Heather Langone sat down with Bart Hawley, Owner and CEO of Hawley Heating and Cooling. They discussed how he grew the company from the ground up to its current roster of 20 employees. He shared thoughts about his management style, the importance of giving back, and big plans for expansion and acquisition over the next five years.
1. What is the most memorable concert you've ever attended?
It was the Bonnaroo music festival in Tennessee. I went to the very first year of the festival. That was the most memorable!
2. Do you golf?
No, my wife wants to start golfing, but I've never gotten into it.
3. What's the best thing about owning a business?
There is no cap on how far I can go. My business has the potential to grow as big as I want it to be – there is no cap on what we can do. It depends on how much work I want to put in.
4. What was the last family weekend trip you took?
We like to go to Topsail Island in North Carolina. Topsail Beach. It’s very laid back and relaxing. We rent a house and hang out oceanfront. It’s a great place to take the family.
5. Do you have a favorite sports team currently?
Yes. I am an Atlanta Braves fan. I'm not a good fan necessarily. But that's the team I claim.
6. How did you get into the HVACR industry?
I was eighteen and had no idea what I wanted to do. But HVAC companies were always hiring in the classifieds. I'd look at the newspaper weekly and there always seemed to be jobs. I enrolled in a technical school and the rest is history. I started as an installer and gained experience. Eventually, I decided it wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I got to the point where I thought, “I want to grow a company, so I don't have to do all the labor myself. So, I started reading books. I read The E-Myth, which kickstarted it all. It completely put me into a business and growth mindset. Listen, I still feel like I'm winging it much of the time. But we grew even in 2020 which was validating. I tell every company if you're still here, then that's a good thing.
7. What did you learn in the first year as the CEO that sustains you still today?
Yes, I learned quickly that as I moved up, I needed to train my replacements. Most of the people who work here didn't have any heating and air experience when they started. If I no longer wanted to do the installs, I needed to train another guy to do it. That's how I grew. Today, I spend maybe 10% in the field and the rest of my time is as CEO.
8. What advice would you give to a new CEO in HVACR?
Start management training now. Teach others and learn all you can. At Hawley Air, it’s constantly evolving. We try not to get stuck, thinking, “I already know the right way.” Companies don’t grow that way. I’m at a point where I have managers, I feel confident in. My goal over the next year is to move completely to a space where I am managing managers.
9. Do you have a training system in place?
Yes, but it's, it's a work in progress. So, we have a manager's daily, weekly and monthly checklist. That's kind of our guideline for training. It outlines tasks that each position needs to be doing daily, weekly, and monthly. I have several managers overseeing it all.
10. Is there a difference in the industry before 2020 and now?
I’d say, no. We’re in full 100% growth mode. We didn't see any decline and have been growing about 60% annually over the past two years. Growth can be tricky, but we’ve been growing steadily. Growing too fast can be detrimental. This is a topic that is always top of mind for me.
11. How have you been affected by the supply shortages?
Except for a few hiccups, waiting a bit longer than we should for equipment, it hasn’t been a hurdle.
12. Where do you see your company in the next three years?
We hope to be in the $15 million a year range in three years. That's our goal. It’s doable. If we keep our 60% growth rate, we should meet that.
13. Who was your mentor?
I didn't have one, but over the past three years now, I've been a part of a group called BDR, which stands for Bill Business Development Resources. This past month, I joined Nexstar, which is another heating and air plumbing, and electrical coaching group.
14. Do you think mentorship is important?
I do. I try to pass along the knowledge that I’ve learned. I was a high school dropout. If I can do it, anyone can. I want to be a good mentor. I'm trying. I'm trying.
15. Would you say you are a demanding boss?
No, I don’t think so. I do try to push people to be here, to do their best. But I think everybody that works here would say, I'm, I'm not demanding. But I would say, while I have a bit more of a laid-back management style, I try to take the initiative to start having one on one conversations with people. I feel like that's been successful.
16. How important is being a part of the community to the success of your business?
We have made such an effort to be a part of the community. We run events at Christmas. And we have a crisis ministry. It’s for kids who have been taken from their parents and are in foster care. As we grow we try to look for ways to give back. It’s not only important for the community but it lifts spirits internally as well.
17. How do you overcome the recruiting challenge that so many owners face?
It's still a challenge. It's been tough. Up until recently, it was hard to attract top talent while competing with larger companies. But what has worked as I’ve said, is not relying on experience or training. I’d rather bring in good people and train them, from the bottom up. And that’s what I have done. We have hired people with zero experience and trained them the way we want it done. It has served us well.
18. What are your plans for continued expansion?
We're shooting for the stars.
19. Are you planning to stay local or would you like to grow nationally?
Right now, my mindset is local. But in the next couple of years, I would like to acquire some other companies in surrounding cities.
20. Do you have your eyes on companies now, or should I check back in six months?
I have some companies…some ideas in the back of my mind. We’re still honing our processes, but I feel like we're getting very close to the point where I will be ready to open up another branch or acquire another smaller company. That’s the dream…or part of the dream anyway.
Heather Langone is the Managing Editor at HVACR Business Magazine and a regular features and column contributor.