomings slapped us down several times. Each time we were down, getting back up was harder. 

10.   This month the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) gave you a very special award. Can you tell us more about it? 

The award from the USGBC is for Leadership in the Residential Sector. It reflects the intensity of effort to grow our business and the other efforts our company has made to build awareness of green residential buildings. 

11.   How did you get into this market?

Twelve years ago, we added HERS Rating as a new business division and have delivered more than 40,000 Energy Star Certificates. In 2006, a client for a “green” program asked us, and that lead to an intense six-year effort building a “green consulting” firm. 

12.  How big is your company now?

We now have 40 people delivering LEED programs in 16 states and one foreign country. Our company has become the largest volume provider of LEED for Homes Certifications in the world. 

13.  Who have been some of the other recipients of the USGBC award? 

Most are not well known outside of the green community. However, last year had two very public figures. One recipient was New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The other was Tony Malkin, who exponentially increased awareness of Existing Building Operations and Maintenance Certification protocol by taking the Empire State Building through the process and achieving LEED Gold certification. 

14.  What green efforts are you/Tempo involved with? 

Some of the more notable include participating in the Building America Research Program, becoming the Founding Chair of the South Central Partnership for Energy Efficiency as a Resource (SPEER), Chair Emeritus of Texas HERO, Co-Founder of the Texas Green Home Summit with the USGBC and the HBA of Dallas, working with the Environmental Defense Fund on the concept of “On Bill Financing” participation with ACCA’s Building Performance Council. 

15.   The USGBC and the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification program has had a big impact in commercial building. How is this migrating into residential? 

LEED for Homes is a rapidly growing program in the residential sector. It has taken off in the multifamily world and is, I suspect, poised for significant growth as single family building continues to recover. We expect to be a player in this resurgence. 

16.  Are the increased costs (in percentage terms) similar for commercial and residential? 

The answer on average is yes — you can go LEED in either commercial or residential for about 1% of hard costs. The answer in any specific case depends on the baseline where you begin and the methods you choose to pursue for certification. 

17.   LEED for Homes is designed to save energy, water and money. What types of HVAC systems do you design and install for these homes? 

The smart way to start is meeting the minimum standard for Energy Star V3. Then, we can look for more energy efficiency or air quality points if the client goal is to achieve higher levels of LEED Certification. 

18.   What does your customer profile look like for this type of project? 

When acting as a contractor, our customer segments are three: affordable builders — think Habitat for Humanity; small-volume builders specializing in “high-performance” homes; and large-volume builders buying high-efficiency products and demanding contractor performance in high volumes. 

19.   Is this type of contracting more profitable or roughly the same as your normal business? 

Actually, the energy efficient and environmentally friendly contracting and consulting business is our regular bread and butter, and we no longer pursue much of what your question refers to as the “normal” contracting business. 

20.   Do you have specific marketing efforts targeted at this group, or is this more of an alliance with builders? 

For now, this is mostly a referral business. Our focus is to figure out how to help our clients achieve their objectives at the lowest total cost with the least possible pain. We have the beginning of a marketing effort centered around the fact that green building is often considered hard. Our approach is about suggesting “green building aspirin” and delivering fast-acting relief. If we do our job right, builders and developers will hire us again and again and refer us to their friends.  

 


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