Are great entrepreneurs born that way or can they be made? I’ve been asking myself that question since reading the profile of our HVACR Woman of the Year, Jacki Bradbury-Guerrero. I’m not talking about Michael Gerber E-Myth types who have an entrepreneurial seizure. I’m talking about those who are really good at running a contracting business, like Ms. Bradbury-Guerrero.
“I’m really good at starting companies,” Jacki says. “I started my first company at 40, the second at 50 and the third at 60!” Anybody can start a company and then fail at it. What Jacki has done is sought out the greatest minds in the contracting business and learned from them. Now, at the peak of her success, she’s giving back in much the same way to the industry, her community and her church. Jacki had run a painting contracting firm in California with her ex-husband before becoming the controller for a large air conditioning company in 1987, so she knew how this rodeo works. In 1990, she and her brother decided to open their own new construction HVAC company, Pacific Aire, which Jacki transitioned over to all service work during a California recession. But even though she had a pretty fair idea of how all this worked, she sought out mentors and guidance, first with Contractor Success Group (CSG), the industry’s first independent business alliance, which had been started by John Young and Jim Abrams. Jacki was one of the founding advisory board members when CSG transitioned over to International Service Leadership. Her first seminar was with the legendary contractor and ContractingBusiness.com columnist Thomas R. “Doc” Rusk, Rusk Heating & Cooling, Covington, Kentucky. “[Doc] was one of the very first to visit me when he was in California,” Jacki recounts. “Then I visited his company in Ohio. I listened to them all.Ron Smith taught me how to do maintenance agreements. I was the first person in our area to offer them. I attended a breakout session he taught. And I still do it. I hang out with the movers and shakers, and learn from them.” Jacki told us that she has had nothing but support from the men in this industry. They have shared their knowledge and invited her into their homes and businesses. That’s why she so firmly believes in giving back to the industry, and belongs to organizations such as the Service Nation Alliance. She turned over Pacific Aire to her brother, Mark, in 2001 and started Coastal Comfort with her now grown sons. She built Coastal Comfort up to $2.5 million until the recession hit in 2008. She was able to sell it because she had 1,200 service agreement customers with work scheduled six months out. It was then that one of her sons, who was living in Houston, lured her to Texas. She set up shop in The Woodlands, near Houston, co-founding Bradbury Brothers. As part of the award, she was the WHVACR’s keynote speaker at Comfortech 2015. “One thing I want to share with the Women in HVACR group,” Jacki points out, “is that when I entered, the only women I met were wives or bookkeepers. A woman owner was unheard of. I’ve been there,” she continues, “and I’ve seen how a woman can have a great career in HVAC. I was able to be a single mom, and raise my children. And then, they had the choice of doing anything they wanted to. The youngest and oldest chose air conditioning. The middle son went on after Rice University, getting into investment banking.” It was with that son that she founded HVAC Capital Partners, a mergers and acquisition firm. On top of everything else, she has good taste in industry publications. “I’ve read every issue of Contracting Business magazine since I’ve started in this business,” she says. “I also make our team leaders read it.”