May 2014

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The Business of HVAC Controls

A good place to be after all

Steven R Calabrese

Steven R. Calabrese
Control Engineering Corp.

Contributing Editor

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Lately I’ve been thinking about my career. Reflecting back on what’s transpired, what could have been, etc. Maybe it’s part of that whole mid-life crisis thing, but I’ve been in some deep thought about where I’ve been and how I got here. Not that I’m thinking about changing careers or anything, but wondering where I’d be now if I’d chosen a different career path.

For the sake of getting to the point of this column, please allow me to rehash my career, from the time I graduated from college with an electrical engineering degree, to now, twenty-five years later (really??). Subsequent to getting my degree, I took a part-time job with a mechanical contractor, after interviewing with several electronics and electrical appliance manufacturers. I didn’t know what I was getting into at the time, or that it would turn out to be a career-long commitment! But I got on the drafting board and started learning the business, drawing piping and sheet metal shop drawings. Early on I put my degree to use, designing simple control systems using electromechanical controls and ladder logic. Eventually I got involved with electronic controls and DDC, all the while working for a mechanical construction company.

I worked my way through various roles and positions, from mechanical design engineer, to control systems design engineer, to manager of a temperature controls group that was formed to offer DDC systems along with the mechanical systems that we designed and installed. As manager of this small group, I began to put together pricing guides and estimating tools, and soon was estimating and selling, “internally”, building automation systems. Internally meaning “in house”, really just putting together scopes and estimated costs, working with the mechanical systems sales engineers, to package control systems with the mechanical systems.

After almost fifteen years working for a mechanical contractor, it was time to cross over to the controls contracting side of the industry. I went to work for a contractor that installed building automation systems, had union electricians on staff, and was able to perform complete installations, with all of the necessary resources under the same roof. I assumed the role of project manager, and boy did I learn a lot in a very short time! Culture shock, you might call it, but I was thrown in to a very large high-rise office building project in the heart of downtown Chicago. Needless to say I was “schooled” in the business of control systems contracting.

Fast forward several years, and I got the opportunity to work for another controls contractor as a sales engineer. I was hesitant at first, however they made it easy for me by taking me on as a project manager, slowly working my way into a sales role. I called upon my past experiences and the skills that I developed working for a mechanical contractor and estimating control systems. It’s been a number of years since I’ve made that move, and even given the current state of the economy, I’m happy with the outcome. I very likely migrated into sales at the very worst time, but that may have been a good thing after all.

When I took on a sales position, I quickly came to understand that, when all is said and done, we’re all in sales really. I’ve heard this before, and have always discounted it. “I have my job, you have yours”, was my typical attitude, as I always felt that I was busy enough with my own work to also be cognizant of anything else, let alone sales! Now I realize that, without sales, there is no work for everyone else. I’ve come to realize how important it is for everyone involved in the business to be sales-oriented, from the project management professionals right through to the tradesmen and programmers. I rely heavily upon these individuals to help me in my position, and there is a culture within my company of teamwork, how we’re all in this together, and how we all need to help each other out for the common good.

So back to the premise of this column…back to my middle-aged ponderings. I guess that, as I set out to write this column, I had a point to make, if even just to myself. That point being that, in the end, this is really a good business to be in. One that I may have not chosen initially if I hadn’t been given the opportunity, but one that I’m thankful it came my way, rather than ending up working for a large electronics corporation, punching a clock day in and day out. The HVAC industry is everywhere, from the big city right down to the small town. It’s multi-vocational, comprised of tradesmen and professionals alike, and there are many opportunities for lifelong careers. And there are many things that you can fall back on. Most importantly, at the end of the day, there is a feeling of satisfaction that we’ve done something good, a feeling that doesn’t necessarily come from a job, but from a career. I know many people that work nine to five (or thereabouts), come home from work on any given day or for the weekend, and completely shut out their workday or workweek. Or go on vacation without a care in the world, to come back to the same old workplace and pick it up right where they left it. With no issues or developments while they were away. With all of the many things going on with those of us in this industry involved in multiple projects at once, we can’t really end the day and completely shut it out, or go on vacation and expect to not have to plug in periodically. But when all is said and done, there comes a true sense of accomplishment that satisfies our inner soul, and keeps us moving forward. Maybe this crazy business of ours ain’t so bad after all!

Tip of the Month: No tip this month, just some words of wisdom…whatever profession you choose, learn as much as you can about all facets of the business. Happiness isn’t guaranteed in any career. If you’re unhappy with your chosen career path, find something within your industry that makes you happy. Not many of us can really say that they are completely happy with their line of work, or maybe more accurately, that they would rather be working than not. But the satisfaction of doing our jobs well can go a long way in making our lives more enriched.


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