Taco's John White, Jr. — Protecting a community

Feb. 6, 2015
I noticed a slight tremble in his fingers as he raised his hand to wipe his brow. It wasn’t because he was nervous; he has conducted hundreds of press conferences throughout his career.

I noticed a slight tremble in his fingers as he raised his hand to wipe his brow. It wasn’t because he was nervous; he has conducted hundreds of press conferences throughout his career. But on the day of the announcement of Taco’s partnership with Italian manufacturer Askoll last November, Taco CEO John White’s words resonated a theme he’s carried with him since he took over the company from his father.

The room filled with press and, more importantly, Taco employees, the message was about them, and how much he really loves each and every one in the room that morning, and all of Taco’s employees throughout.

John Hazen White Jr., the CEO of Taco Inc.

“My primary responsibility is to find ways to grow, develop and protect this company,” said White at the Taco/Askoll press conference. “We have very big, very tough competitors, very good companies. Good competitors, but tough. And so as time has evolved, I’ve learned that one thing I can do is to go and seek relationships, seek opportunities to continue to provide this company with avenues to prosperity and avenues to protection.”

So, continues White, sometime over the last 10 years, there’s been tremendous technological advancement in the area of circulators and we are now moving into government regulations on pumps and circulators for energy efficiency.

Under the terms of the Taco/Askoll agreement, the two companies will collaborate on research and development relating to new circulating pump designs and other joint product and marketing initiatives.

Taco has already begun assembling a new high-efficiency circulator for residential and light commercial applications — the VR1816 — which employs Askoll’s variable speed technology, at its Cranston, Rhode Island, plant, and the future calls for the VR1816 to be manufactured entirely by Taco.

The VR1816 is an extension of Taco’s Viridian line of circulators, which is a wet rotor circulator with an ECM permanent magnet motor that uses up to 85% less electricity. It features an infinitely variable speed setting capability for fine-tuning the flow of any hydronics-based system, and six pressure presets to fit the job.

“This is very exciting because No. 1, it protects us. It protects our product line technologically. Secondly, it protects the jobs in Rhode Island. I’m all about protecting these jobs and so this is a chance to do that. And finally, it allows us to form a relationship with a fine company who shares many of the same values as we do,” said White.

The One-on-One

After the press conference, I had a chance to sit down with White in his office, but not until after he made his way through the production floor, addressing the employees he saw by name, shaking hands and giving hugs.

When we sat down, White began to tell a story about when he was in college working in the shipping department, “I’ll never forget one day, I was sitting on a palette of circulators, having my coffee break and a cigarette, and a guy came around with the paychecks. I never saw people so happy in my life. I knew that someday I wanted to run this place. There’s something more to it. When I began running this place I began to pour my heart and soul into the people.”

White began his career working for a Taco sales rep in the Bay Area, which he refers to as Taco West. He eventually made his way East and began working as a Taco rep. “As a rep, I learned the actual value of what we provided to the Tacos. When I came back here, I was the Lone Ranger, as I always understood the value of reps, and that has been very valuable to the evolution of this company.”

As the conversation continued, I asked White about the love for his employees, and his will to protect the company.

“That comes from several different perspectives,” said White. “One is that we are a very competitive market. I have competitors that don’t want to see me stay around, which they have made abundantly clear. But they haven’t been able to beat us yet. So I always find a need to find the right things to allow us to continue to grow — whether they are new products, new concepts, designs — we do it all. I spend a lot of my life thinking about this. How are we going to move forward? I have to find ways to be effective with the resources that I have, and I don’t have the chance to make many mistakes. Believe me, I have made a few misjudgments—diverting resources to the thing that didn’t pan out—and I have to be careful with that.

“Another perspective is that I’ve chosen the state of Rhode Island — we are always in the bottom two in terms of business unfriendly — politics, tax prohibitive, to name a few. When I began running the company in 1992, we were about $35M in sales and we had 500 employees, closer to 600. Now we are $250M and we have 500 employees. We have been able to grow the business without adding lots of people, and now we are beginning to add again on the IT, engineering and the human resources side. Our average tenured employee is 20 years and Rhode Island is full of good, hard working skilled workers. It is the best workforce I have seen anywhere in the world.

“The growth this company has incurred and the upgrade in process and efficiency and quality, it’s been done by the same people. We’ve all done it together. Think about that. Those 500 people, a lot of them have been here for the 20 years I’ve been running this company. I feel like to the best of my ability, I owe it to them. Remember, protecting those 500 jobs is protecting the livelihood of thousands — families, suppliers, etc. It’s a pleasurable burden to be able to fulfill.”

Legacy? “My dad’s legacy was the learning center. My legacy would just be able to have allowed people to grow and prosper in their lives. It’s not about money.”

Wrapping up, White told me one last thing, “I’ve learned in life that everybody has a story. If we just took the time to listen to them. The stories I’ve heard throughout my journey, they’ve taught me so many things in life.”

The company’s future looks bright. With the introduction of Wil VandeWiel as the new president & COO of Taco, VandeWiel will oversee daily operations of Taco and work with White and his board of directors in steering Taco’s growth forward in the years ahead. White will remain as company CEO, but will refocus his responsibilities on building new partnerships and strategic acquisitions worldwide in pursuit of company growth and diversification. And let’s not forget about John White’s two sons, John White III and Ben White, great men full of potential, at the ready to make great things happen for the future of the company.

The Message Comes Full Circle

Fast forward, the message again was clear as he spoke at last month’s AHR Show, conveying the fact that the company is looking toward future growth — through organic, inorganic and global growth.

“With Taco, it’s not just about pumps and valves, it’s about a community," said White. "We are in the business of making peoples’ lives better. When a customer buys a Taco product, they are buying into someone’s future, as well.”

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