Garvelink to become first woman to assume presidency of PHCC

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. On Oct. 15, Mary Garvelink will be sworn in as the first woman president of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors National Association. The co-founder and comptroller of Commercial Design Engineering, a $12 million p-h-c firm with about 100 employees, she also has the distinction of following husband John Garvelink, who was president of PHCC-NA in 1997-1998. CONTRACTOR asked

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. — On Oct. 15, Mary Garvelink will be sworn in as the first woman president of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors — National Association. The co-founder and comptroller of Commercial Design Engineering, a $12 million p-h-c firm with about 100 employees, she also has the distinction of following husband John Garvelink, who was president of PHCC-NA in 1997-1998.

CONTRACTOR asked Mary Garvelink about her life, the industry and being the first female president of a national association in this business.

Question: When and why did you make the decision to get into the mechanical contracting industry?

Mary Garvelink: I was raised in a rural Midwestern Michigan community of 6,000 people. My family had a 300-acre orchard, large retail business and commercial produce packing facility. On my fifth birthday, my dad offered me a job for 50 cents a day to work setting up irrigation lines in the field. I became the gaskets, fitting and sprinkler little lady. This was the start of my learning experience on how to work and to experience the sense of true satisfaction of an honest day's work.

Q: Who or what came first, John or Commercial Design Engineering?

MG: I met John in college at Ferris State, Big Rapids, Mich. Within three minutes of meeting John I knew I was going to marry him.

Two years later we were married and moved to Colorado Springs where John was serving at Fort Carson. Just a week before our marriage, we decided to stay in Colorado.

Within six weeks of getting married, I started to have the initial signs of multiple sclerosis. We continued with our young married life. This included starting Commercial Design Engineering Ltd. in 1975.

Because I could not be exposed to direct sunlight, heat or do anything requiring physical endurance, John and I worked extraordinary hours. Being able to be in a controlled environment has truly benefited my health. I owe the HVAC industry a huge thanks.

Who knows, possibly without my MS our business might not have grown as it did.

Q: What is the most difficult aspect of running Commercial Design Engineering?

MG: In our minds CDE is still a "mom and pop" operation, but in reality it is run as a large corporation. Each and every contract is reviewed. As the old saying goes, "Sometimes the best job is the one you never did." Employee issues and the need for employee manuals have developed. Thirty years ago new employees would need to complete three forms and today our employee manual is more than 100 pages.

Q: Is it more difficult to run a contracting firm now than when you and John got into the business?

MG: Projects today have been compressed in time. In the 1980s, a building might have taken 12 months to complete and today it would be scheduled for eight months. Time truly is money

When OSHA was first established everyone was fearful, but in reality OSHA required everyone to obtain proper training, to plan ahead and that has ultimately resulted in safer conditions.

Cost is always important and today's market is very competitive.

Q: What are the plumbing industry's biggest challenges?

MG: Tort reform, insurance issues, the mold situation, commodity prices.

Copper in the last year has ranged from the 80 cent per lb. range to $1.35 and sheet metal from the 30-cent range as high as 70 cents. In some instances the products were not even available.

Skilled people have always been at a premium and the situation has not improved much. With the aging of America, the average age of our workforce has also increased — the statistics tell us that it's over 50 years.

Q: What do you love about your job? MG: I have a true passion for what I do and feel it to be a privilege and honor to be able to work every day. Our employees have to be the ultimate part of CDE. It has been wonderful to have developed a core group of dedicated, knowledgeable, enthusiastic and team-oriented individuals.


One of the main responsibilities of owners is to train, mentor and develop the next generation of leaders


Q: What is the most important thing that you've learned in your years in the business?

MG: Many of the same principles I learned over 50 years ago still apply today. Courage to always get the facts about a situation and then make your best decisions and always do the right thing. Character, integrity and honesty are paramount.

Q: What is PHCC's biggest challenge?

MG: We have to emphasize PHCC's mission statement and realization of the awesome responsibility we have for the "protection, advancement, education and training of the industry for the protection of our environment and the health, safety and comfort of society."

