When Jennifer D’Ambra decided to lend her many talents full-time to the family business, it was a decision destined to take the company to greater heights.
That company — Gem Plumbing & Heating Services, Inc., Lincoln, RI — is today a $40 million residential and commercial HVAC and plumbing and electrical services giant founded in 1949 by Gloria and Larry Gemma, Jenn’s grandmother and grandfather.
Jenn’s history with Gem begins at age 15. She started by helping her aunt, Liz Gemma, the company controller, with bookkeeping and administrative tasks. She wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea at first, since she was planning to spend that summer at the beach with friends, and working at a job in retail. But she was pleasantly surprised by the nature of the work, and as her aunt Liz taught her bookkeeping, she began to develop an interest in accounting and finance.
“I learned a lot that summer, about the core principles of bookkeeping, and I owe it to my aunt, Liz Gemma,” Jenn says. “And she also played an integral role in my interest in the accounting and finance. Until this day, the pieces to that puzzle that I learned were never from college. Everything I’ve learned about profit and loss statements, and overall bookkeeping and payroll accounting, I learned from her. She’s a brilliant woman, and she was a big influence in helping me learn the basics,” Jenn says.
Her role in the company expanded, and she was pleased to find that she enjoyed working in an HVAC company, as she was given the flexibility to make necessary changes and improvements.
“Jennifer’s experience at Gem spans all critical business functions, from answering customer calls and dispatching technicians while on school breaks to filing, invoicing, and payroll. Over the last 15 years, Jennifer has served in a variety of leadership and managerial roles, including running the call center, marketing, and accounting departments,” says Joseph Andrade, who nominated her as one of our Women of the Year candidates.
“She has been indispensable in helping her father run the business, and working alongside her father and senior management early in her career, Jenn quickly became a key asset within the organization,” Andrade says.
One of her best practices is to focus first on the easiest fixes, where a simple solution can be found quickly. Then, she moves on to greater challenges.
“Through my whole career, as far as prioritizing, I’ve found that it’s important to first fix the things that you can fix with a good solution, quickly, Then, you move on to take care of any larger problems,” she says.
“However, if you have a problem that is affecting many different areas, instead of putting band aids on things, I like to look at a process and say, ‘Okay. Let’s overhaul this. Let’s fix it,’ so that, instead of spending every day trying to deal with all the issues that come from not doing it right in the first place, we fix it, and do it right in the first place. Determine the root cause of a problem, and attack it.”
Andrade says Gem’s vision as an organization is to provide world-class customer service, and everything Jenn has done has been indispensable in helping it achieve that goal. As annual revenue rose from $1 million to more than $40 million today, Jenn designed the processes and procedures central to its world class customer service, including automating communication and administration systems which laid the foundation for the organization’s most recent success.
As Gem’s payroll grew to 250 employees, Jenn was instrumental in creating the processes and infrastructure to meet customers’ and the business’s needs, ensuring continued success.
“She sourced and implemented the operational software necessary to sustain the growing complexity of the business, and to enable Gem to continue to exceed customers’ expectations, helping take Gem to the next level,” Andrade says.
Jenn also transformed the company’s call center, from a single employee taking calls to a state-of-the-art, 24/7 control room.
Driven by Jenn’s eagerness to learn and her determination, Gem began utilizing the latest technology, becoming a New England regional HVAC, plumbing and electrical leader. These include her leadership in installing GPS system to the 70-vehicle fleet, which has greatly increased the team’s efficiency. Also, a transition from the old walkie-talkie method of communicating was taken over by cell phones and iPads. “Jenn is single-handedly responsible for spearheading this technological transformation,” Andrade says.
When she realized she needed a better understanding of the field team’s daily challenges, Jenn began a Ride-Along program. Each month, she dons a company uniform and rides with a technician for a full day. This has allowed her to be able to make necessary changes within the office staff in an effort to make things better and easier for technicians to be able to get their jobs done in an efficient manner.
On the most personal note, Jenn is a founding member of the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation, a Foundation created in the memory of her late grandmother, who passed away from breast cancer. The mission of the Foundation is to provide resources to families and patients of breast cancer within the community.
“When Joe told me he had nominated me for this, I felt, I guess, humbled. “I told him I’m not the person in the field doing all the great work. This is my team. This is very much my home, and everybody here, they’re my team. I just really wanted to emphasize that point that I’m not somebody that likes to take credit for anything. I like building a team of people and then making that successful. That’s my enjoyment in this place, so that’s kind of the core of me.”