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As I See It

Are you running with the big dogs?

We need your help with a project we’re working on. Are you one of the largest plumbing and mechanical contractors in the country? And by one of the largest, we mean $50 million or more. If you are, we want to hear from you. This year we’ve placed all of the forms to participate in our Book of Giants online. More on that in a bit.

Once again we’re going to publish our annual Book of Giants in May, the list of the Top 100 largest mechanical contractors in the U.S. The list includes the top contractors by revenue and by type of work, and then we split the list up into a number of categories. We have lists of the Top 10 contractors in each of four geographic regions, and the Top 10 by type of work, such as the largest plumbing or HVAC contractors.

Everybody likes a list. Lists have been keeping USA Today going for a long time. Who will be the nation’s largest mechanical contactor? Well, we know that already — it’s EMCOR Group. Tony Guzzi and his team have done a great job through the years keeping their collection of first tier mechanical contractors number one.

An old and venerable list

The Book of Giants is an old, old project that was started by a magazine called Domestic Engineering so long ago that I don’t remember when it started and I’ve been around for a while. After our publisher bought DE Journal back in the 1990s, CONTRACTOR took over publication of the Book of Giants. A lot has happened through the years. Are you old enough to remember Sam P. Wallace? They were huge, then they were bankrupt. Remember Natkin Group? They were the nation’s third largest mechanical contractor until corporate raider Ivan Boesky took them over in the ‘80s with the help of Michael Milken and sucked them dry.

There’s a lot more stability in the list these days. Last year the top five were EMCOR, Johnson Controls North American Service operation, APi Group, Comfort Systems USA, and American Residential Services. I would love to be able to get Tyco’s fire sprinkler installation and service business into the list. I know they’re the largest fire protection contractor, but Tyco is a corporate conglomerate and they bury those operating results in a division that’s full of other operations other than contracting. I can’t ferret it out and they won’t tell me. They don’t have to say anything other than what the SEC tells them they have to report. Nevertheless, if somebody at Tyco wants to give me the heads up, I would appreciate it.

Fill out the questionnaire

I take the comprehensiveness of this list seriously. I appreciate it when the principals of the Giants take the time to fill out the questionnaire so we have accurate information about them. For those Giants who don’t fill out the questionnaire — I’m going to find you anyway. The list isn’t credible if, for example, a $200 million contractor decides to opt out. My research is made easier by the Internet. I use Dun & Bradstreet lists, SEC filings, annual reports, newspaper reports, and any other credible published source that I can find. If I have a reasonably solid revenue figure for your firm, you’re going into the list. For example, I discovered that Chicago’s Four Seasons Heating, Air Conditioning and Plumbing bills about $94 million. I saw that in a business publication. So, people at Four Seasons, is that accurate? It would be more accurate if you filled out the questionnaire. Every year I get at least one phone call from a contractor asking where I got a revenue figure. If you don’t like the Dun & Bradstreet number, fill out the questionnaire.

You will find the questionnaire at

Contractors who have been on the list in years past can check out the numbers we have for them from last year. Because of the size of the list we’ve split it up by A-L and M-Z. The online form asks the same questions that we formerly asked on the paper form, except that we’ve decided to enter the 21st century.

My goal is to make this list interactive online so that it can be searchable. Now I just have to make sure our online staff likes me well enough to make this happen.

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