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MCAA Conference inspires with futuristic thinking for today’s businesses

April 30, 2013
SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS — Nothing prepares you for the coming busy season like networking with 2,000 of your friends, soaking up a week of learning, and having some fun while doing it. That’s the Mechanical Contractors Association of America’s philosophy, and it followed through on it yet again, with another impressive convention, March 17-21, in San Antonio, Texas.

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS — Nothing prepares you for the coming busy season like networking with 2,000 of your friends, soaking up a week of learning, and having some fun while doing it. That’s the Mechanical Contractors Association of America’s philosophy, and it followed through on it yet again, with another impressive convention, March 17-21, in San Antonio, Texas.

William Lynch, left, congratulates Bob Durr Sr., recipient of the MCAA Distinguished Service Award.

This year’s MCAA convention — billed as “Unconventional Thinking”— was intended to deliver some new and inspirational messages from a wide array of industry experts, and it delivered. The event was held at the JW Marriott Hill Country Resort and featured business-building presentations by well-known experts in mechanical contracting, and other popular experts who shared advice for living wisely, safely and happily in a rough-and-tumble world.

The event’s opening general session had the impact of a grand finale. Michael Eisner, ex CEO of the Walt Disney Company and now president of The Tornante Company, shared advice for business success, based on his days at the Disney company and his current adventures in leading a company which invests in, acquires, grows and operates media and entertainment companies.

Also appearing on the opening roster was outgoing MCAA President William J. “Mac” Lynch, president of William F. Lynch Co., Worcester, Mass. Lynch provided updates on MCAA achievements in 2012 and how MCAA programs and activities are helping MCAA members achieve success.

The MCAA Distinguished Service Award was presented to Robert J. Durr Sr., treasurer/chairman of Durr Mechanical Construction Inc., New York, N.Y. Lynch presented the award. “The Distinguished Service Award was created by MCAA as its highest honor, recognizing the ‘best of the best’ within our industry,” Lynch said. “It’s a particular honor to present this year’s DSA to Robert J. Durr Sr., because if there’s one thing all within MCAA agree on, it’s that Bob Durr is truly the best of the best.”

Lynch introduced incoming MCAA president, Michael Cables, executive vice president, labor relations, for Kinetic Systems Inc., Fremont, Calif., and new MCAA board members. MCAA’s national officers for 2013-14 are Lynch, Cables, Tom Stone, Chuck Fell and Steve Dawson. New MCAA board members are Brian Helm, Keith Atteberry, Bob Durr Jr., and Mike Shinn as contractor representatives; and Mike Farrington as manufacturer/supplier council chairman.

Aim for the stars

During the MCAA convention, a handful of well-known individuals spoke to MCAA convention attendees about courage, the human spirit and challenges.

Captain Mark Kelly ex-naval aviator and astronaut who piloted the NASA space shuttle in 1996 and spent more than 50 days in space spoke to convention attendees. Kelly — the husband of Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was severely wounded in 2011 during an assassination attempt — talked about what he has learned while caring for Giffords throughout her recovery and during her ongoing rehabilitation. In describing things he learned from observing his wife’s tenacity, Kelly said, “The power of the human spirit is an incredible thing. In all you do, you must deny the acceptance of failure. Be passionate, strong and courageous. Be your best.”

Also speaking at the conference was Ex Navy SEAL Eric Greitens. He traded in his scuba gear for a banner of humanitarianism, and is now leading The Mission Continues, an organization that places wounded and disabled veterans in community-based, non-profit organizations to achieve career and educational goals. Greitens described ways in which the most successful leaders do more than endure challenging times — they embrace them. Greitens encouraged MCAA conference attendees to welcome challenges, create hope and thrive in challenging times.

Did you see the movie “Catch Me if You Can”? Have you ever been a victim of identity theft? The movie depicted the story of Frank Abagnale’s less than ideal but nonetheless exciting life as a master check forger and the original “identity thief.” But for 25 years since his rehabilitation, Abagnale has provided financial institutions and corporations with sound advice on guarding against fraud and given private citizens ideas to prevent someone from stealing their identity. In two presentations as a featured MCAA speaker, Abagnale regaled the audience with stories from his jet-setting life of crime and impersonation and shared his expertise about con games, why they happen and how to prevent them. His book, “Stealing Your Life,” describes the various methods used by identity thieves, and how to prevent becoming one of their victims.

United Association General Secretary-Treasurer Mark McManus spoke to attendees, providing news on UA programs and initiatives it has embarked upon to grow the UA ranks, expand training opportunities and respond to changing market conditions.


Building information modeling (BIM) and integrated project delivery (IPD) are firmly established construction methodologies discussed at the conference. There’s just no way contractors can forego the benefits the two methods provide related to preplanning and project fulfillment. There are however, many challenges and suggestions that must be considered to make BIM and IPD work for you. A panel discussion of four of the leading proponents of these methods offered their advice during a 90-minute session, “What’s Next in BIM and IPD?”

Serving on an MCAA panel looking at the impact of Building Information Modeling were, from left, Steve Shirley of University Mechanical; Michael Cannistraro of J.C. Cannistraro; Pete MacKenzie, a National Education Initiative instructor; and David Morris, EMCOR Construction Services.

“As more contractors become more involved in new, innovative and frequently disruptive processes and technologies, two of the most prominent are BIM and IPD,” said discussion moderator, MCAA Executive Director Dennis Langley. “There’s no relief in sight to the acceleration and confusion that comes with the deployment with these new, disruptive, but hopefully enriching technologies and processes.

“Technology is moving so fast for all of us,” said Langley. “Six or seven years ago, BIM was a unique opportunity for contractors to take a lead role in a new technology. Since that time many things have changed, some for the better and some not.”

