TIMING IS EVERYTHING. When the editors of CONTRACTOR decided to re-institute our Mechanical Contractor of the Year feature after a five-year hiatus, we picked a year when many contractors are struggling to keep business and profits up in a down economy. As we narrowed our field of candidates, a few well-respected mechanicals asked to be taken off the board. Maybe next year, they told us, when business will be better and management changes a bit more settled.
Kinetics Group, however, was interested from the start. While acknowledging that his company was having an “off” year, President and COO Kurt Gilson welcomed the kind of in-depth coverage that being named Mechanical Contactor of the Year would bring. Such confidence and openness are among the traits that make Kinetics so extraordinary, as we were to discover.
Being named Mechanical Contractor of the Year never has been about being the biggest or most profitable company in the industry. While sound finances are important to us, we’re also interested in a contractor’s corporate culture and priorities as well as its standing as a good industry citizen. Our Mechanical Contractor of the Year should set an example for other companies to study, if not to follow.
Make no mistake, though. Kinetics is huge. In our 2002 Book of Giants, Kinetics ranked No. 6 with almost $863 million in revenue. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based contractor has locations across the country and the world.
So, what can contractors learn from Kinetics at a time when business is not as robust as it was a few years ago?
1. Stay flexible. If one trait characterizes Kinetics, it is that the contractor is not afraid to change directions, whether that means shifting strategy or geography. For a company as big as it is, Kinetics is remarkably nimble. As John Yale, president of its TRiMEGA unit says, Kinetics is not the kind of company that when it falls off its horse, waits around for the horse to come back.
Even before the semiconductor industry hit the wall, Kinetics was looking at better ways to deliver value to its customers in that industry. When the recession came, Kinetics intensified its efforts. Now it has its TRiMEGA and Celerity operations to serve some of its customers in that industry. Its BioKinetics operation sells to the biopharmaceutical industry, which has different needs.
The question that Kinetics Chairman and CEO David Shimmon asks is one that can apply to all contractors: “Are you in a position to deliver value to your customers?”
2. Focus on the basics. Kinetics surveys its customers and employees because it realizes that it must keep both groups satisfied. Surveys are one way to stay on top of their changing needs.
The problem with surveys, though, is that a company doesn’t always get the answers it would like to see. Such was the case with some recent surveys that Kinetics conducted of its employees and customers. Kinetics also is smart enough to realize, however, that survey results are not nearly as important as what you do with them. As a company committed to continuous improvement, Kinetics uses the survey results as one tool to make itself better.
Jobsite safety is another basic that Kinetics targets. The commitment starts with Shimmon and Gilson who personally do safety walk-throughs on construction sites. Paul Thomas, vice president/safety and a former OSHA compliance officer, oversees the contractor’s safety training and recognition programs. At Kinetics, it is necessary that employees are safe on the job.
3. Get involved in the industry. Kinetics founder William Bianco set the bar with his participation in the Mechanical Contractors Association of America, among other groups. He will conclude his term as president of the Mechanical Contracting Foundation in March. In addition, Yale is chairman of MCAA’s Education Committee.
Both men see the value of education and training not just at Kinetics but on an industry-wide level as well. Bianco says that his position with MCF is especially gratifying because of the training it provides to all mechanical contractors, even competitors.
Despite a down economy, the people at Kinetics are not down about the mechanical contracting industry or their place in it. As Shimmon notes, “Contracting is the greatest business because we’re so critical to the success of our customers.”
That’s something we all should remember, in good and slow times.