• Andranik Hakobyan/iStockbyGettyImages
    Photo 50628633 © David Franklin | Dreamstime.com
    Photo 161233010 © Jamesteohart | Dreamstime.com
    Daniel Pawlowski
    Betsy, Lee and Michael Rosenberg.

    Lee Rosenberg to Enter HVAC Hall of Fame

    March 4, 2024
    For 50 years, Lee Rosenberg has served the HVAC industry as a model business owner, association supporter and mentor to fellow contractors.

     

    Lee Rosenberg's HVAC legacy is that of an immensely successful business owner, association supporter and mentor to his fellow contractors.

    He started out as an engineer, but eventually turned his many talents to the HVAC industry, and we can all be glad he did. For 50 years, as the owner and co-founder of two HVAC companies -- both of which were so profitable they were each acquired by consolidators -- and as an HVAC industry leader and promoter of high standards, Lee Rosenberg has brought a passion for excellence, a willingness to lead and a devotion to mentoring others.   

    This month, Lee Rosenberg, P.E., co-founder and Chairman of Rosenberg Indoor Comfort, San Antonio, Texas (now Rosenberg Plumbing and Air) will enter the Contracting Business HVAC Hall of Fame, during the 2024 ACCA Conference in Orlando, FL. It’s a recognition long overdue, and we’re honored to do it now.

    And at 79, Lee is as excited as ever to be in the game.

    Like many of the greats who entered the HVAC Hall of Fame before him, Lee Rosenberg was destined to succeed. His first career was as an electrical engineer, after he graduated from the University of Texas, Austin in 1966. He joined the Anaconda Wire and Cable Company in Sycamore, Ill., helping to develop coaxial TV cable. He also invented a cable with enhanced durability, for government communications applications.

    “After I developed the manufacturing process for that cable product, I was asked to oversee the construction of the factory where they’d be making it, just outside of Madison, Wisconsin,” he recalled as he spoke to us from his San Antonio office. “Then, they wanted me to be the factory general manager, which I did for about five years. After the company acquired another manufacturer, I was asked to move to Rome, NY.” Lee and his wife Betsy moved a second time, but after a year, decided it was not where they wanted to be. It was time to get closer to their Texas roots.

    “I looked at some opportunities in the South, but then, I got a phone call from my brother-in-law, who had two or three businesses in San Antonio. He told me about a friend in the air conditioning business who needed some help and was looking for somebody to run their sales and engineering. I didn’t know anything about HVAC, so I read up on it and figured that, as an engineer, I could do this. I returned to my hometown of San Antonio and joined that AC business.”

    'Along with his wife Betsy and son Michael, the Rosenbergs have built a very smooth-running operation while helping not only his local customers, but his local competitors and communities, all the while being a strong advocate for ACCA,' - Larry Taylor

    Rosenberg helped grow that company’s annual revenue from $1.25 million to $9 million. Later, after differences with the owner, he left that job and took some time off to plan his next career move.

    His Own Shop

    “I was encouraged by many customers, friends and family to start my own air conditioning company. This was in the mid-1980s, when the Texas economy was going down the tubes. But still, I decided to give it a go.”

    Metro Tech Service Company was born in June of 1986. It was as a two-technician, two-truck HVAC business performing residential and light commercial HVAC service and replacements, but it wasn’t easy. Rosenberg described it as, “a very difficult time, physically, mentally and emotionally. It was tough.” But his banker, who floated him a $250,000 line of credit, told him, “I know you can do it.”

    Over time, the business prospered. To stay on track, Rosenberg joined Air Conditioning Contractors of America and got plugged in to an ACCA MIX Group, where he received tons of great advice from many of the leading contractors of the day, those who had been there and done it.

    “I'll never forget my first MIX Group meeting. One of the members was Jim Isaac from Isaac Heating and Air Conditioning. He put his arm around me and said, ‘Lee, I sure hope you make it. You're a nice fella.’ I went away from that meeting and decided, ‘we've got no choice. We've got to continue to build this business.’”

    For Rosenberg, the mid-1980s into the 1990s were a rich and valuable time of learning.

    "It spurred me on. I learned from other successful contractors that if you run a business right, and you know what you're doing, can make a good profit in this business," he said.  "And indeed, we became quite profitable, so much so that we became a target during one of the early rounds of HVAC business consolidation. Blue Dot made me an offer I couldn't turn down and we sold the first business in 1998."

    Before that sale, Rosenberg was nominated to the ACCA Board by the late Vince Gillette, Sr. of Gillette Air Conditioning Co., also based in San Antonio. He also became active in the local ACCA chapter, eventually being named Board Member and President. Lee Rosenberg's activity in the Texas ACCA included working with TACCA founder and contractor Stan Johnson and contractor Larry Taylor to bring about the passage of a state HVACR licensing law.

