Mirador Capital Partners recently sat down with Kevin Comerford, the CEO of Service Champions, which is the leading HVAC service company in the Tri-Valley area. In a fascinating look at what makes a successful company and personal life, we are pleased to share Kevin's insights on work, building company culture, and leading a team. We wanted to offer Kevin’s perspective because we believe it will be helpful for those just beginning a career or for those who are thinking about starting their own company.
A Passion For the Business
Kevin comes to the HVAC business by way of his parents. Don and Kathy Comerford had been innovators in the space for many years. Kevin's interests coming out of Cal Poly in the 1990s were to combine his love of sports and entertainment.
It was time spent at a local chamber of commerce that turned his attention to local business ownership. While serving at the Chamber, Kevin saw the correlation between the HVAC industry and other companies that provide mission-critical services. He learned how integral those entrepreneurs were to the local economy. After a decade of working and leading teams, Kevin founded Service Champions in 2003 and today the company has 166 employees and 4 locations in Northern California.
Lessons Learned and Thoughts on Business
Two key influences for Kevin are Don Comerford, Kevin’s father, and Jim Abrahams, an early mentor on Kevin, both of whom are pioneers in the HVAC business. Both stressed the importance of providing value for the client and true differentiation in the service or product. Businesses thrive, they noted, when management focuses on the long-term success of a customer and a service is delivered so exceptionally well that customers come to totally depend on it.
Kevin found that listening to customer questions often provides the insights that produce excellence. "You cannot compete in any business on price" is a quote Kevin attributes to both Don Comerford and Jim Abrahams. "You need to operate differently and then be able to stand up for the value of your services."
Thoughts on Building a Team
Integral to the success of Service Champions are the technicians who work in hundreds of homes every day. Their effectiveness is based on Kevin’s ability to build a team that embodies the firm’s corporate values. When asked about the challenge of creating a team that clearly understands its mission each day, Kevin’s eyes light up. You understand this is his secret sauce.
"Everyone thinks we are in the ‘weather’ business because when it is hot and cold, you need us as things break down. But our motto is that we are in the ‘whether’ business because it’s whether you are in the right frame-of-mind or not that makes a difference to our customers. Having an adaptable and customer-focused attitude is so important when our team members are in a client’s home."
Service Champions believes that everyone has a future at the company. They are particularly proud to be active employers of recent military graduates. They are currently hiring about 15 employees a month, and moving up in the organization is a core principle of the company.
When you enter Service Champions’ office, it is clear that Kevin values and encourages learning. A small library of books greets you. When asked about it, everyone at the company knows why it is there; "Readers lead and Leaders read." Kevin is passionate that everyone at the company is growing in their personal and business lives. Part of that growth is reading a book together and then discussing it as a group.
Another key component of team-building at Service Champions is the monthly all hands meetings, which includes video conferencing for the other locations. During these group sessions, a subtle and comforting rhythm is established for all parties. The team seeks to understand the common goals and how each person can make a contribution to the greater good. The goals and priorities for the company are publicly displayed on a one-page strategic plan that is bigger than most generous flat screen TVs. No team member could argue that the company’s goals aren’t perfectly clear. You can tell that it really makes a difference in employee engagement.
Kevin and his team are building corporate and personal momentum together each quarter and it shows in the growth of the company. Providing such a compelling offering for clients that there would be a void if it were missing and delivering a service with a sharply dressed smiling technician is no small feat. "The key is to invest heavily in your people, both financially and emotionally, and then get out of their way and enjoy their success. My job is to align the interests of everyone on the team. Ninety-nine percent of my time is on alignment."
The Tri-Valley is full of compelling business stories and right at the top of that group is an HVAC service company whose leadership team truly cares about its employees and its customers. Perhaps most important of all is that Service Champions wins by understanding that it’s more about “whether” than the “weather.”