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Woman of the Year: Next Generation Leader Takes Charge

July 14, 2008
The future of the HVACR industry will always be bright as long as people like Renee Fiorelli are here to keep it going strong. Fiorelli is president of Peterson Service Company, Medford, NJ, and the Contracting Business 2008 HVACR Woman of the Year.
Renee Fiorelli’s father Sam Peterson believes her leadership skills equal her technical talents.

The future of the HVACR industry will always be bright as long as people like Renee Fiorelli are here to keep it going strong. Fiorelli is president of Peterson Service Company, Medford, NJ, and the Contracting Business 2008 HVACR Woman of the Year.

For many reasons, Renee Fiorelli represents the best of the younger, forward-thinking leaders that any industry would be proud and blessed to have as a colleague. She’s smart, inquisitive, self-motivated, and accomplished, with a keen interest in growing the Peterson Service Company, its employees, and the HVACR industry at-large.

Fiorelli’s father, Sam Peterson, founded Peterson Service Company in 1981. The company employs 50 people, (including 30 field technicians) in three divisions — service, construction, and Automatic Temperature Controls (ATC). Customers include schools, municipalities, hospitals, hotels, and industrial sites.

Fiorelli worked at the company during her high school and college years, and gained valuable exposure to various mechanical contracting concepts. Her skills in math and science helped establish her career path. She began at the University of Delaware as a chemical engineering major, but soon realized she was more comfortable with physics and related mechanical concepts. She ultimately earned a degree in mechanical engineering from UD.

After college, with degree in hand, she returned to the family business and drew on her experience in controls technology to expand the ATC division. PSC had always been a controls-oriented company, but Renee’s full-time involvement was needed to take its controls volume to a new level.

Temperature controls technology no longer represents the “future” of HVACR system management, or just another optional component; it’s very much the real world, and is catching on across the industry. That’s no surprise to PSC.

Renee Fiorelli has earned an Accredited Professional designation from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®).

“We’ve always viewed controls as directly related to energy management,” Fiorelli says. “We’ve been using controls since 1989, and it’s helped set us apart from our competition. Today, we see more building systems expanding beyond HVAC and including security and lighting functions. For the commercial contractor looking to offer new services, controls are a bridge they need to cross. Over time, with Internet monitoring, customers will also see the ease of use and value controls offer.”

Looking back on her industry beginnings, Fiorelli believes coming up through the ranks in the family business was essential in preparing her to lead the company and win the trust, confidence, and friendship of others on the team. And, of course, she’s glad she invested the time to learn all she could about HVACR, as an important adjunct to her controls knowledge. She’s taken HVACR classes offered by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), and supplements that learning by continually visiting job sites to meet with PSC technicians and customers.

At Home in the Field
“The majority of our work is in the service business, so talking to field technicians is part of the daily routine,” Fiorelli says. “Technicians expect you to know the jargon, to know what you’re talking about, and be familiar with the work.”

Fiorelli values the opportunities on-site work presents for getting the job done correctly.

“For example, if an engineer gives me a chiller operation sequence that I don’t think is right, I’ll bounce it off the guys in the field who know the systems,” she says. “If they agree that it’s not the right sequence, I go back to the engineer, and we work it out.

“By visiting projects you become much more familiar with all the elements of a very complex business, and what the service technicians have to deal with each day. Learning more about our service department’s challenges gives me a greater understanding of what we do.”

Team Builder
Recently, Fiorelli brought company managers together to reorganize the company’s three divisions to improve teamwork, morale, strategic planning, and goal setting for the PSC’s sales team. She appreciates the importance of team unity, and wants to ensure that Peterson Service Company is always known as a company where current employees enjoy working, and others would like to be a part of.

Peterson Service Company vans have a strong presence in the Medford, NJ/Philadelphia, PA area. Shown here are Renee with her dad Sam Peterson and J.J. Marsh, application engineer for PSC’s Automatic Temperature Controls division.

“We started a strategic planning process with myself, our service manager, Dave Watson, construction manager Mark Tepes, and our controller Bill Davidson. We discussed issues and analyzed our strengths and weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to the business. It’s really helped us solve some conflicts. To keep growing, we have to lay the ground work for the future and plan a growth and profitability strategy. We’ve identified those areas that we need to work on,” Fiorelli says.

