Mary Jean Anderson runs her plumbing and heating company with a purpose and a mission.
Anderson not only is dedicated to every employee at Anderson, Plumbing, Heating & Air in San Diego, she extends that dedication to the community with her work for and with the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which helps those diagnosed with breast cancer. It all fits into Mary Jean’s—the two names are after her mother and grandmother—philosophy of running a company.
“I have a saying,” she said in a recent interview with ServiceTitan. “It's not only on my wall, but it's on every email I send out. A Ralph Waldo Emerson quote: ‘The purpose of life is not just to be happy. It's to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.’”
Anderson reaches past the pipes and ducts and air conditioning units to those in need. She serves on the advisory board for the San Diego Chapter of the Komen Foundation, the largest nonprofit funder of breast cancer research outside of the U.S. government.
“She’s been a phenomenal spokesperson and advocate and she’s helped us raise significant dollars to do our mission work,” Komen San Diego executive director Meredith Hall-Chand said. “We’re so grateful for her.”
Since its founding in 1982, the Komen Foundation has invested more than $1 billion in breast cancer research. The Komen San Diego website reports that six women a day are diagnosed with breast cancer, and one woman dies from the disease each day. The local group provides free mammograms, biopsies, ultrasounds, care coordination, education and financial assistance for breast cancer patients.
“The treatments that they are finding, through our help and donations, are actually being used for all kinds of cancers,” Anderson said. “So it's not like you're just helping one source, and one source only.”
A commitment born of experience
Anderson’s interest in the cause came through tragic experiences with the illness.
“My aunts were breast cancer survivors,” she said. “And my grandmother lost her life to breast cancer when I was 12 or 14. Plus self-preservation, to be honest. That is my prime charity of choice.
“I don’t want people to lose their families. And now I see so many young people who have breast cancer.”
Her best friend Marianne died from breast cancer at the age of 41 in part because she was not diagnosed properly after a mammogram. A year later when she returned to the doctor, the cancer had metastasized.
That story, Anderson said, emphasizes the importance of early detection.
“A majority of the money Susan G. Komen in San Diego raises goes to serve the underserved that can't afford mammograms,” Anderson said. “And they find a lot of cancer early, and finding it early is the biggest thing. They help get (women) to the doctor. They help pay for your rent in a lot of cases, help get food to you, a lot of different things for those that are undergoing treatment and dealing with. Counseling groups. I love that part, that it's on a local basis and helps our community, so that's kind of cool.”
Anderson’s company has donated generously to Komen every year since she got involved, in 2007. Its employees and their families take part in the annual Race for the Cure. A photo on the company web site shows them proudly carrying “Plumbers for Boobies” signs right next to ones that read “Racing For Our Lives.”
“I’ve just met so many (victims),” she said. “I can see them in my mind's eye as I'm talking to you. I see their bald heads, and then I get to see them in recovery, and I get to see them recovered. I'm in a place where I can help other people live well.”
And she involves others in the cause.
“She has literally been responsible for hundreds of people getting involved with our organization, not only through marketing but from her sharing her personal story of family members who have battled breast cancer,” Hall-Chand said. “She shares her passion not only with her company, but everywhere she goes.”
I feel like my job here … let me think of how to say this … is to help people become proud of who they are, and help them to become the very best they can be."
Random Acts of Plumbing, Heating & Air
That is not the only way Anderson tries to give back to the San Diego community. The company’s Random Acts of Plumbing, Heating & Air provides free services for needy homeowners, families and organizations. It commits to hiring veterans via Troops for Trades, supports the Girl Scouts and the K9 Unit of the San Diego Police Foundation, and sponsors mentoring programs of the Tariq Khamisa Foundation, named after a 20-year-old student killed by a 14-year-old gang member.
Anderson originally ran the company with her ex-husband, including for five years after they were divorced in 2000. She looked seriously into a real estate license, but when her ex said he wanted out of the trades, she took over.
“I really didn't want it, but then I thought, ‘This is a chance to prove myself,’” Anderson said. “I felt like I had been held down by the struggle of us wanting to run it two completely different ways. And so I thought, ‘OK, I'll take my chance and see what happens.’”
At the point she took over in 2006, the company had $4.6 million in annual revenues. Fourteen years later it has grown to $33 million.
“I think my way was right,” she said.
‘This trade is never going away’
Hearing her explain her way brings forward the same themes she uses when she discusses the Komen Foundation. She brings a personal approach to leadership that says every job is important and no job is less important than any other. It’s about more than the work; it’s about the person.
“My husband believed in getting a paycheck—you do your work and you get a paycheck, which is the old-school way,” she said. “I feel like my job here … let me think of how to say this … is to help people become proud of who they are, and help them to become the very best they can be.
“A paycheck is part of it, and we want to pay our people well, don't get me wrong. But incentives, helping them to understand that this is a trade that's never going away. And that they're as smart as doctors and lawyers, and it takes them just as long to get their certifications and truly be a professional. And they touch things no doctor would ever want to touch, and they do things that no doctor ever would.
“They’re dealing with really private stuff, and it's technical, and it's smart, but I felt like that our industry doesn't understand that at all. I don't think they get it, and I think it's been a really big push, all my years of doing this, to ensure that our team, male and female by the way, really do understand the value that they bring to this world.”
Anderson is justifiably proud of the fact that 12 of the technicians in her company are women, the first her daughter, who started out selling re-pipes (she knew the business because she grew up in it). It’s rare for the trades to have women technicians, but Anderson started its own school to train and provide a 90-day, paid apprenticeship for interested women.
“I tell them the sky’s the limit,” Anderson said.
She’s even written a book called Here Comes Cannonball, about her experiences in the trades.
“Not a book to make money, absolutely not,” she said. “Just to get the word out there, and to my (five) grandkids too. So they understand the struggle of what it takes to be in a man's world, and try to become equal.”
ServiceTitan, and a pandemic
Anderson joined ServiceTItan, the cloud-based software solution for the trades, in early March, after 24 years with another company and just as the Covid-19 pandemic and its subsequent shutdowns hit. That made the initial startup hectic, as employees were learning a new system while working remotely at home.
Seven months, later, though, she said “we love it.”
“In general, we’ve seen a rise in sales,” she said. “We’ve seen our field people much happier.”
For her personally, ServiceTitan’s help in marketing has been the biggest boon.
“The No. 1 thing that you want is new customers,” she said. “So (knowing) precisely—which I'm all about, precisely—where (and) what the best revenue stream is, and it can be measured, and there are no mistakes because it ports automatically, is really, really big for me.
“Everything's so tied together now that we can send a certain mailing to a certain person. If we did a 15-year-old furnace, we pretty much can guess that their water heater's 15 years old. So we can target them with water heater specials, and stuff that I couldn't do before, because it's absolutely proven that the existing customer spends so much more than the new customer.
“And what I see in our industry, and I think personally one of the very biggest mistakes that we make, is that people are always trying to get that new client. Hey, (also) work with your own clients. They are the ones that are loyal to you. They know your service. They're the ones that are easier for the technician to work with.”
In the months since joining with ServiceTitan, Anderson’s revenue has increased 12%. And that happened after the company took a significant hit in April following statewide shutdowns in California.
“By the time April was over, our revenue was down like $1.6 million, so we had to make up that $1.6 million plus hit 11%,” she said. “And we did that, because, I think, of ServiceTitan.”
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