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Carlton Harwood, VP for Ferguson’s HVAC Business Group

Originally published: 03.01.18 by HVACR Business Staff

Carlton Harwood, VP for Ferguson’s HVAC Business Group

We sat down with Carlton Harwood, vice president for Ferguson’s HVAC Business Group. Harwood discussed communication challenges, educating the industry and life lessons he learned from his mother.


1. What’s your management philosophy?

My management philosophy is centered on elevating great managers to become great leaders. This means moving beyond telling people what to do and when to do it, and instead sharing the individual value and purpose each person brins to our business. I’m a strong believer in the power of servant leadership, and it’s important to selflessly support the needs of the larger team.

2. What do you view as the most important aspect of your job?

It’s seeing each associate’s individual strengths and giving them the opportunities, resources and inspiration to thrive at their full potential, not just for their personal growth benefit, but also for the benefit of our Ferguson HVAC team and our larger company.

3. How do you communicate effectively to such a large organization?

We have 130+ dedicated HVAC branches with more than 1,300 associates, and an additional 200 locations that sell some HVAC or hydronics products, accounting for another 500+ HVAC associates. Technology has been an effective tool for updating everyone each month on our progress, as well as for sharing and learning from our team’s successes. I also encourage all managers to keep open lines of communication with their associates.

4. What trends do you see moving forward?

It’s a push for environmental sustainability, which could drive increased HVAC replacement and in turn will aid industry growth. We’re also seeing consumers taking a more active role, and they’re making educated decisions on the products and services they need.

5. What challenges will contractors face in the next few years?

The shortage of skilled trade labor professionals in this industry is a common challenge. I imagine that this challenge will remain in the next few years.

6. How are you positioned to help contractors with these challenges?

The shortage of skilled trade workers isn’t an easy problem to solve, but we invest in trade educational programs and encourage experienced professionals to mentor our new generation so we can work toward closing that labor gap.

7. What do you see successful contractors doing that others are not?

The most successful contractors we do business with are the ones who have a heart for excellent customer service. They’re professional, courteous and if they encounter a challenge, they exhaust every possible solution for their customers. These contractors are also aware of the consumer’s ability to get information before procuring products and services.

8. What management practices will Ferguson help contractors improve?

The contractors we serve everyday are masters in their craft. There is so much more to maintaining a prosperous business, however, than being an expert in this industry. Being savvy in key business principles is critical, and Ferguson frequently offers courses to contractors to help improve their skills in service contract sales, basic accounting and finance fundamentals.

9. What types of training do you offer contractors?

We offer training classes for many of the products we sell, including equipment install and repair, installing service parts, thermostats, humidifiers and dehumidifiers. We also have training on business solutions.

10. Would you explain your philosophy on training?

It’s refreshing and energizing to learn new and innovative ways of doing your job, and it’s important to offer associates professional development opportunities to help them continuously advance their skills, their careers and ultimately the business.

11. Could you tell us about Ferguson’s training programs?

Ferguson has an incredibly robust training program. We have a formal HVAC Trainee program that provides an in-depth overview of products, the industry and Ferguson processes. The curriculum includes a specific set of coursework, hands-on training, warehouse and counter training, service visits and visits with manufacturers.

12. How do you promote the training in the industry?

We offer online and in-branch training for our customers on equipment and on business management principles. We consider contractors our partners in this industry, and their success is our success.

13. Are you working on any specific tools to help contractors?

We recognize this industry is evolving in today’s digital age. Tools that leverage technology, such as, helps us grow contractors’ businesses by streamlining inventory replenishment and account management with just a few clicks.

14. Where do you see the most significant growth in your business?

Based on industry trends, I expect we will see growth in commercial and residential new construction, and our eCommerce will continue to expand as well.

15. What are the challenges facing wholesaler/distributors today?

One challenge that may affect distributors is the potential increase in interest rates. Higher rates may impact construction activity as well as home affordability, resulting in lower demand for our products than normal.

16. What does the future hold for HVACR distributors in general?

The future is bright for HVACR distributors. The distribution and wholesale market is healthy, and we are expecting to operate in a stable and growing economy. There is a rapidly evolving competitive landscape, and I’m excited about the new opportunities it provides.

17. How did you get your start in HVACR?

My stepfather had an electrical contracting business that did a fair amount of building automation controls and occasionally HVACR work. On school breaks and on weekends, I worked with him, and back in those days, Ferguson sold electrical products in Virginia. My stepfather held Ferguson in high regard, telling me that they were a professional, reputable company. He introduced me to some associates in Virginia, and in 1988, I was privileged to join Ferguson’s training program.

18. What’s your proudest achievement so far?

Ferguson considers the HVACR business one of its top growth opportunities, so when I was honored with the opportunity to lead this business group and our talented associates last year, it was one my career highlights.

19. How do you measure success?

Outside of the obvious — success by achieving our financial goals — I measure success based on the personal and professional growth of associates. Investing in our talent is incredibly important to the company and me.

20. Who has been your biggest role model?

My biggest role model has always been my mom. She was the most selfless person I ever knew, and she held all of the qualities of the person I want to be, both personally and professionally. She was a lifelong educator and a lifelong learner, taking college classes up until her early 70s. A person of integrity, she always expected me to do the “right” things and give nothing short of my best. She demonstrated the importance of upholding commitments made to us and to others. True leadership is about helping and putting others first.


About HVACR Business Staff

HVACR Business Staff

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