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EMAIL INTERVIEW – Skip Freeman and D.C. Surface
Skip Freeman, CEO and Managing Partner of Smart Industry Careers and “The BAS Recruiter” (www.theBASrecruiter.com), interviews D.C. Surface (“DC”), Manager, Commercial Controls Group, a division of Mingledorff’s (http://www.mingledorffs.com/who-we-are/mingledorffs-companies/commercial-controls-group)
D.C. has extensive experience in both HVAC and Building Automation and Controls. D.C. shares his thoughts on the “graying” of the BAS industry, what needs to be done to attract the next generation of building automation and controls professionals, and ways he improved overall performance and employee satisfaction within the Commercial Controls Group using the DISC assessment and Cultural Alignment Solutions.
Freeman: “DC,” please give us a brief overview of your personal background.
Surface: I began my career in HVAC back in 1976 and started as an installer for both residential and commercial equipment. In 1985, I started my own mechanical company and sold it 5-years later. In 1990, I landed a job at a company called Parker Electronics in Jacksonville, FL. They designed and manufactured the original VVT zoning systems. UTC Carrier Corp owned them at that point, and that’s how I began my career with Carrier. I worked for UTC-Carrier Corp for 12-years where I held positions as Sr. Product manager for Carrier Controls, Regional Sales Manager for the Bryant brand residential equipment, and National Sales Manager for the Carrier Duct Free product. I was a road warrior during that time, and when 9/11 happened, it changed how we traveled forever. I decided to come off the road, and from 2002 to present, I’ve been working for Mingledorff’s where I’ve held the positions of Sales Manager for the Bryant brand, Commercial Sales Manager for Carrier Commercial Equipment, and I am currently the manager for their Commercial Controls Group. I have a Bachelor’ of Science degree in Business Administration from State University of New York.
Freeman: At the AHR Expo in Chicago in January, a constant theme was the “brain drain,” i.e., all of the experienced controls professionals who are going to be retiring in the next 2- to 5-years. Are you seeing this and how do you think it is going to impact the Building Automation and Controls industry overall?
Surface: I do see this. The HVAC industry as a whole is now at the average age of 55-years old. This is an industry that is graying, and unfortunately, it continues to trend upward. The millennials and the gen x’ers aren’t the same workforces. Go to places like WeWork and look around. That will give you a good indication of how things have changed. I do see this severely impacting the Building Automation and Controls industry to the point that we have to figure out a different path recruiting people. The pool of people you look at has to change, and the culture of the company has to change. We need to be way “cooler” companies to work for than we are now, or our problem is just going to keep compounding itself.
Freeman: You mentioned to me in Chicago that it took a number of months to find and hire your last controls engineer. Could you tell us a little about that and why it took so long?
Surface: The last controls tech that I hired took me over a year to find. While identifying Techs is one thing, finding one that fits in with your company and its’ culture takes a while. My immediate need was for a tech that had experience in controls and systems. Now that I have that person on board, I can relax my experience requirements and look for someone that can be trained. The one area that you can’t relax is that person fitting in with your company’s culture. If you’re a company that works 60 hours a week and that doesn’t fit your employee’s value set, then you’re going to have a problem. There must be a balance between what you’re looking for and what your employees are looking for because work becomes a lot more fun if everyone is in sync.
Freeman: I understand that the Commercial Controls Group decided to start looking for a Cultural Leadership Development solution. What was happening that prompted you to look for such a solution and what end result were you trying to achieve?
Surface: This process began when I was the commercial sales manager and incorporated the Commercial Controls Group. I was fortunate enough to work for a “cool” company in the past which was Parker Electronics. The environment there was unique, and we literally had engineers that would come in around 4:00-5:00 PM and work until 2:00-3:00 AM because that’s when they were the most creative. Everyone there pulled their weight and looked out for each other. As a result, it was one of the most productive and profitable divisions of Carrier. The performance and productivity were incredible. I wanted to replicate that experience within the Commercial Controls Group.
Freeman: Do you believe you achieved the result you were looking for and what is different about the Commercial Controls Group today than before?
