Publisher, Terry Tanker, interviewed Bob Elledge, President and CEO of Rotobrush International LLC., a manufacturer of air duct cleaning equipment in Grapevine Texas. The two discussed managing with an open mind, concentrating on continuous improvement, and the importance of investing back into the business.
1. What toys are in the garage?
A 1999 Corvette! I found it two years ago in Pittsburgh. I bought it from the original owner. It has a tape deck in it! I liked it. So, I bought it.
2. Do you have a secret ambition?
When I retire, I was thinking I may like to be a mayor of a small town. I’m not very political, but I have common sense. So, I think I’d make a good mayor.
3. What would people be surprised to know about you?
We own six dogs, and they are a big part of the family. They are little, but I’m sure dog owners know what I mean.
4. Who was your business mentor?
I’ve had many. I’ve learned so many different things from each one. First, I learned about manufacturing and process improvement. Then I worked for a CEO who was exceptionally good at marketing, and another who was good at sales. I’ve learned from everyone I’ve worked for. Well, I’ve worked for many people, so I’d say maybe a little bit from all of them. There are pieces that I take from each one.
5. What’s your background?
I’m from the automotive industry. I was on the manufacturing side of automotive. The company was, Flex N Gate. We supplied parts to General Motors. When you’re building 1000 trucks per day, you learn a lot of lean manufacturing principles as well as quality control.
6. What business principles guide you while running the company?
First, quality product − Without those you can’t take the next step. Also, market reputation is important. It must be great. I believe in the old saying, ‘The customer is always right.’ And finally, be consistent with everything you do, which includes the way you treat your people.
7. What aspects of running the business do you enjoy the most?
I like them all. Manufacturing, sales, marketing, customer service, finance. However, recently, my focus has been on marketing and accounting. It’s probably 75% of my job today.
8. What aspects do you least enjoy?
That’s not a fair question! (He laughs.) Okay, failure. I don’t like that. But I enjoy all aspects of running the business. It’s all part of the job.
9. What do you do to keep your business acumen sharp?
I concentrate on keeping an open mind. I think it’s especially important today. Business is evolving and changing so fast. I believe in taking a few more hours to decide or 24 hours or get more information before making a final decision. Often there are ripple effects that you must consider.
10. What advice do you have for our audience?
There are cycles. Often, business leaders stop trying to improve when times are good. Every day as a leader you should focus on how to improve parts of your organization.
11. Is this the center of your business philosophy?
Yes, my mindset is to continuously improve every day. There needs to be a goal that you’re moving towards. Don’t get sidetracked. That’s easy to do.
12. What’s the best business advice you’ve received?
Always strive for continuous improvement. There are going to be good and bad days, and you must understand that. After a difficult day, you can’t get down on yourself. The next day you must come back. You need to fix the problem. That’s the best advice I’ve ever had.
13. What have you set as core organization values?
The core values are honesty, humility, and transparency. They all tie in together. I believe it’s how you build trust.
14. How do you effectively communicate with your management team?
I want them to understand the why of my decision-making process. If you help your team understand the why, there is buy-in and participation.
15. What fundamental business areas are you focusing on right now?
Marketing, accounting, and R&D. I think these are three key areas all business leaders should currently focus on.
16. What key advantages does Rotobrush offer versus other competitors?
We offer both brush and vac, and the negative air method of duct cleaning. Most competitors only offer one of these.
17. Why is duct cleaning such an important add-on service for contractors?
It can help so many customers and improve their bottom line significantly. They’re in the IAQ business whether they like it or not, and the pandemic has brought this to the forefront. Air duct cleaning also gives them the opportunity to offer filtration upgrades, UV lights, and more.
18. What should contractors be focusing on right now?
Evolve with the times. Keep an open mind and start adjusting your business to be more electronic. Make sure you’re taking care of your employees. Do that by rewarding them and establishing a culture that makes them want to stay. And invest your time and money back into the business.
19. How did you get involved with Rotobrush?
Originally being in the automotive industry, I have multiple years of experience working in manufacturing and warehouse. The VP of Manufacturing with Rotobrush became available, I applied, and they hired me in 2007. Over the years, I worked my way up, and in 2014, was promoted to President.
20. How does Rotobrush go to market?
Mainly, we sell directly to contractors. Although, we do have distribution.
Terry Tanker is the owner of JFT Properties LLC and publisher of HVACR Business magazine. He has more than 25 years of experience in the advertising and publishing industries. He began his career with a business-to-business advertising agency. Prior to forming JFT Properties LLC in January 2006 he spent 20 years with a 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 NATE and ABMA.