Return to the home page

Masters of the Briefcase

Originally published: 07.01.06 by Jim McDermott

Paul Stahlnecht’s comment in our second article, “The Future of the Industry,” captured the essence of the challenges facing HVACR contractors.

He pointed out that contractors will not be able to rely on their technical expertise to be successful and to rise above their competitors; that the road to excellence requires a growing list of management skills. “Contractors,” he said, “will have to move far beyond the toolbox to become Masters of the Briefcase.”

And that is perhaps the biggest challenge of all. Technical and engneering expertise has been driving much of the past success of the HVACR contractor. Design, engineering and service have been the hallmarks of success — design it, build it, keep it running, take care of it and be really good at it.

But now it’s not enough. In order to provide growth and stability for your company, you will need to find ways to increase your knowledge about organizational structure, customer focus, leadership and other management disciplines required to maintain growth and success in the marketplace.

Here’s a way to get started without being bogged down with what often seems like several years worth of books and materials for an MBA course at the nearest university.

There’s a brochure available, developed by some of the country’s best business leaders and consultants, which gives you an outline for structuring a winning and successful organization. It is an excellent model to use as the basis for organizing your company for success. And it’s free.

Criteria for Performance Excellence is a 76-page booklet published and distributed free of charge by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Baldrige National Quality Program. It’s designed for use by all businesses — large and small, manufacturing or service, one-office firms or multiple sites around the world. It helps all organizations set up and implement the criteria for performance excellence. Along with the booklet, you can also get two free self-assessment tools, “Are We Making Progress?” and the companion document, “Are We Making Progress as Leaders?” They provide tools to help you see if your perceptions agree with those of your employees. They will also help you focus your improvement and communication efforts on areas needing the most attention.

The Baldrige model for business success is built around the following set of interrelated Core Values and Concepts

• Visionary leadership
• Customer-driven excellence
• Organizational and personal learning 
• Valuing employees and partners
• Agility
• Focusing on the future
• Managing for innovation
• Management by fact 
• Social responsibility
• Focus on results and creating value
• Systems perspective

These values and concepts are embedded beliefs and behaviors found in high-performing organizations. These are the characteristics of all winning organizations.

There is much to be learned from the customer-driven excellence concept outlined in the criteria. Organizational focus on the customer leads to customer acquisition, satisfaction, preference, referral, retention and loyalty, and to business expansion. It helps understand today’s customer desires and anticipates future customer desires and marketplace potential. They’re just the kind of tools you need to become a “master of the briefcase.”

To order your free copies of the Criteria booklets, either order or download copies from the Baldrige National Quality Program Website:

Use these Criteria as a model to implement the winning techniques and skills that our authoritative editorial contributors deliver each month to these pages.

Our goal is to help you make a meaningful difference. The road to excellence and the development of a winning organization is not an easy one. It starts with building a solid foundation. Be sure to order the model for your future success today.


About Jim McDermott

Jim McDermott

Thirty-eight years of publishing experience helped to solidify Jim’s expertise, not only in the field of publishing, but in the heating and air conditioning industry as well. He is highly adept in business management, training and development, and is a strong ally to the HVAC industry. He also is HVACR Business' editorial advisor. Jim can be contacted at

Articles by Jim McDermott

The SWOT Analysis

Strategic planning starts with a fairly simple examination of your organization’s strengths and weaknesses. The basic tool used for this initial step of strategic planning is the SWOT Analysis. It’s a powerful technique that helps analyze your ability to achieve your goals and execute an effective action plan.
View article.

Building A High-Performance Company

The Gartner Group's five keys to building a high-performance organization include setting ambitious goals and achieving them, displaying a strong sense of purpose, having a strategic focus, adapting to change, having a common and shared business model.
View article.

Masters of the Briefcase

Contractors will not be able to rely on their technical expertise to be successful and to rise above their competitors. The road to excellence requires a growing list of management skills.
View article.

Winning Management Techniques

The key to industry success, at all levels, is a strong, viable core of hvacr contractors who embrace a winning attitude and develop the skills and agility to move the market forward.
View article.