Mark Giebelhaus in his role as chairman of PHCC39s Government Relations Committee

Contractor of the Year: Nice Guys Finish First

Dec. 16, 2014
Mark Giebelhaus, president of Marlin Mechanical Corp. in Phoenix, has been a savvy businessman and a leader in Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors – National Association for 25 years. Despite everything he’s done for the industry, Giebelhaus doesn’t brag about it. Giebelhaus won PHCC's highest honor, the Col. George D. Scott Award, in October. In November the Arizona PHCC also named him its Contractor of the Year for the second time.

“He was just so nice,” says the person who knows him best, Terry Giebelhaus, his wife of 33 years. “He was actually my boyfriend’s best friend,” Terry recalls. “He was just so nice, that’s the biggest thing. And even after my breakup with this other guy, we stayed friends before we started dating. He’s just pure nice.”

Along with being nice, Mark Giebelhaus, president of Marlin Mechanical Corp. in Phoenix, has been a savvy businessman and a leader in Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors – National Association for 25 years. Too many contractors regard being elected president of their national association to be the pinnacle of their career and then they disappear. After Mark served as president of PHCC-National Association in 1996-1997, he was just getting started. For that and many other reasons, Mark Giebelhaus is the CONTRACTOR magazine Contractor of the Year.

Despite everything he’s done for the industry — such as getting a prompt pay law passed in Arizona — Giebelhaus doesn’t brag about it, even to Terry, as she found out when she was nominating him for PHCC’s highest award, the Col. George D. Scott award. The prestigious award, presented in October during PHCC’s CONNECT 2014, convention in New Orleans, recognizes a PHCC member who has provided years of service and unselfish devotion to his or her association and industry, and whose industry efforts have provided many benefits to other p-h-c contractors. It also recognizes the continuing philosophy of dedicated service inspired by Col. George D. Scott, PHCC’s first president.

Never a self-promoter

Terry found out about many of the things Mark has done for the industry when she was nominating him for the Col. Scott award, which involved her and Anne Williams, the widow of former PHCC President Fran Williams, sneaking into Mark’s office to look through his records. She found a drawer in his office containing files for every job he’s done for PHCC, meticulously filed in chronological order.

“He works hard on everything he does,” Terry says. “He puts his whole heart into it. I didn’t know half the things he did because he just did them, he didn’t brag about them. I had to go to different groups that he’s in to ask them what he did. To me that just shows how humble he is about what he does.”

In addition to winning the Col. Scott Award, which Mark said took him completely by surprise, in November the Arizona PHCC also named him its Contractor of the Year for the second time. He won the award about a decade ago and he is the only Arizona contractor to win the award twice. He was also the Delta Plumbing Contractor of the Year in 2003.

He works so hard on everything he does. He puts his whole heart into it.

—Terry Giebelhaus

“As current chair of the PHCC Government Relations Committee, Mark has helped build PHCC’s influence on Capitol Hill and with the regulatory agencies,” says PHCC President Kevin Tindall, Tindall & Ranson, and himself a previous Contractor of the Year. “Thanks to his leadership, Capitol Hill and the regulatory agencies are quick to engage us in the decision-making process on issues impacting the industry. Mark knows that it’s all about relationships, and he’s very good at building and maintaining partnerships with lawmakers.”

Among the people who recommended Giebelhaus for the Col. Scott Award was his former Congressman, David Schweikert.

“He is currently the Chairman of the Arizona Leadership Council for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), which boasts 350,000 members, including 7,500 in Arizona, and previously served as Chairman of the NFIB/Arizona PAC Committee,” Schweikert wrote. “Legislation pertaining to Arizona’s prime contracting tax, general contractors and subcontractors, and indemnity issues among owners, would not have passed without his leadership and advocacy on these important measures.”

For the good of all contractors

Schweikert is referring to the Construction Trades Coalition, of which Geibelhaus was a co-founder back in 2001. The Coalition was instrumental in getting a prompt pay law passed in Arizona requiring customers to pay general contractors in 21 days and GCs to pay their subs seven days later. Giebelhaus noted that the GCs were quietly cheering them on but they had to remain silent because big customers like Intel and Motorola opposed the measure.

“That benefits every single contractor or subcontractor in the state,” says Gary Webster, Marlin Mechanical’s vice president of field operations. “Nine out 10 people are clueless about where that legislation came from but they get the same protection that Marlin Mechanical does and that’s good for the industry.”

“I wrote one of the recommendation letters for the Col. Scott award,” notes Marlin Mechanical Vice President Mark Larson. “Mark has done so much for the PHCC industry and so much for plumbing industry in the political arena here that a lot of stuff he does goes unsung. There are so few people in political end of it here in construction industry, and especially plumbing industry. There are only three or four vocal guys here in the plumbing industry, so Mark has gone above and beyond in his association work and political lobbying and all of the different laws that may either be passed or struck down.”

