“I’m really good at starting companies,” says Jacki Bradbury-Guerrero. “I started my first company at 40, the second at 50 and the third at 60!”
It has indeed been an eventful and very successful life in HVAC for our 2015 HVACR Woman of the Year. And she didn’t mention the lawn care business she started in high school, which was her alternative to the usual babysitting girls used to do. She wanted something different, and made it happen, just like she’s been doing her entire life.
And when we called Jacki Bradbury-Guerrero to talk about her winning this year’s prize, she had some great news of her own: her ninth grandchild, a girl, had been born just the day before.
Running a household and a business, while raising her three sons, gave Jacki Bradbury-Guerrero unmatched training in employee motivation, organization and multi-tasking.
These two events — an award for a life in HVAC, and the birth of a grandchild — frame the Jacki Bradbury-Guerrero story perfectly. Because her business and her family have been her two great joys that have driven, inspired and blessed her.
Jacki Bradbury-Guerrero’s HVAC career began in 1987 in California, when she was a controller for a large air conditioning company. She had previously run a painting business with her husband, endured a painful divorce, and then realized she needed something more than just a job to support herself and her three sons. She needed and wanted a career she could build upon.
She and her brother, Mark Schneider, had worked at the air conditioning company until 1990, and then decided to strike out on their own to form company #1, Pacific Aire, based in Ventura. It was originally an HVAC new construction company, but Jacki realized an HVAC service offering was essential to support a weak construction business that was hampered by a lengthy California recession. So, she gradually closed down the new construction business while expanding Pacific Aire’s service division.
That’s when the networking started, because Jacki wanted to learn all there was to learn about HVAC. She started by joining Contractor Success Group (CSG), the industry’s first independent business alliance, which had been started by the legendary team of John Young and Jim Abrams.
“At my very first conference, they kicked off the Service Experts consolidation business. So it was a tumultuous time to decide to get into replacement and service,” she says with a laugh. “They wanted to purchase small companies, but I didn’t want to sell because it was my revenue stream to raise my three children.”
She pressed on, acquiring more knowledge and growing Pacific Aire. In addition to Young and Abrams, Jacki’s career mentors have included Ron Smith, “Doc” Rusk, Charlie Greer, and Matt Michel.
“Ron Smith taught me how to do maintenance agreements,” she says. “And so I became the first person in our area to offer them. I attended a breakout session Ron had taught. I like to hang out with the movers and shakers, and learn from them.”
When CSG evolved to become International Service Leadership, Jacki was one of the founding advisory board members.
About that time she and her brother, who were also the best of friends, decided to end the business partnership so Mark could beginning running it with his wife, who had an interest in getting into the business. They had built it up to be a $1.5 million new construction business, had joined CSG, then converted it to a service and replacement business.”
So, Jacki found herself at another crossroads. Her sons were older, she had spent 13 years in the industry, and wondered what would come next.
“My oldest son Todd was just finishing college, and told me he wanted to stay in air conditioning. He said ‘I love what you did with the business.’”
Ron Smith taught me how to do maintenance agreements,” she says. “And so I became the first person in our area to offer them. I attended a breakout session Ron had taught. I like to hang out with the movers and shakers, and learn from them.
— Jacki Bradbury-Guerrero
This led to her starting Coastal Comfort, her second California enterprise. It was incorporated at the end of 2001 and did $1 million in its first year, $1.8 million in the second. Jacki and her sons, Todd, Michael and Jason, grew it to become a $2.5 million company over the next seven years. So much was happening. Her sons obtained degrees in business while working as part-time installers. Jacki had remarried, and her husband Gil and sons were all making fantastic contributions to the business.
Then in 2008, the housing market and economy in California fell apart along with many other businesses across the country. Who can ever forget?
Business sank, and it was time for Jacki to make another big business decision. Her son Michael and their family were living in Houston, and he encouraged Jacki to sell Coastal, pull up stakes and move to Texas, where he would help her start and finance a new company.