“Renee knows the business and she’s learning more each day,” Mark Tepes says. “Renee does all she can to support the field employees and office personnel, but her key ability is in bringing everybody together. When everyone is organized, and the lines of communication between departments are kept open, the resources within this company should take us very far.”

In 2007, Fiorelli spearheaded the process that enabled PSC to earn Star Certification from the Mechanical Service Contractors Association (MSCA). PSC is now one of 92 national contractors that have earned the Star designation, a number that continues to grow. She has also completed the coursework required to earn an Accredited Professional (AP) designation from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®), which signifies a contractor’s competence in and commitment to energy efficient contracting.

Proud Father
Sam Peterson is an old-school business owner who appreciates his daughter Renee’s mechanical aptitude, and her ability to make things happen while incorporating new methods.

“Renee has a fine understanding of mechanical engineering and computer systems,” Peterson says. “After she returned to the company full time, she designed a service management program for invoicing, purchase orders, and other administrative needs. She wasn’t even a computer programmer by training; she just learned it on her own. We used that program for 10 years.

“The sky’s the limit for Renee,” says Mark Tepes, PSC construction manager. “She can take the company to a level we’ve always dreamed of.”

“After our ATC engineer left the company, Renee had to assume the engineering role and figure it all out to keep the division running,” Peterson continues. “At the time, we had taken on a huge controls project for a local hotel. Renee picked up the ball and ran with it. She took over the engineering and design of those systems, despite having never been formally instructed in that prior to that time. She set up the wiring diagrams, everything. That was really unique. Her mechanical ability allows her to see through these systems to figure it out.”

Peterson believes the quality of Renee’s leadership skills are equal to her technical talents.

“She’s far better than me in that area,” he admits. “I’m much more of a seat-of-the-pants manager. I never used some of the checks and balances that come into play today. Leaders from Renee’s generation are using and implementing everything they’ve been taught. They don’t discard it.”

Renee appreciates her father’s technical expertise, and the fact that he’s pretty much seen it all and can mentor her through the bumps in the road.

“I didn’t come up in the trade like he did, so the learning curve is there,” she says. “He’s been through it for many years, and knows how to deal with the different challenges that occur. He’s always someone I can bounce some questions off of.”

Knows the Value of Business Coaching
Fiorelli also finds advice as a member of The Alternative Board (TAB), a Westminster, CO-based business support group. TAB brings together owners of privately-held businesses to help them overcome challenges and explore new opportunities, with peer advice and business coaching.

“TAB gets you to think outside the box that is the HVACR industry,” Renee says. “You’re required to put together a detailed business plan that other companies in the group review. Then, they offer suggestions to make your company better.”

PSC’s community service includes working with Habitat for Humanity and the Philadelphia Zoo, and contributions to various local fund raising events. The company also participates in the MSCA’s “Project Home Again,” which creates awareness of missing and exploited children.

Fiorelli’s husband Frank is senior manager of internal auditing for Toll Brothers, a builder based in Horsham, PA. For relaxation, Renee and Frank like to play golf and spend time with other family members at her parents’ lakeside home.

Contracting Business offers its heartfelt congratulations to Renee Fiorelli, for all she’s doing to enhance the image of the HVACR industry, one satisfied customer at a time.

Renee Fiorelli will present the keynote speech at the annual meeting of Women in HVACR, to be held on the morning of September 10, prior to the start of Comfortech 2008 in Atlanta, GA. Visit for additional information.

About the Author

Terry McIver | Content Director - CB

A career publishing professional, Terence 'Terry' McIver has served three diverse industry publications in varying degrees of responsibility since 1987, and worked in marketing communications for a major U.S. corporation.He joined the staff of Contracting Business magazine in April 2005.

As director of content for Contracting Business, he produces daily content and feature articles for CB's 38,000 print subscribers and many more Internet visitors. He has written hundreds, if not two or three, pieces of news, features and contractor profile articles for CB's audience of quality HVACR contractors. He can also be found covering HVACR industry events or visiting with manufacturers and contractors. He also has significant experience in trade show planning.