Mack Shwert doesn’t mind channeling Ronnie Van Zant as he reflects on his life and career in the trades.
He mentions Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” as a song he might call his personal soundtrack.
Shwert is not a man of frills or show. He’s unassuming, humble, and more than comfortable with who he is. He simply wants to do his job as a technician for HomeServe USA in New England.
“I just want to fix,” he said in a recent interview on ServiceTitan’s Toolbox for the Trades with Jackie Aubel.
Shwert showed those skills when he won the 2022 ServiceTitan HVAC National Championship, a part of the Elite Trades Championship Series. Held in Tampa, the competition was sponsored by ServiceTitan and Trane, and was broadcast on the CBS Sports Network on Dec. 16, 2022.
Shwert’s philosophy in the competition sounds much like the philosophy he takes with him every day.
“Just go to work and do your job,” he said.
He entered almost by happenstance.
“One morning I just came across an email about the championship. And since it was the first one ever, I knew absolutely nothing about it,” he said.
He completed a five-minute, eight-question test, then told a co-worker about it. That co-worker wound up doing twice as well as Shwert, which led to friendly give-and-take between the two until eventually Shwert “won” on another attempt.
“I think that was in July,” Shwert said. “I got an email in September that said, ‘You qualified for Round 2.’ And I was like, ‘Wow.’”
The next step was completing a job in a kit sent to him, and videoing himself as he worked.
“Fast forward another month,” he said. “I got another email that said, ‘Congratulations, you’re going to Tampa.’ Totally shocked.”
That notice included news that rattled his nerves: The show would be on TV. Shwert does not consider himself a TV type, so he was going to back out. But his wife insisted he go so she could enjoy a trip to warmer climes.
“Next thing I know we were flying to Florida right after Halloween,” he said.
Next thing he knew after that, he had won the first place price of $40,000 – and survived the unnerving TV experience.
“I was just totally out of my comfort zone,” he said. “I spent my life in a basement or in an attic with no camera on me whatsoever. So that whole experience was pretty new and wild.”
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A chance, by happenstance
Shwert grew up in the trades. His father worked in them, and Mack just thought it was normal that if something was broken in the house, someone in the house fixed it.
“Once I entered the trades, I realized that there’s a lot of people who don’t even know the right way to turn a screwdriver,” he said.
About 2009, Shwert was working at a supermarket. Every day, he would go into his car, open the phone book and call plumbing companies seeking work. Most said he should get experience and call back, which left him in the typical how-do-I-get-experience-without-a-job conundrum.
He had reached W in the phone book when a man from Winters Plumbing in Cambridge, Mass., listened and invited him to a job fair the next day. That man was Keith Mercurio, now Senior Director of Executive Success at ServiceTitan and CEO and Founder of Ethical Influence Global.
The interview process was unique. Mercurio and others at Winters recognized there were very few out-of-work good plumbers, so they decided to hire good people – then train them. A committee chaired by Mercurio along with a group of Winters team members interviewed Shwert.
“Mack and another guy named Alfredo were the unanimous top vote-getters from their colleagues and managers and so on,” Mercurio said.
“Everybody had a vested interest in his success. I was just lucky enough to call him and tell him the news. That was one of the favorite memories of my career. It was like when you hear people on the radio being told they won a contest.”
The right tools for the job
Mercurio even passed on his cherished wrenches to Shwert, and he still uses them.
“Mack has an easy way about him, and he’s an incredibly sharp technician and a hard worker,” Mercurio said. “I love Mack. It was a no-brainer to hire him, and it’s been an absolute delight to share a little bit of this experience with him.”
Initially, Shwert worked in plumbing. He greatly appreciated the business’ emphasis on teaching and training, which was part of the Winters core values.
“That made me have that same mentality to want to teach other people,” Shwert said. “If you want to learn, piggyback on me, and we'll do everything together.”
He also appreciated the owner of the business spending the money to send him to the Ultimate Technician Academy in Arkansas.
“To invest the money in you to be a better technician,” he said.
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‘Overnight, boom, we’re doing HVAC’
But one day he was surprised to learn he had been selected (along with a few others) to get his EPA certification and learn HVAC.
“Overnight, boom, we’re doing HVAC,” he said. “I got my EPA and the next day I had a no-AC call and I was praying it was a dirty filter.”
He’s been in HVAC since, and he’s experienced all the trades have to offer, good and bad. He said his best experiences came when those in charge supported his professional growth. His worst came when he worked for a boss (not at Winters) who made plumbers pay for materials that might have been broken by an apprentice.
“I remember (as an apprentice) sitting in one guy’s truck,” Shwert said, “and he told me, ‘We’re going to walk in the house and you shut up. You do anything to ruin the sale, you’re going to walk back to the shop.’ At that job, nobody would want you to work with them because they didn't want you to ruin their sale or break something that may come out of their check.
“So then I was just sitting around the shop, and they would make me weed the bark mulch.”
That’s why he appreciates jobs where his work is valued. At HomeServe, 90% of his efforts are policy work from a contract a homeowner purchased that covered installed equipment.
“It’s really nice,” Shwert said. “I just get to be a tech and figure it out and fix it.”
Next up, a title defense
The second competition of ServiceTitan’s HVAC National Championship will be held late this year, probably in November. Details on qualifying, with a link to the first quiz, can be found on the Trades Nation website (with rules here).
Shwert hopes to defend his title.
“I feel like I have to,” he said. “They have these 40-foot banners down there, and I think they said I would be on one. So I have to go down and see.”
There is also the matter of the cash prizes ($40,000 for winning, $20,000 for second, and $10,000 for third as well as prizes of $25,000, $15,000 and $5,000 for apprentices).
That prize actually prompted a shift in Shwert’s personal soundtrack.
“Before I won, it would be Can't Cash My Checks from Jamey Johnson,” Shwert said. “But now I guess you can cash my checks.”
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