Started out like many others

Giebelhaus started like many in the industry, working for his father’s plumbing company in the late ‘70s. The United Association wasn’t accepting many apprentices in those days but Mark got into the apprenticeship program because his father ran a union plumbing shop. He mostly worked in the office doing purchasing so the field plumbers called him the “executive apprentice.” That was where he met his long-time partner, Mark Larson.

That arrangement worked until 1981. At the time, union scale at the combined plumbers and fitters local was $10 an hour. The fitters were working at the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station and they wanted to go on strike to double the base rate to $20 an hour. Ironically the fitters on the nuclear job were working on a national contract and were prohibited from walking out. The rest of the local did, however, go out on strike. Giebelhaus’ dad couldn’t survive with a $20 per hour base rate and he ended up shutting the company down.

It was 1982 and Mark Giebelhaus and Mark Larson were young men in need of a job. They did what they knew — they founded Marlin Mechanical with Giebelhaus running the office and Larson the field.

“That’s why it’s worked for us for so long — there were no overlapping responsibilities,” Giebelhaus says. “Mark and I knew what to do. We had always specialized in multi-unit projects. New housing and construction in general had been down in the late ‘70s, so when we went into business it was picking up again so we got business right out of the gate. We also had a lot of contacts from when we were working for dad, so we went to those clients and got work from them right away. We got up to around 40 or 50 people, and by 1985 going into 1986 we had close to 100 people working for us.”

They joined PHCC in 1984. Giebelhaus’ parents went to the national PHCC convention and urged the two Marks to join. Moreover, they wanted to take advantage of the apprenticeship training that PHCC had available.

In 1985, the two went to the PHCC national convention in Las Vegas.

Soaking up knowledge like sponges

“We went to the seminars and we were like sponges soaking up all this stuff, all this business advice because we had never had formal training in business,” Giebelhaus recalls. “It’s been invaluable. So with the information garnered through the association, we came back and implemented what we liked when we got home. I think, for me, the first thing that I learned was that my dad had always told me that when a general contractor gives you the contract, you just sign it. I went to a seminar where he said, of course you can change that — it’s called negotiating the contract. I’ve negotiated contracts ever since. A lot of general contractors don’t like it and some of them won’t budge, but then I won’t work for them.”

In addition to the educational offerings and the apprenticeship training that Giebelhaus sought out, PHCC sought out him in return.

With his drive and passion, I think he could accomplish anything he set out to do.

—Kevin Tindall

“When I joined PHCC here at the state level, there wasn’t a big membership and when they saw new blood, they pounced on me,” Giebelhaus says. “So by the late ‘80s I was already the state president, and I liked that. So in the 1990s I got on the national board of directors. My passion is the association.”

Another piece was the networking with contractors all over the country and the lifelong friendships he formed with people like Anne and Fran Williams.

Once he got started with the national association, he served on Political Action and Government Relations committees, as well as the investment management, finance, fair competition, telecommunications, and business insurance and fringe benefit committees, along with a number of task forces.

But this association work would just be the tail wagging the dog without a prosperous contracting firm. The two Marks have built a multi-family new construction business that boomed through the 1990s, survived the Great Recession and is prospering again as multi-family construction has returned to the Valley of the Sun. The company is prospering because GCs know them, trust them and rely on them, even though they aren’t the cheapest plumbing contractor in the market.

The job is in good hands

“They have a good reputation, based on doing quality work and, more important than that, they back up their work,” Webster says of the two Marks. “If there’s an issue, it’s taken care of. We’re all human and make minor mistakes and the general contractor realizes that we’re there for them. The ones that appreciate good work and the backup that we give them are willing to pay more. And the realize that Mark and Mark provide benefits to their employees that the down and dirty contractors don’t do for their people and that adds cost to a job too.”

Giebelhaus notes that Marlin Mechanical provides good pay, benefits and profit sharing, Marlin’s fiscal is July 1 and they paid out $200,000 in bonuses to their people. The give foremen trucks, and foremen who come in below budget get a share of the savings. Giebelhaus says that he’s paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars to foremen in production bonuses. They recently held their company Christmas party with 152 people. In October, the company held its 24th annual fishing trip at Lake Powell. They hire guides and boats.

“We do what we know and what we can be competitive on,” Larson says. “The biggest thing is that we want to put in the best plumbing the fastest and have it be a system that we can be proud of. We have a good name with the City of Phoenix. The plumbing inspections department tells their inspectors that when Marlin is on the job it’s in good hands.”

Mark Giebelhaus has been running a solid contracting firm for 32 years, all while giving back to the industry. That’s why he is receiving this latest accolade.

“I’ve known Mark Giebelhaus for many years through our involvement with PHCC,” says Kevin Tindall. “In his leadership roles within our organization, he has done so much to advance the industry and help fellow contractors. He is an excellent choice for Contractor of the Year. 

“Mark is a visionary leader who can make things happen,” Tindall summed up. “He sees opportunities, and knows how to make them a reality. With his drive and passion, I think he could accomplish anything he set out to do.”

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