Front Page Holds Up Mirror to the Industry

SITTING ON THE desktop of my computer is a file with all the front-page headlines that CONTRACTOR published during its first 50 years. As we celebrated our 50th anniversary in 2004, we found the opportunity to revisit those headlines and discovered how some major issues in our industry have remained remarkably consistent over the years. Mechanical contractors have never lacked for aggressive competitors,

SITTING ON THE desktop of my computer is a file with all the front-page headlines that CONTRACTOR published during its first 50 years. As we celebrated our 50th anniversary in 2004, we found the opportunity to revisit those headlines and discovered how some major issues in our industry have remained remarkably consistent over the years. Mechanical contractors have never lacked for aggressive competitors, for example, and finding qualified employees has been a concern for years.

Yet the front page also captures what’s happening in the industry at a specific time. As we begin 2005 and our 51st year of publication, I am struck again by how much the front page of a newsmagazine such as CONTRACTOR can be, for good or bad, the face of the industry that it covers.

In another 50 years, the editors of CONTRACTOR may look back and see that our industry expressed its compassion for the victims of a natural catastrophe on the other side of the world by donating to a variety of charitable organizations. We commend those of you who have joined the tsunami relief effort as well as associations such as the Mechanical Contractors Association of America and Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National Association for taking a leadership role.

Editors in the future would see we devoted space on our front page to single out a company we had designated as our Mechanical Contractor of the Year. In this case, it’s Chicago-based Great Lakes Plumbing & Heating Co.

We believe that it’s important to find a company that can be a role model for the industry and highlight the attributes that make it special. The contractor that we select doesn’t have to be the biggest one around, but it does have to operate its business in an exemplary fashion.

Great Lakes presents an interesting example to follow. On one hand, it has worked on some of the highest-profile plumbing jobs in Chicago such as Soldier Field and the McCormick Place convention center. On the other hand, Great Lakes performs much of its fire-sprinkler work late at night without the tenants knowing until they see the new sprinkler heads the next morning.

What is consistent, though, is how Great Lakes builds relationships with its plumbing, HVAC and fire-sprinkler customers so that it becomes their mechanical contractor of choice. Its emphasis on working with customers and its performance in the field have allowed Great Lakes to grow from a small operation in 1946 when founders George and Dorothy Treutalaar lived over the shop to a $50 million company that today employs more than 300 people.

The executives of Great Lakes believe it is essential to build relationships with these employees. President Kevin Condon says that cooperation among different divisions and levels of the company is a key to its success.

We congratulate Great Lakes Plumbing & Heating for being our Mechanical Contractor of the Year.

In addition, our front page sometimes carries news stories that may not reflect our industry in as positive a light as the two articles mentioned above. This month, we report on a powerful union president and another official who have resigned amid serious allegations. Some readers now or in the future may wonder why we would do that.

As editors of a newsmagazine, we feel it is our obligation to report these stories to you so that you are informed about what is going on in our industry. We strive to be as fair and objective as we can in our reporting. We also give people who have been accused of wrongdoing the opportunity to tell their side of the story in print. As a monthly publication, CONTRACTOR frequently updates stories, either on the front page or inside the magazine, as new developments occur.

Years from now, other editors will look back at the front pages of this time and read about mechanical contractors that were accomplishing much for their customers and employees as well as actively participating in the world community. They’ll also discover an industry that openly discussed issues in an effort to move itself forward.