“I sent letters to eight of my competitors. In 2010, after two years of recession in California, five of them made offers. All I sold was my name, number, website, and customer base.”
But she had also built value into Coastal through its many active service agreements.
“In California, 60% of the business was based in heating, and 40% was air conditioning,” she explains. “Developing maintenance agreements was a little bit more challenging. But that’s what I was successful at doing. That’s why I was able to sell a company in the midst of the worst recession California had ever had. Otherwise, it would have had no value. I was leaving, my two key people (my two sons) were leaving with me. I had three technicians and four installers, but they weren’t under any kind of employment agreement. So what gave my company value was not only the 1200 maintenance agreements, but that I had prescheduled three technicians six months out.”
A sale went through, and they packed up the vans and box trucks and drove to Houston, to begin Bradbury Brothers Heating & Air Conditioning.
Jacki says she is especially grateful that her service manager, James Ponzini, who started at Coastal fresh out of the Navy, agreed to join them in the trek to Texas.
REAL LIFE TRAINING
Now in its fourth year, Bradbury Brothers of The Woodlands is on track to make about $3 million in sales in 2015, with 20 employees. Its service radius is a mere 11-miles, and much of the business now comes from employees of Exxon Mobil, which has built a campus near The Woodlands that now houses 10,000 Exxon employees. She found that gold mine of accounts while doing a study of the region’s demographics.
Jacki Bradbury-Guerrero says running a household and a business, while raising her three sons gave her unmatched training in employee motivation, organization and multi-tasking.
“One of the most challenging things in running a business is related to employees: finding the right ones, knowing how to be a chameleon to relate to different personality types. I learned how to use positive reinforcement to motivate my children, and use different kinds of discipline, and help my sons realize their self worth, feel like a team, and achieve their goals,” she explains.
“As a mother, it just came to me. I wanted to do all the things a mom should do, but I also had to run a busiess, because I needed to make enough money to put them all through college and help them have a wonderful life. So all of those things were applied as I started hiring employees.”
“That’s one of the reasons why women are so successful in small businesses: they know how to multi-task. One minute I was hiring or firing an employee, and the next I was dealing with an unhappy customer.
“You have to learn to be efficient and multi-task. And you have to learn how to get people working as a team.”
“Jacki is an integral, if not essential part, of Bradbury Brothers,” says Service Roundtable CEO Matt Michel, one of Jacki’s many mentors from her earliest days in HVAC.
“The company is growing rapidly, while maintaining strong levels of profitability. In addition to her company, Jacki gives back to the industry. She gives back through regular participation in a Service Nation Advisory Board, and is an active member of the Service Nation’s 40-woman strong Woman’s Advisory Board,” Michel says.
“Jacki is a constant contributor to the Service Nation Alliance Advisory Boards,” adds Daniel Boyette, director of retail operations for Benson’s Heating & Air Conditioning,” Tallahassee, FL. “She is a great role model for others to aspire to.”
As if this weren’t enough activity, Jacki and son Michael have started HVAC Capital Partners, which acquires smaller HVAC businesses, or a share of those businesses, and builds their marketing, branding, and financial stature, using Bradbury Brothers as a model.
“I guess that’s what I seem to do best,” she says. “Starting and building.”
Jacki is also active in the community, whether it’s teaching sports teams, or serving her church or the Woodlands Kiwanis group. She also facilitates courses in the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University method.
“I believe if you can teach employees to take care of their money, they become much better employees,” she says. And, she’s right.
The Bradbury Brothers motto is, “I taught my boys to take care of their customers like they take care of their mother.” Jacki came up with the slogan when she realized that a parent-child relationship is somewhat similar to the interaction between a company and its customers.
“I’m a mother of three children who is also an air conditioning contractor,” she says. “I’ve taught my children to treat customers the way they would treat me. So, in a nutshell, that’s who I am.”