Donna Lanier, Contracting Business.com's 2009 HVACR Woman of the Year, wants to make it clear that this award isn't about her.
“The only thing that makes it possible for me to accept an award like this is our people,” Lanier says. “It's what they do to make us the company that we are. It's about the hard work that they put in every single day, and the way they take care of homeowners. That's what makes me able to accept this on their behalf.”
Still, the team at All Seasons One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning, Huntsville, AL, would acknowledge that the company wouldn't be what it is today without Lanier's leadership and guidance.
Donna Lanier's story is that of an entrepreneur who wouldn't be denied. As someone with a knack for numbers, she started her career fresh out of high school as a bookkeeper for a Huntsville-area oil distributor. She was so proficient at the job, however, that she would often finish her work in the morning, then hop on trucks and spend the afternoon visiting local service stations.
Eventually, the owner of the oil distributorship realized Lanier could handle more responsibility, and at the age of 26 she became the distributorship's general manager. One of her responsibilities in this role was to recruit owner-operators for Chevron service station locations. One day, a Huntsville-area station became available, and Lanier made her move.
Following a Dream
“I went into my boss one day and said, ‘I can run this location, why don't you give me the chance?’” Lanier relates.
Her boss said “no” three times, Lanier recalls, but she continued to pursue it. Finally, one day an article in a magazine led to the break she needed. “I went into my office and there was a Reader's Digest article about following your dreams and never letting anyone stand in your way of your true spirit of entrepreneurship,” Lanier says. “My boss had read it, and put it on my desk with a note that said, ‘If you want that station, you can have it.’”
Lanier ended up running such a successful station that Chevron became interested in promoting her to its corporate offices as a district supervisor. She spent three years with Chevron in California before her desire to raise her children (Daniel, now 24, and Anna, now 19) in the green grass and mountains where she had grown up brought her back to Huntsville in 1998. Alabama remains sweet home for Lanier and her husband, Donny.
The owners of All Seasons Heating & Air Conditioning hired Lanier as an “implementer” to help them position their company, and its three locations, for franchising. Later, they appointed her general manager of the Huntsville location.
“Although I had never been in this industry, in my opinion business is business, and if you have a very good foundation, an understanding of the numbers, and provide good customer service, you can build a company from there,” Lanier says.
Saying Yes to Another Challenge
At the time, All Seasons Heating & Air Conditioning was a member of the then-Contractors Success group. Lanier attended the CSG training classes, brought back the ideas that were presented, and implemented them. It was difficult at times, and as always there was some resistance to change. But the company was built on a good foundation. Lanier put her stamp on it, and found herself in a position that hearkened back to her days as the GM of the oil distributorship.
“The owners were getting ready to retire, and here I am, once again ‘Miss Entrepreneur’ at heart, saying, ‘Why don't you let me buy the company? I'm here, I know the policies and procedures; give me the opportunity.’” Lanier says. After much negotiation, and some help from her contacts at CSG, which had become AirTime 500/Clockwork Home Services, Lanier took over All Seasons Heating & Air Conditioning in January, 2005. The company franchised with One Hour in October of that year. The company's mission statement is, “To maintain and gain loyal customers by giving exceptional service. Going over and above what is expected in order to promote a company of excellence.” The team at All Seasons One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning has used that to grow a residential customer base of over 10,000, which includes 1,600 service agreement customers.
Lanier is working to finish her Master's Degree so she can teach business courses at the college level, and, as she says, “get more people interested in our great industry.”
Congratulations to Donna Lanier, the ContractingBusiness.com 2009 HVACR Woman of the Year!
Donna Lanier will be the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of Women in HVACR, to be held Wednesday, Sept. 23rd, as part of HVAC Comfortech (Sept. 23-26) in Nashville, TN. Visit womeninhvacr.org and hvaccomfortech.com for additional information.
Donna's Advice for Success
Lanier offers several pieces of advice for anyone — male or female — who is looking to run a great HVAC company:
Get the right team in place.
Once that team is in place, let go and let them soar. Lanier recently appointed a general manager, and she admits it was difficult to let go. “I had to write a resignation letter to make sure I would stay out of his way,” she laughs.
Pay attention not only to your people, but to their families as well. “Our team works long hours, and I want them to know that I genuinely care about them, and that I want to see them achieve not only our professional goals here, but their personal goals as well,” Lanier says.
Know when to ask for help. “All of us are human beings; none of us knows it all. I came in knowing the business side, and got help learning the technical side. I think a lot of owners come in knowing the technical side, but don't get the help they need to learn the business side. Be humble enough to know you may need a little help from time to time,” Lanier says.
Have a one-year, five-year, and 10-year plan, and know the numbers every day. “Take the time to sit down and figure out what you really want to achieve personally, and how that fits in with what you want your business to achieve. They go hand in hand when you're a business owner,” Lanier advises. This means sharing information with your people, too. — RR