10 Minutes With: Ray Isaac

Ray Isaac is president of Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning, Inc., a $15 million HVAC contracting firm in Rochester, NY. The company was named Contracting Business' Residential Contractor of the Year in 2002. Ray is also a member of CB's Editorial Advisory Board.

Contracting Business: What's the biggest challenge the HVAC industry faces?

Ray Isaac:Overcoming our own poor self-image. We, as an industry, continue to be our own worst enemies in this area. We need to build our image as professionals if we want customers to respect us as professionals.

I saw a cartoon recently in a local contractor association’s newsletter. It showed a kid at a blackboard adding 2+2 =5, and the teacher saying, “You’re going to make a great contractor some day.” When I called them, the association people told me, “Oh, we’re just poking a little fun at ourselves.” But we shouldn’t be doing that. It’s not self-reinforcing, and you take your self-image out into the marketplace with you.

People can never be any more than the thoughts that dominate their minds. If those are the images we present of ourselves, it’s no wonder so many of us have a poor self-image and find it hard to raise the professionalism of our industry.

How can we expect to earn our customers’ respect, so that we can educate them about value we deliver, if we don’t respect ourselves first?

CB: What’s the solution?

RI: There seem to be two groups of contractors out there. There are good ones who work hard to be professional, who get involved with associations such as ACCA, and who attend industry events such as HVAC Comfortech. They’re proud of their businesses and proud of their profession. I don’t mind at all having those types of people as competitors in my market.

The second group are those who are disconnected.They’re opportunists, they’re takers, they’re selfish. They act as if they’re embarrassed to be contractors.

We need to keep reaching out to these individuals and educate them and get them involved with the associations, events, and periodicals that are striving to raise the level of our industry.

We also have to make sure all of our marketing and advertising portrays a positive, professional image, not only of each individual company, but of the industry as a whole.

CB: What’s your outlook for the future of the industry?

RI:Technology is starting to separate the quality contractors from the fly-by-nighters. How is a guy who does HVAC as part of his roofing business going to diagnose an airflow problem in a variable-speed, variable-fired furnace? I send my technicians to training all the time so that they can keep up with new technology. The increasing complexity and sophistication of the equipment will help eliminate the guys who are doing HVAC as a sideline.

CB: What’s the best thing about the HVAC industry?

RI: Where do you start? The first thing I think of is stability. Three generations of our family, and two generations of many of our employees’ families have earned a good living in this industry.

Another great thing is the variety. In the HVAC industry you need to know electrical, wiring, sheet metal, computers, and control circuits. It’s the most high-tech of the trades.

CB: What’s the best advice you ever received?

RI:I’ve always liked that old saying, “I can have anything I want in life as long as I help others get what they want first.” That goes back to getting involved in this industry. When you give, you also receive, and that’s how you learn.

CB: What would you tell someone just entering the industry?

RI: I tell our employees, “Treat your profession here as if someday you’ll start your own company. How would you do the job if it was your company? You’d be professional and take pride in your work, and that’s what we want you to do here. That’s what will take you to the next level.”

You can reach Ray Isaac at 585/546-1400, ext. 344, e-mail [email protected].

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