20 Questions

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20 Questions

20 Questions with Ray Isaac

Originally published
Originally published: 4/1/2013

HVACR Business Publisher Terry Tanker recently met with Ray Isaac, president and one of the fourth-generation owners of Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning in his Rochester, N.Y., office. The two discussed company values and vision, internal communications, the customer experience, and growing up in a family business. 

1.  What’s your favorite aspect of running the business?

I love coming in every day.  I enjoy the interactions and helping set the vision and the direction of the company. I like solving problems and challenging our people.  

2.  How are you challenging your staff? 

Our mission is “lead at all levels.” I’m working on making better leaders on all levels of the organization. We want to be the leader both internally and externally at whatever we do.

Self-leadership is understanding yourself and feeling good about who you are. If you’re not in that place, it’s very difficult to give praise when you should, and take blame when you should.  You’re just not going to be effective with other people if you don’t feel good about yourself.

3.  Do you have an example you can share?

I have four from just this morning! One of our guys went down to a trade show and came back with three great ideas that he wants to implement.  Someone had a great idea to improve the warehouse. And two department heads are implementing new ideas this week.

4.  It sounds as if it’s working. Does it make managing easier?

It makes my job much easier. Honestly, there were times I had serious doubts about what I was doing and wanted to do.  I realized I was concentrating on aspects of the business that did not fit me and that others could do better. I realized and it’s O.K. to say, “I can’t do that.”

5.  What’s the problematic part of it?  

Our strength is also our weakness. You can’t ever get this perfect, so you are constantly trying to improve self-leadership, myself included. I do something every day and in retrospect see that I could have done better.

6.  What is the root cause for most of the problems that hit your desk?

Ninety-nine percent of the time it’s lack of communication. Either something wasn’t communicated correctly, we made an assumption, or we didn’t communicate at all.

7.  What’s the solution?

We have to err on the side of over communicating and run the risk of someone saying “not again.”  Some may hear the message five times, but our field people may only hear it once or not at all.

8.  Do you offer training and education? 

Yes, and it’s extensive. We educate and train and both have different approaches. Most training only teaches someone “what” to do, and “how” to do it. Our in-house Isaac University (IU) program is a four-year, accredited education program that takes raw talent, and provides employees with the many tools they need for a life-long and satisfying career. Additionally, our IU program “educates,” and this is where we educate them on “why.”   

9.  At Isaac what are the six Es?

Educate, Engage, Empower, Enable and the employee is responsible for the last two – Execute and Enjoy!

10.  What’s your vision statement?

Delivering a World-Class Experience.

11.  How do you do that?

We identified core values, which are safety, uncompromising integrity, accountability, excellence, outstanding service, and balance. These values are things we hold on to even if they become a competitive disadvantage. Saftey for example — we don’t do chimney liners; they are too dangerous, and it’s a competitive disadvantage. 

12.  How do you get everyone to buy into core values?

First, we have something we call “Rank Ordered Priorities,” which are safety, employee, client, company. We put the employee first, before the client and the company. If you don’t have a happy and loyal employee – “a raving fan employee,” you will rarely have a happy and loyal client, much less a raving fan client.

13.  So, you’re not buying into “the customer comes first”?

 I don’t know who’s fooling who when I hear the customer comes first. A company sends out an employee that’s miserable — then what?  If the employee isn’t happy, the client is never going to be happy. 

14.  Can you explain your company’s core values as they relate to the vision statement?

Our core values make sure we are “walking the walk” of our vision with our employees. They keep us grounded and focused — on the right things!

15.  At Isaac you’re trying to create an enjoyable experience, right?

Absolutely! That enjoyable experience met with anticipation from our employees, clients, and community.  It has to serve all three.  We want our employees to look forward to coming to work. If you’re having fun, you’ll never work a day in your life if you really love what you do; and I want my clients to say “I’ve got the Isaac guys coming.”

16.  You’ve got to have a good customer service story to share — right?

Saturday morning a lady called. Her hot water tank had just burst and flooded the basement. To make matters worse, she was hosting her daughter’s wedding shower at 2 p.m.  After cleaning up the mess and replacing the unit, our guys were pulling out of the drive just as the first guest was arriving. Now, she’s one of our biggest fans.

17. What is the best business advice you ever received?

It was from my dad, and he said “Son, don’t take yourself too seriously.”

18.  You have over 155 service vehicles on the road. Do you lease or buy?

We buy them all (about 20 each year), and we pay cash for them.  We have zero debt as an organization.  

19.  Are your employees impressed by that fact?

I never used to think they would care about that until one of our service tech’s set me straight.  She said, “Let me tell you about the place I came from a few years ago. We raced to the bank on Friday to cash our checks. We had to have cash in hand when we went to the supply house.  New vehicles — forget it.”  She also said they didn’t have the proper tools, uniforms, benefits, and more. I learned quickly the financial stability of our company was a significant fact to share with our team. 

20.  Any other quotes from your father?

We’re a fourth-generation company with a number of family members on staff. So here are a few. “Your last name is a responsibility, not a privilege. You get paid for what you do, not for who you are. You do a great job, at a fair price and your reward is a reasonable profit.”

Terry has over 23 years of experience in the advertising and publishing industries. He began his career with a business-to-business advertising agency. Prior to forming Hutchinson Tanker Ltd. and HVACR Business in January 2006, he spent 20 years with large national publishing and media firm where he was the publisher of several titles in the mechanical systems marketplace. 

In addition to his experience in advertising and publishing, Terry has worked closely with numerous industry-related associations over the years including AHRI, AMCA, and ABMA. He has also served on the Board of Directors for the American Boiler Manufactures Association (ABMA) and as chairman, for both the Associates Committee and the Marketing Communications Committee of ABMA.


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