Ted and Matt Puzio.

Creating a legacy for the next generation

Oct. 13, 2017
Dr. Leon Danco, the founder of the Center for Family Business, once wrote that sex is the opiate of the oppressed, so small business owners tend to have a lot of kids...

Dr. Leon Danco, the founder of the Center for Family Business, once wrote that sex is the opiate of the oppressed, so small business owners tend to have a lot of kids. It’s been, no doubt, the dream of many contractors when both the business and the kids were little to some day be able to add “& Son” or “& Daughter” to the name of the shop. It’s not easy. When the young persons come of age, the contracting firm has to be a going concern in order for them to have a business to join.

But when this happens, the transition can be sweet. CONTRACTOR spoke with three contractors who are transitioning to the next generation, and the idea of creating a legacy can be so moving that the father and son from one firm both got choked up talking about it.

Southern Trust Home Services

In Roanoke, Virginia, Matt Puzio is taking over from his dad, Ted, at Southern Trust Home Services. Ted grew up on a farm in New Jersey, where he went through his electrical apprenticeship working on commercial projects. He got tired of the rat race and moved to Virginia and opened up Southern States Electric. He’s since added plumbing, heating and air conditioning and changed the name of the firm to reflect that.

His boys always helped him, even when they were little. Ted would mark spots on the walls and his sons would drill holes with a paddle bit.

Matt was gung ho about joining the family business from an early age, taking apprenticeship courses at night and going to high school during the day. It took some prodding from Ted, but Matt enrolled in the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, got his degree and journeyed off in a different direction. He got a job with an importer and traveled from Lyon, France, to Hong Kong buying home furnishings. Then he got a corporate job with Lowes. Eventually, though, he found his way home.

“It was intriguing for me to be able to come in and serve a customer and leave them better off than when we came through the door,” Matt said. “I knew I wanted to serve in some way after watching my dad be a leader to the men and women in the company. I knew that home services is where I wanted to end up.”

Ted’s general manager told him that it was about time — Ted and Matt both have the same philosophy. To ease the transition, Matt is starting up the firm’s bath division, a process that’s being guided by Mike Agugliaro and his CEO Warrior business mentoring service.

Ted said the staff of 20 is excited about the transition because Ted had told him that he never wanted to sell out to another outfit that might start laying people off. He wanted to create an ongoing legacy.

Over the next five years, Matt sees his role as being a constant communicator with both his father and the staff at Southern Trust. That future will be even better for Ted if he’s in his RV somewhere enjoying life while he’s talking to Matt and checking on the business through the ServiceTitan app on his phone.

128 Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning

In Wakefield, Massachusetts, just north of Boston, Ryan Williams saw his dad work long hours starting up 128 Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning. His dad started as a carpenter, but he was the type to outwork anybody and got journeymen’s and master’s licenses in plumbing, sheet metal, process piping and gas fitting.

“At an early age, we both agreed that going directly into the trade wasn’t the right path for me,” Ryan said. “My dad didn’t want to see me having the same headaches, so I went off to college. I studied business at Saint Anselm College (in New Hampshire) and played baseball there. It was great experience and I learned a lot of valuable lessons, but what always stuck with me was that as a plumber my dad has been a fantastic visionary. He’s always educating himself. He’s not a ‘been there, done that’ kind of guy. He’s always hungry to absorb more knowledge and he pushed that on me. He told me a long time ago that business is business — it doesn’t matter if you’re manufacturing widgets or running a plumbing business. So go learn what you need to learn.”

Ryan started part time in August 2008 doing the books, answering phones, sweeping floors, helping jackhammer a floor, and paying the bills. He really committed to the business in August 2014 and the first thing Ryan changed was how they hired. It’s tiresome working with people you can’t trust, he observed.

In August 2014 there was Ryan, his dad and three techs. Now there are 45.

Ryan wrote a list of questions that he wanted to ask prospective employees and he still uses the same list of questions today. None of the questions ask about how fast a guy can spin a wrench or how to troubleshoot. All of the questions are about integrity, commitment, the times they’ve gone above and beyond for customers, and the times they’ve persevered through adversity.

“So we attracted those kinds of people,” Ryan said. “The law of attraction works.”

In August 2014, there was Ryan, his dad and three techs. Now there are 45.

Ryan sees his role as making sure that the company is profitable tomorrow. He works on scheduling, developing a new sales procedure, how they run a service call, what the customer service experience should be, as well as spending a lot of time monitoring the financials of 128’s various departments.

He wants to work on expanding sub-trades that fit into 128’s primary trades. For example, he wants to get into water treatment and pipe relining for plumbing and into indoor air quality on the HVAC side.

His biggest impediment is a lack of people — he can’t execute a five-year growth plan if he can’t get good people. And new people have to fit in with 128’s core values.

The company’s core values aren’t copied from someplace else or something that Ryan came up with. The team as a group sat down for two hours and hammered them out.

Number one, service is everything. It’s how they carry themselves and present themselves to deliver superior service to their customer. Number two, teamwork wins. That’s the favorite core value of most people in the company, Ryan said, because his people said that the office and the field pulling together to complete the work at hand was the best thing about working for 128. And, number three is developing yourself — making a commitment to your personal growth in your skills through continuous learning.

Petri Plumbing

In Brooklyn, New York, Mike Petri and his son Chris are managing an entity that’s almost a sacred trust — Mike’s great grandfather and great uncles started Petri Plumbing 111 years ago. You can’t mess this up.

The clientele has changed a lot over the years, Mike said. The people in Brooklyn these days are from all over the country and all over the world, not lifelong New Yorkers. Instead of dealing with stay-at-home moms, they’re dealing with nannies and babysitters. The customers are well educated and have a pretty good handle on what they want. Style is important, as is energy and water conservation. As Mike put it, they want flow but not too much flow and showers typically have an overhead shower, a handheld shower and three body sprays.

Mike went to college but he knew all along that he wanted to work in the family business. Chris went to college too, and Mike never pushed him to join the company just like Mike’s dad had not pushed him. Mike honestly didn’t think Chris would join him. Chris got a job at a Wall Street brokerage house, soured on it, and told Mike that he wanted to come to work for him. It was to be a one-year experiment.

Three and a half years later, Chris has changed the dynamics of the entire company.

“He’s putting systems in place that I didn’t have before,” Mike said.

Paper forms are gone, dispatching and customer service are computerized and the field crews work off their cell phones using ServiceTitan.

Mike and Chris joined Mike Agugliaro’s CEO Warrior service a couple years ago, and when Mike had some medical issues, they convinced him to let Chris take the reins. When Mike joined the company, his dad was a plumber and he was joining a plumbing contractor. Chris sees it as a business and intends to follow the CEO Warrior model and turn it into a home service business.

“Chris will bring the company to new heights,” Mike said.

Someday these three sons will think about turning the family business over to their children. Ryan Williams and his wife just had their first child, a girl. Ryan ordered up a batch of 128 Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning baby bibs. It starts early.

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