Surface: I think so. We found our biggest challenge was communication which is a challenge for every organization. We all took the DISC assessment which is an assessment that millions of people have taken to learn their communication styles and improve teamwork. We learned about our strengths and weaknesses. We all learned how each person is different and why they are different. We learned how to respect that in each other, and we learned how to best communicate with that person. One example, of many, is we started using things like red and green cards on our desk. If you walked into a person’s office and their card was red, you knew that was not the right time to approach them with a question. If it was green, you knew it was a good time to talk with them. We also implemented a pay-for-performance model that fostered the teamwork. People who had not previously had a commission component to their pay now started receiving a commission based on the amount of work they did on a project and if that project was actually awarded to the company. As a result of this teamwork, everyone’s pay increased, some by as much as 20-40%.
Freeman: Who did you use and why did you choose that person or company?
Surface: I’m a huge Dave Ramsey fan and had started reading a lot about his company and what he was doing. I knew that was the direction that I wanted to go because he was using the DISC and fostering communication and teamwork. His mission and company are phenomenal. I had this in the back of my mind, and as fate would have it, I was attending the Sun-N-Fun airshow in Lakeland, Fl. I sat down for lunch under this huge pavilion, and this person sat down across from me, and we started the normal small talk. I found out that her business and passion was all about improving the culture within companies to make them more profitable and fun places to work. That was Debbie Forcier-Lynn, and her company was Cultural Alignment Solutions. She lived just south of Atlanta, and we spent the next eight months putting everything together to roll out to my team. When we rolled it out, it was met with all the usual obstacles and resistance that you can imagine. The one thing that is constant is change, but it’s the one thing that people also hate the most. Debbie is an expert at handling this and navigated us through all the roadblocks. We started making improvements one bite at a time, and the overall results were incredible.
Freeman: How did the experience impact you personally?
Surface: It was huge. The DISC assessment is an incredible tool to find your communication style. Because of this experience, our company has switched from another assessment to the DISC for all future hires. I learned things about myself that were always there but didn’t know exactly why. For example, I like to be alone to think about things, and I learned that is actually a way I recharge myself. I also learned that I was wired for serving others which is one of the reasons I find it hard to say “no” when asked to do something. I’m not an aggressive person by nature (low D on the DISC), but I learned that I could switch gears in a hurry and be very aggressive (high D on the DISC) if the situation requires me to do so. That was a unique trait. It made me aware of my trigger points, and now I can manage them more easily.
Freeman: Is there anything that has been learned in the Cultural Leadership Development process that you feel has improved both the hiring and retention of new employees?
Surface: Most definitely. It’s a tool that is now used to help evaluate a new employee and how best to interact with them. If you know all of this up front and you implement the communication styles, the outcome can’t be anything other than happier employees. If the employees are happy, the retention rate will always be high.
Freeman: While controls companies can be competitors, on the one hand, it is a close-knit community on the other. Is there any advice that you can give or provide in our discussion here that may be of benefit to the Building Automation and Controls Community overall?
Surface: I mentioned earlier that we need to start looking into another pool of people to recruit from. I think that group is IT people. I think we need to focus on the IT group and look at ourselves as a subset of the IT industry because we have such similar skill sets. It’s so similar to what IT people do that we can train someone with an IT background to do controls and learn systems. The other challenge we have is the training available for people who are interested in our industry and who want to learn what it’s all about. This is why someone like Phil Zito of buildingautomationmonthly.com is so valuable. I hope Phil continues doing what he does because he’s such a valuable resource. I would encourage everyone to check out his website. We also need to change the culture of our companies to keep up with the younger workforce. I’ve read that young workers of today will change jobs or careers every 5- to 7-years. This will have an impact on us due to the learning curve and expense of training. The young workers have a lack of loyalty to companies because they’ve witnessed firsthand what companies have done to their parents. In the 90’s to 2016, it’s been one lay-off or shut down after another. Every company needs to change their culture and adapt to the times. This is why Debbie adds such value to her company Cultural Alignment Solutions.
Freeman: ”DC,” thank you for your candor and insights. I know the Automated Buildings community will find great value in what you have shared with us.
If anyone would like to contact Debbie or Phil, shoot me an email (skip.freeman@theBASrecruiter) and I will get you in touch with them.
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