BY ROBERT P. MADER of CONTRACTOR’s staff
TULSA, OKLA. — On the one hand, Steve Carder followed in his father’s footsteps, but on the other, he leaped way ahead of his dad.
From early childhood, he saw firsthand that his father’s plumbing business provided for the family’s every need. He always liked to hear the phone being answered and problems being solved, recalled Carder, the incoming president of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National Association. He was also fascinated about how things worked mechanically or electrically.
Reading and spelling well in elementary school led to his being promoted from second to third grade after only three months in class. That started a chain of events that had him graduate from high school the week he turned 17.
“Education counselors then, as now, disdained from discussing anything but college for successful careers,” Carder said. “I admired my father, who never even made it to high school, and I saw the PHC industry as one that would always be in demand and always make a rewarding career for me. I tossed aside the scholarship applications and went in as an apprentice, knowing that I only needed the Oklahoma requirement of three certified years under a master plumber in order to test for my journeyman’s license. The deciding factor was seeing the potential firsthand.”
Carder is president of Carder Plumbing, Heating & Cooling Co. in Sand Springs, Okla., a close-in suburb of Tulsa. In addition to being the incoming president of PHCC-NA, he is the former president of both the Oklahoma PHCC Chapter for three years and the Tulsa PHCC Chapter.
Carder is a contractor-founder member of the PHCC Educational Foundation, and he serves as a member of the foundation’s board of governors. He is a member of the PHCC Quality Service Contractors enhanced service group, and he has been a committee chairman and member of the national board of directors.
Once Carder made his career decision coming out of high school, he went to work as an apprentice in his father’s firm. In 1973 he received a journeyman plumbing and gas fitters license for the state of Oklahoma, and in 1981 he received a master’s license in both plumbing and mechanical.
Assuming the presidency of Carder Plumbing was not always in the works. He left the firm three different times over the years to pursue an interest in air conditioning and in larger mechanical and electrical firms. That experience has proven invaluable, he said, in moving the company from basic residential plumbing and heating repair, to adding commercial plumbing, heating, and cooling construction and remodeling.
When he took over Carder Plumbing in 1992, there was a rotary phone, a metal filing cabinet, and a spiral notebook for taking calls for the two vans and three employees. While that seems rather humble, the company also had 30 years with a spotless reputation and a good following.
“Dad did what always had worked for him, and his retirement opened the way for a complete makeover of the company,” Carder said. “The company kept his belief in character, honesty and hard work as the foundation. Thanks, Dad! Those are the most valuable things you could ever hand over to us.”
The company moved into the commercial market and into HVAC work and has grown to 26 employees. Carder works with his brother, a sister, two sons, a son-in-law, two nephews, and he also employs three who are brothers and a brother-in-law to one of them. The most difficult aspect to running the firm is growing a successful operation with so much family on the payroll, and still loving one another at the end of the day, he said.
“All of the accommodation is very difficult, yet at day’s end, the successes are so rewarding,” Carder said.
The challenge of the future, for both his relatives in the next generation and for the industry in general, will be character and professionalism.
His father’s values will have to be maintained, he said. His sons and nephews “will need to remember our foundation of character, honesty and hard work, while maintaining our participation in PHCC at all levels,” he added.
“They have been taught that a license to do PHC contracting is also a responsibility to do what is right for everyone we touch,” Carder said. “In the end, that formula will never fail them.”
The industry in general also will need to overcome its status problems.
“The bar is too low for ‘contracting’ in our industry,” he said. “Unfortunately, we let a generation pass where standards for professionalism dipped lower than they should be.”
The result is that some consumers and potential employees both began to think that PHC contractors are not professional. That belief was magnified when many contractors did not pay, train and treat technicians as professionals, he said. That has created the industry’s ongoing problems with recruitment.
“Our biggest challenge is attracting career-minded technicians into our industry and keeping them there,” he said.
Carder believes the answer is trade association membership, so much so, in fact, that he believes 80% of contractors’ problems would disappear if trade association membership were made a mandatory part of obtaining a contractor’s license.
During his term in office, Carder plans to follow the association’s established business plan. The plan calls for 5,000 members by 2005, so Carder wants to support initiatives for new members and chapters at the local levels.
A second goal is to engage members in PHCC’s apprenticeship, education and legislative activities. The association has the necessary programs and is planning new ones, but that is only half the battle.
“I will seek to ‘engage’ as many of our members as I can in the processes, and in making each stronger and better.”
His third goal is in the area of partnerships and cooperative efforts in the PHC industry for trade shows, mutual marketing and initiatives and resource sharing. Carder noted that there are many discussions already in the works and that he is optimistic about these goals.