Special to CONTRACTOR
ST. CHARLES, MO. — Joseph R. Schmitt Sr., who gave business management advice to CONTRACTOR readers for 20 years through his monthly column, died Dec. 1, 2004, from complications of pneumonia. He was 80.
His popular column, “Schmitt on Management,” first appeared on pg. 53 of the Jan. 15, 1985, issue of CONTRACTOR when this magazine was published twice a month. Due to its growing popularity among readers, “Schmitt on Management” moved steadily forward in the magazine to a prominent position where Schmitt dispensed his plain-spoken, often blunt advice. The last column that he wrote for CONTRACTOR appears on pg. 17 of this issue.
Schmitt was a very early advocate of flat-rate pricing in the plumbing-and-HVAC contracting business. He liked to say that contractors in this industry are entitled to high, “almost obscene” profits because of the important work that they do in protecting the health of the nation. He urged those contractors who did not understand their costs or charge enough for their services to close their businesses and go to work for a more professionally run contracting firm.
Schmitt spent years in the plumbing-and-heating industry, including a period when he was president and CEO of A.Y. McDonald, a wholesaling and manufacturing company in Dubuque, Iowa. The son and the grandson of plumbers, he decided fairly early on not to follow his family tradition of entering the trades, said his son Rich Schmitt, who once asked his father why he didn’t complete his training to become a master plumber.
Joe Schmitt told his son: “As the only plumbing shop in a small town, we served all residents without regard to their ethnicity, politics or occupation. I was sitting astride the toilet, backwards as plumbers often sit when servicing a toilet, with my arm up to the elbow in the bowl working to unclog the toilet in the local house of ill repute; and I said to myself, ‘Joe, there has to be a better way to earn an honest living.’”
From there, he moved into manufacturing, industry promotion, wholesaling, consulting, writing and speaking. Still, having come up through the ranks, he never forgot that, without the trades people, the industry cannot succeed, Rich Schmitt said.
“While Dad loved a good joke, poking fun at him and others, he would not abide denigrating or disrespecting those who do put their arms into clogged toilets or who fill any role in the industry, high or low,” his son said. “He often said that the people he respected and liked to be around were those who, sometimes, didn’t smell too good because he knew those were the people who did the real work.”
Joe Schmitt is survived by his wife, Anna M. Schmitt; sons Joseph “Rich” Schmitt Jr. (Glenda) and David E. (Cathy) Schmitt; grandfather of Jennifer, Joseph R. III, Sarah and Lauren Schmitt; and brother of Walter Schmitt. He was preceded in death by first wife, Mary Alice; parents, Reinhold Robert and Margaret Schmitt, and one brother, Robert Schmitt.
A memorial gathering was held Dec. 5, 2004, in St. Charles. Memorials may be made to Arthritis Foundation.