John W. Danforth Co.
Buffalo Welding Shop 609021c17994f

In the Footsteps of Giants

May 7, 2021
Our Giants have responded, adapted, and in many cases found new pathways to success.

So it’s May, which every year here at CONTRACTOR Magazine is our Book of Giants issue, where we take a look at the nation’s largest mechanical contractors. I always find these issues fascinating. On the one hand, even the largest mechanical contractors are in many ways like any two-truck shop. They want to keep their customers happy, they want to invest in tools that will make their operation run smoother, they want to develop their workforce.

On the other hand, our Giants have the resources to try new approaches, new technologies, new areas of work. The larger the contractor is the more vulnerable they may be to supply chain disruptions. And the larger they are, the more the overall economic health of the nation may impact their bottom line.

For those reasons (among others) our Giants have become the lens I’ve used to better understand this age of COVID we find ourselves in. (If this was a magazine that covered, say, the healthcare industry or the transportation industry, no doubt my understanding would be different.) At this time a year ago, in the intro to our 2020 Giants feature, I wrote:

More than a million cases have been reported—and more than 70,000 Americans have died. Over five days in February the stock market lost more than three trillion dollars in value. More than 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment.

For all that it seemed then—to me at least—that social distancing, masking and quarantining were working, that infection rates were dropping and would continue to drop. I should have put more stock in the opinion of IAPMO’s Russ Chaney when we met at AHR Expo 2020 for a private sit-down. IAPMO is an organization that takes both the long view and the world view, and Russ told me then that until there was a working vaccine with wide-ranging inoculations, things would never get back to normal.

And here we are today with 560,000 Americans dead. But also, here we are today with more than 103 million Americans fully vaccinated.

Our Giants have responded, adapted, and in many cases found new pathways to success. Murphy Co., for example, is recording the largest backlog in the company’s history. Some have embraced new technologies, such as University Mechanical Contractors with laser scanning, or John W. Danforth with VDC. All them have invested in their digital infrastructure, and if there is any positive to come out of the pandemic, it’s that in a single year many companies are now at a point in their digital transformation they weren’t expecting to hit until 2025 or even 2030.

And all of them have discovered new ways to empower their people. The same technology that allowed workers to work remotely—many of them in jobs where remote work was never thought possible—has super-charged collaboration. Front-line workers have instant communication with the back office. The back office can see the work as it is happening in real time. Best practices now move around a company, around the industry, with the speed of the internet.

Tough times can damage organizations as well as individuals, but adversity can also build character. Adversity can bring people closer together. Adversity can show people what’s really important. Every one of our Giants has a list of company values, principles that guide them such as integrity, collaboration, humble leadership, the power of individual differences.

In these difficult times, each of our Giants has returned to their core values as both a source of strength and as the stars they steer by. Because of that each of these companies is emerging from the pandemic changed, but in a way more clearly themselves. I hope that by the time the country and the world returns to normal, we can each of us say the same.

About the Author

Steve Spaulding | Editor-inChief - CONTRACTOR

Steve Spaulding is Editor-in-Chief for CONTRACTOR Magazine. He has been with the magazine since 1996, and has contributed to Radiant Living, NATE Magazine, and other Endeavor Media properties.

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