Q: Speaking of health and safety, you attended the SARS seminar earlier this year in Los Angeles. It sounds like you believe the plumber's role in protecting the health of the nation is still important.

MG: Our responsibility has never been greater. In the United States the safety of our water supply has become a national security issue. In the world, water availability remains a major concern. It is estimated that every day more than 6,000 people die due to lack of water and sanitary conditions that the average American takes for granted.

Q: At what point in your career did you decide to get involved with PHCC?

MG: My parents always attended conventions and trade shows for their industry and so it was only natural for John and me to do the same. We started attending the PHCC trade show the second year of our business. The networking, friendships and knowledge we've gained over the years have been invaluable.

Q: What does it mean to you to be the first woman president of PHCC? What does it mean to the industry?

MG: This has often been asked of me and to me it's a non-issue. Even as a child, I was never told, "You're a girl and you can't do something." Over 30 years ago I joined my high school Future Farmers of America. At the time I was the first female member and at a regional meeting I actually had an entire dormitory to myself. I remember being devastated when our high school debate team won a debate contest and then we were eliminated because I, a girl, was part of the team. That decision was overruled. Thus, having a lady president seems to be just a natural progression. I am humbled and honored to be in this position and look forward to working with everyone in the industry.

Q: Do you have a list of goals for your presidency?

MG: Some of my goals for the coming year are renewed emphasis on apprenticeship programs for both plumbing and HVAC.

The convention in Orlando in 2005 will have a new format, with tabletop exhibits and seminars to help all of our businesses' bottom lines.

I also plan to focus on partnerships and sharing information with our industry partners. It's only by working together that everyone can grow and accomplish more for our wonderful industry.

Q: How do you feel about the Construction Specifications Institute splitting up the specs for plumbing and HVAC into different divisions in MasterFormat?

MG: Because we're a combined shop, for me it's neutral. We usually don't split out our pricing, but I can see overall that there are a lot of companies that only do plumbing, so for them it might make it easier. On very rare occasions we will split it out, but we are a total mechanical contracting company. This issue started here locally, I remember, probably 17 years ago when the sheet metal people wanted it.

Q: What will you need to do in the future to keep the family firm going?

MG: We have always taken business continuation planning and succession planning very seriously. These plans are reviewed yearly. If both John and I become disabled or die, CDE should be able to continue without disruption. One of the main responsibilities of owners is to train, mentor and develop the next generation of leaders.

IAPMO offers inspector certification program
ONTARIO, CALIF. — The International Association of Plumbing & Mechanical Officials has expanded its roll-in program for inspector certification. Certified plumbing and mechanical inspectors who have passed an inspector examination may be eligible for the IAPMO Special Voluntary Inspector Certification Roll-In Program.

"The roll-in program offers inspectors a streamlined way to become IAPMO certified, using the plumbing and mechanical knowledge they have acquired over the years," said Jay Peters, senior director of IAPMO Codes and Education. "While IAPMO does not mandate continuing education for its inspectors, we do recognize that most inspectors are keeping up with their professional education as they perform their day-to-day tasks."

IAPMO will accept the following ICC certifications into the program: 1997 UMC, 1997 IPC, 1997 UPC, 2000 IMC, 2000 UMC, 2000 IPC, 2000 UPC, 2003 IMC, 1997 IMC, and the 2003 IPC.

After inspectors submit the required documentation, they will receive a 50-question, multiple-choice examination by mail. After passing the exam, inspectors will receive a wallet card and wall certificate certifying their knowledge of the Uniform Mechanical or Plumbing Code developed by IAPMO. The certification must be renewed every three years.

To be eligible for the roll-in program, inspectors must submit the following:

  1. A completed Voluntary Inspector Certification Roll-In Program Application;
  2. A copy of the qualifying certification from the list above; and
  3. An application/exam fee of $100. For more information, contact the IAPMO Certification Department at 800/85-IAPMO, 909/472-4100 or visit www.iapmo.org.