No Doubt About Her!
Todd helped found the company 20 years ago with her husband, Don, and Brian and Connie Smith, in their garages. Today, the $7 million company now has 45 employees and is the largest HVAC dealer in central Oregon.
Todd’s titles are administrative manager and chief financial officer of Central Oregon, but her responsibilities and scope of influence encompass a lot more territory. In addition to the financial side of the business, she also handles training, marketing, human resources, safety compliance and more.
Financial Background An Asset
Todd attributes much of her success to her background in tax work and accounting.
“Somebody in a company that’s going to grow, which was my husband’s dream, had to know how to read financials, read the trends, understand the numbers and provide that background support system,” Todd recalls. “I had the feet-on-the-ground aspect with what was required behind the scenes so I could support his vision.”
This type of partnership appealed to Todd on many levels.
“I love a challenge,” she says. “I love seeing the results of the efforts work in a positive way. It’s always been my goal to try to use what’s necessary but make it work better for us. It’s a constant learning process. I don’t think it ever ends.”
Don Todd said Kathie has been a huge part of Central Oregon since Day 1.
“Her influence over the company is putting together all our ideas and making them happen,” he said. “She’s always been there for me. She’s made everything work.”
Don Todd said starting Central Oregon was really tough at first, partially because Kathie still worked a full-time job at a tax office, then came home and worked for Central Oregon in the evenings and on weekends. The couple also was raising four children at the time.
“We had no wages for the first seven months when we started,” he shares. “Then finally we started making $10 an hour and she was still making nothing. Then it slowly went up from there.”
Beginning to Soar
The Todds began working with Vicki and John LaPlant, consultants and owners of Vital Learning Experiences, in 2002, and that’s when the company really started to take flight. The LaPlants are two of the people who nominated Todd for Woman of the Year.
“My mind was just allowed to take off,” Todd says. “It was like somebody opened a door for me. I started understanding the realm of HVAC as a business. Until then it was a job. It was what we did. Then I started realized the more I could see different ways for us to do the same things only maybe better.”
According to the LaPlants, one of Todd’s greatest strengths is her comfort with the financials and what they really mean.
“She understands the numbers and she understands how to use them, which is the critical part,” Vicki LaPlant said. “She understands how you take the numbers and then apply them to making changes in the business that make the business stronger and better going forward.”
“They’ve put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears and it has paid off,” John LaPlant says. “There’s not a lot of companies that accomplish what they’ve accomplished in a relatively short period of time. They’ve graduated to a level that some people in this industry can’t even imagine.”
Matt Michel, CEO of The Service Roundtable and another nominator, said Kathie Todd merits the Woman of the Year award as much as anyone who has ever received it.
“Her financial management is something that should be held up as a model for other companies,” Michel says. “Kathie keeps Central Oregon in a very strong cash position. The way she works on the financial side with Don, any company should be envious of.”
Justin Hibbard, territory manager for wholesaler Aireco, has worked with Todd for six years and said she is professional, hardworking and pleasant to work with.
"Kathie is a fearless leader, is constantly seeking to further hone her skills, and she is extremely honest and straightforward," wrote Hibbard in his nomination letter. "Kathie works very hard to ensure that all of her people are well tended to; she checks in with me on a regular basis, striving to get the best possible customer service for her customers and for her company. She is an exemplary contractor."
Vicki LaPlant adds that another key to the Central Oregon team’s success is that Todd is one of the most persistent people you’d ever meet. “She’ll wrestle an issue to the ground,” LaPlant says. “She just doesn’t give up and she doesn’t let things get her down. She just keeps digging in until she’s satisfied with either the outcome or changing something or getting the answer she needs. Not necessarily the answer she wants, but the answer she needs.” Matt Michel has also seen that side of Todd.
“When she wants information and is in pursuit of something, she’s resolute and doesn’t let up until she gets her answers,” he says.
To help Todd focus on the big picture, Central Oregon hired an employee five years ago to handle payroll, payables and other tasks.
“It’s allowed me to do more on-the-business thinking,” she said. “Now I’m more in tune with some of the stuff Service Nation has us do: the key performance indicators, the constant thinking about what are we going to do next, how are we going to grow, what are we going to do to make our business run better or ourselves and our people have a better life.”
Outside of Central Oregon, Todd participates at the Comfortech conference, is an active participant in the Service Roundtable Alliance and shares freely of her knowledge, according to the LaPlants.
"She's an important cog in the wheel of Central Oregon being successful, but it goes beyond that company," John LaPlant said. "Other dealer principals, dealer managers will call her. She gives freely of her time to assist those individuals, to assist those companies to be better based on what they have gained from the road they have walked down."
An example of Todd's regard for the larger industry as well as her tenaciousness occurred at an industry event last year, according to Michel.
"She was at an industry forum and she was asking questions and pursuing an issue that a lot of contractors wondered about and other than the initial question, none of them were willing to continue to push at it," he said. "She pushed at it. She wasn't intimidated by titles and presidents of manufacturing companies.
"She was pushing hard for an answer for everyone in the room."
Vicki LaPlant agreed that Todd's willingness to share is a critical part of her DNA.
"She and Don created their own version of flat-rate pricing for service and she shares that with anyone who wants to know," Vicki LaPlant said. "They just understand the industry can get better and they're not afraid to share anything they're doing with anybody."
"They've put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears and it has paid off," John LaPlant said. "There's not a lot of companies that accomplish what they've accomplished in a relatively short period of time. They've graduated to a level that some people in this industry can't even imagine."
"They do not accept the status quo," according to Vicki LaPlant. "It's just not acceptable to be average. They want to be superior and they want their people to be more successful than they ever dreamed possible. Both of them work hard to make that happen."
Kathie Todd says that retirement is in the cards within the next few years, and she’s very proud of the company’s position in the region.
“We’ve continued to grow through all these years and remained stable,” she says.
“We keep doing what we do best. This is a validation of all those efforts and beliefs and years of hard work, knowing that someday it was going to come together. The Woman of the Year award is about character to me. I was raised with the notion that there was nothing I couldn’t accomplish if I set my mind to it,” Todd says. “Doing the best I possibly can with whatever I have to work with is me. When I’m able to share and help other people, it’s rewarding in itself.”
Congratulations to Kathie Todd, Contracting Business.com’s 2014 HVACR Woman of the Year.
Elaine Yetzer Simon is a writer based in Cleveland, OH.