A panel discussion on BIM and IPD processes featured Steve Shirley, president/CEO of University Mechanical, and a chairman of the MCAA BIM and education committees; Pete MacKenzie, National Educational Initiative instructor; Michael Cannistraro, J.C. Cannistaro company; and David Morris, EMCOR.

Among the many BIM topics they addressed were the emerging role of the general contractor and construction manager in the BIM spatial coordination process; co-locating, which involves design teams from the mechanical contractor and general contractor in one room throughout the duration of the project; BIM “total stations” and other new field technologies; and the expansion of prefabrication and modularization.

Sharing secrets to profitability

In the session Every Job Profitable, Every Time, Tom Williams, president of Sustainable Builders, Atlanta, used the MCAA’s successful project management flowchart, planning for profitability guide, and newly-revised project manager’s manual to draw the blueprint for making every job profitable every time. Williams started his company after 31 years with McKenneys Inc.

Williams believes organizational charts need to be “turned upside down” using the Servant Leader model, in which the company supports project managers, who support the foremen, who support the field, who create value of the real “CEOs” — customers, employees, owners/stockholders and suppliers.

“Use the same sense of urgency the contractor feels to meet a bid deadline, to create a sense of urgency to meet preconstruction planning deadlines, knowing that pre-construction planning is the best method to achieve maximum field support,” said Williams. Culture change is required to significantly improve jobsite productivity, and Williams insists the change can only be driven by the individual foremen.

“To convince the foremen that change is needed, the company must educate and involve the foreman in the planning and decision making process,” said Williams. “Involvement of the foreman in the pre-construction planning process can drive the culture change.”

‘High-beam’ thinkers

Technology consultant Scott Klososky has a motivating way of telling people they need to get with the program. The fast-talking, fast-thinking Klososky is the former CEO of three successful startup companies and is the founder of Future Point of View. He has more than 25 years of experience as a successful technology entrepreneur and international consultant.

Scott Klososky provided insight into seizing opportunities presented by new technology.

In the presentation Technology Trends, Klososksy told a packed room of MCAA contractors to break out of some of the ways they’re currently using technology. “If you’re going to have a world-class company going forward, you’re going to have to be very good at outreach to customers, and influencers such as architects, general contractors and potential customers,” he said. “That’s not about shaking hands and playing golf. It has to include technology to build a better connection with colleagues.”

“For example, it’s possible for you to provide an interesting blog that goes out to every architect in your city,” Klososksy said. “That would cost you zero dollars. You have to be highly data-centric and highly analytical. We capture data well, but are not very good at analyzing and using it, and flowing it through an entire organization.”

Klososky said more companies must be lean operationally, with a high “revenue-per-employee” number.

“Use technology to lean out processes, so you need fewer people touching these processes,” he said. “You must be highly adaptive to new conditions. As new technology comes out, and we and change new business processes, your people must be highly adaptive to that, such as service people using a mobile application. How fast do they adopt it? Do some want to fight using it? You’ve got to flow data end-to-end, from estimating through completion and service. Flow data without people touching it.”

Klososky said people working in organizations can be grouped into “high beam” or “low-beam” thinker categories. Low-beam thinkers are essentially managers who implement a plan put in place by others, which is not a bad thing. However, the high-beam thinkers scramble to apply every innovative and truly helpful piece of technology they can find. They use it, invent it, and improve it. Klososky — who himself could be called an “ultra-high beam” thinker, said high-beam leaders are able to see into the future accurately, and better than others.

“High-beam leaders set direction for firms,” he said. “They can see how the industry will migrate over the next five to 10 years. The more accurate your future gaze is, the better able you are to put [technological and human] resources in place.”

Student chapter bid competition

The MCAA student chapter at Milwaukee School of Engineering were the victors in this year’s student chapter competition, in which student teams from various mechanical training programs across the U.S. plan and present bids for an actual mechanical construction project.

The MCAA Student Chapter at the Milwaukee School of Engineering won first place in the 2012-2013 Student Chapter Competition.

This year, 25 teams devised their plans for a 50,000-sq.ft. building that houses the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Space Exploration Center near Cape Canaveral, Fla.

The student bidders were required to recommend design elements that meet or exceed LEED Platinum criteria. The project also required that the bids include a post-construction service component. Each plan and spec proposal had to include a radiant flooring system, radiant ceiling panels, a fresh air system, ground water wells and rooftop heat pumps.

Judging the finalists were, the 2006 Woman of the Year, Kathy McCauley, president of McCauley Mechanical Construction Inc; Mike Temple of Donnelley Mechanical; and Brett Christianson of Palmer/Christiansen.

“This event keeps getting better and more challenging each year,” said Troy Aichele, chairman of the MCAA career development committee. “The educators, sponsoring associations and contractor mentors make this possible each year.”

Mike Feutz, professor in the HVACR department of Ferris State University, one of the 25 competing schools, views the student bid competition with high regard for its real-world applications.

“The challenge in school is in making projects relate to the real world,” Feutz said. “This is as real as it gets. The students talk to real suppliers and get real prices. It’s not out of a textbook. It’s live. It forces them to think outside the box, be more creative, and ask questions they typically don’t ask in the classroom. It’s different than an ‘assignment’ that just has to be good enough for ‘the grade.’ Here, it’s judged by real contractors.”

Prof. Blake Wentz of the Milwaukee School of Engineering received the MCAA 2012 Educator of the Year Award for the second year in a row.

The Indiana Student Chapter was named MCAA’s 2012 Student Chapter of the Year, and the Binghampton University Mechanical Contractors Association Student Chapter at the University of Binghamton/State University of New York received its official charter, making it the 48thMCAA Student Chapter.

Terry McIver is executive editor of Contracting Business,, a Penton Media publication.

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