Joe Huck, president and CEO, Williams Comfort Air in Indianapolis
Originally published: 02.01.10 by Terry Tanker
Joe Huck, president and CEO of Williams Comfort Air in Indianapolis, recently spoke to publisher Terry Tanker about working with his sons, how his company uses T.V. and radio commercials, and how the HVACR industry is reacting to tightened credit for consumers.
1. What's on your T.V.?
Right now, automobile racing — IRL and NASCAR. I love pro football the most.
2. What superstitions do you have?
Absolutely none. I truly believe that we are in total control of or destiny — with some good luck!
3. What are you reading?
"Raving Fans" by Ken Blanchard
4. Do you have a bucket list?
Yes, and it's full. Most of my list is traveling to see the world.
5. After enrolling in Purdue University's school of architecture, you became involved in the HVACR industry. How?
I didn't graduate. I dropped out to go to work to make some money. My cousin got me a job at an Indiana heating company making $2.50 an hour in 1974.
6. What was your next step?
I enrolled and attended the Purdue University (IUPUI) mechanical engineering program. I worked for only one employer for 11 years, doing anything the owners didn't want to do. In 1985 I started my first business from scratch with a partner. We made about every mistake you could make over the next five years. In 1989, that 51% partner decided that he wanted to go it alone; so he did, and I started a new company in 1990 as sole owner.
7. There was a lot of consolidation earlier in the decade. Were you part of that?
Yes. In 2001, I sold my business to Blue Dot [which was buying up a lot of contracting businesses at the time] and continued to work for another Indiana company they acquired called Dial One. At Dial One, I really learned how to run a profitable retail business from my mentor Tom Wells. Tom and his partner bought our companies back from Blue Dot in 2003 and again sold their $30-plus million company to One Hour in 2006.
8. What were your plans after the sale to One Hour?
I assembled my two sons, the very best salesman (Josh) and the very best operational manager (Jacob) in the industry and purchased Williams Comfort Air in May of 2007; and then in May of 2008, we purchased Metzler Plumbing Company
9. At Williams, you stress being very "customer focused." How did that develop?
By necessity. We realize that our clients will go elsewhere to satisfy their HVACR and plumbing needs if we aren't customer focused. Every function of our business is designed from the customer's perspective. When it's good for the customer, it's good for our company.
10. Do you have a "favorite part" of the business day?
Watching all of our team members build our new business in the toughest economic time – ever.
11. Describe your toughest customer?
The toughest customer is the person that was put on earth to take advantage of others by being very unreasonable and exploitive. Over the years, I have learned to spot these types early and really try to avoid them at all costs. When we do get trapped, we simply make the best of the situation and move on, thanking God that most people are good.
12. Often family businesses pose unique challenges, but you were excited about having your sons join you. How do you address challenges?
We all are committed to be positive in how we deal with each other. When you have sons as partners, it is the father's responsibility to maintain the business atmosphere as equals and eliminate the father-son stuff. We address each other by name. My sons have worked for other companies and are both college graduates and are far more educated than I am. My motive is to pass on my legacy.
13. What is your largest management challenge?
Controlling our overhead and maximizing margins to be profitable every month of the year.
14. How have you used technology to improve the company?
We now receive most of our vendor invoices electronically with price checking, direct application to payables, automatic payments, job costing, and customer files. We have also just begun to integrate our in-truck GPS systems to time stamp our hourly field employees to ensure that reported time cards match the GPS reports.
15. What is your management philosophy?
Empower every team member to make decisions on behalf of the company as long as those decisions are in the best interests of our clients and the company. The team member standing in front of a client is the best person to decide what needs to be done to satisfy the situation.
16. What aspects of managing the company are you trying to improve upon this year?
To measure our performance against our budget sooner in the month.
17. Tell me a bit about the T.V. commercial you have on the site? Where does it run, how often, how did you decide to produce it versus radio or print?
We have a few T.V. commercials going right now. It runs mostly prime time on the major networks, but we do run them on the local cable stations. We make two new T.V. commercials every year to stay fresh. We also promote both our plumbing and HVACR companies on the two major radio stations here in Indianapolis, and we have several pre-made commercials to choose from.
18. Have you always used flat-rate pricing?
Yes for about 20 years now. In the beginning, we used Callahan & Roach. Now we call it "up-front pricing," and we use NSPG.
19. What is the most innovative thing you are doing this year?
Developing standard processes to more productively install closed-loop geothermal systems.
20. Have you had to do anything creative to hurdle the credit crunch and slow down in business this year?
2009 is proving to be one of the most challenging years since I have been in the business. The credit crisis has lost our industry a bunch of business due to our inability to provide financing to our clients. We have become more of a financing consultant to get more deals done. Having several financing options is absolutely vital in a good or a bad economy.