    “These were some exciting and tough days of legislative activity toward obtaining a state law and he was always willing to step up and help in whatever manor he could,” Taylor said. “Lee has always had a heart for helping other HVACR contractors in learning how to build and manage profitable businesses.  He was a driving force in making the MIX Group program grow and develop.  Lee made numerous presentations at ACCA meetings, sharing his experience and knowledge of what goes into making a good business. 

    "With his wife Betsy and son Michael, they built a very smooth-running operation while helping not only his local customers, but his local competitors and communities, all the while being a strong advocate for ACCA," Taylor shared.

     Stan Johnson and Rosenberg first met while on a manufacturer's junket for the brands most successful contractors of that year. 

    "It was a trip where we also took customers," Johnson recalled. "My first impression of Lee was that he believed in taking care of his customers even while he was on vacation. I learned over the years that for Lee, that extended to taking care of our industry, too. He believed that taking care of and helping fellow contractors grow and develop was good for everyone in our industry," said Johnson.

    During the 1995-2000 term of Texas Governor George W. Bush, Lee Rosenberg was nominated Chairman of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation’s Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Contractors Advisory Board, which enforces HVACR contracting laws in the state and overall industry professionalism. He was also a major contributor in the development of what is now the North American Technician Excellence (NATE) certification program.

    “It was a learning period and very, very worthwhile,” Rosenberg said of those years from the mid-80s into the 1990s. “That’s what helped me. It spurred me on. I learned from other successful contractors that if you run this business right, and you know what you’re doing, you could make a good profit in this business. And indeed, we became quite profitable, so much so that we became a target during one of the early rounds of HVAC business consolidation. Blue Dot made me an offer I couldn’t turn down, and we sold that first business in 1998. For one to two years it was going pretty smooth, but we eventually decided we were not very happy. So we left, but our son, Michael stayed on, in sales.”

    Consulting and Business 2.0

    Following the sale to Blue Dot, Rosenberg went on the road as an HVAC, plumbing and electrical business consultant, eager to help in the success of fellow business owners

    “I wanted to figure out how to help contractors even more. I was traveling between California and Texas, and I enjoyed it,” he said.

    It was during that time that Rosenberg joined a group of leading HVAC contractors in designing what was to become ServiceNation, a major service trades business support group first envisioned by Matt Michel, who had been a Lennox marketing employee. At its beginnings, co-founder Rosenberg was chairman and Michel was president.

    In 2003, Rosenberg, wife Betsy and son Michael got back into the swing of business ownership. They co-founded Rosenberg Indoor Comfort, which is now Rosenberg Plumbing and Air, following its acquisition in 2022 by Hometown Services of Tulsa, Okla., a business consolidator with 25 locations in five states. As before, the business is 55% residential and 45% light commercial HVAC service agreements and system replacements. So that was two HVAC businesses, both of which were so good they were acquired. Not too shabby.

    Rosenberg Plumbing and Air operates out of the same building as did Rosenberg Indoor Comfort. The space has grown from 3,000 to 10,000 sq. ft. but could use more space. They have 60 employees, 35 vehicles, and lots of fun. Michael Rosenberg is president, and Betsy helps to keep it all together.

    Know Your Numbers

    It’s common knowledge that an HVAC company employee will decide to open their own company, without a solid understanding of “the business” of HVAC. Lee Rosenberg’s advice to fledgling contractors? KNOW YOUR NUMBERS COLD, especially if you’re an ex-technician who wants to own their own business.

    “You might be able to fix anything, but that’s much different than running a business. You’ve got to drill it down to all the different things you do: residential, commercial, replacement, new construction. You’ve got to know the numbers related to the type of work. That’s the only way you’re going to figure out how well or how poorly you’re doing in certain aspects of the business,” Rosenberg advised.

    'You might be able to fix anything, but that’s much different than running a business. You’ve got to drill it down to all the different things you do: residential, commercial, replacement, new construction. You’ve got to know the numbers related to the type of work' - Lee Rosenberg

    Among his accolades, Lee Rosenberg was named ACCA’s 2021 Residential Contractor of the Year and was named a “Marketing Master” by RYNO Strategic Solutions. This appellation is given to ACCA members who develop and implement superior marketing programs. Another leading HVAC publication has also recognized the Rosenbergs for their enormous success and many industry contributions.

    Early in this interview, Rosenberg described the physical, mental and emotional challenges that came with starting his first company. Many others have failed at those early stages, and many will continue to fail, which is why we should always be thankful for the Lee Rosenbergs of the world, those intrepid entrepreneurs who stick it out. They stay in the game, learn the business, and do what must be done to achieve success according to the highest ethical standards. Without them, it’s a hotter summer and colder winter for us all.

    Larry Taylor: “Without leaders, like Lee, willing to step forward and challenge others to make this industry better, many contractors who are in business today would have failed."

    Thank you, Lee Rosenberg, for your commitment to the heating and air conditioning industry, and for sharing your knowledge, then and now. And, welcome to the Contracting Business HVAC Hall of Fame.