Operations • Management • Marketing • Productivity • 36 minutes

Treat Everyone the Same: Life Advice from a CEO w/ Ken Goodrich

April 22, 2020

Episode Overview

Ken Goodrich was 10 when he got his first real taste of the air conditioning business.

His father, Duncan Goodrich, took his son along on an air conditioner repair for a customer, and Ken had a pretty simple job: Hold the flashlight. 

The boy kept the beam steady and was quiet while his father worked. 

And as Duncan Goodrich worked on that Goettl air conditioner in Las Vegas, he gave his son a lesson for the future. 

“He said, ‘When a person needs help, you go right away, not when it’s convenient for you,’” Goodrich recalls. “He said, ‘always do the right thing.’” 

And, Goodrich recalls, he talked about the unit they were repairing, with reverence: “He said, ‘The Goettl iron horse is a magnificent machine. Nothing else even comes close.’”

Goodrich never forgot those lessons, or that moment. 

“There is a certain kind of magic that happens,” Goodrich says now, “when a son holds a flashlight for his father.”

But magic wasn’t all Goodrich got from his father that day. He got something he could pay forward, too.

Kicking off ServiceTitan’s ‘Toolbox for the Trades’ Podcast

That story is so important to Goodrich, a ServiceTitan Torch Member and leader in the home services industry, that he made a radio commercial about it. It’s part of his legacy, and his father’s, born in the Las Vegas heat. 

“The first air conditioner I ever lit up with my flashlight was a Goettl, and the first one I ever repaired was a Goettl, and the first one I ever installed was a Goettl,” Goodrich says. “And the first one I ever sold was a Goettl.”

Goettl started in Phoenix in 1939, and the company was credited by the History Channel’s “Modern Marvels” with making that city inhabitable despite blistering summer temperatures. 

Goodrich’s father was a Goettl dealer in Las Vegas. And when Duncan Goodrich passed away, his son, at age 25, took over. 

“When I bought the business from my mom, Goettl was the only company that would give me credit to operate with,” Goodrich says. “So I was a Goettl dealer all the way up until they stopped making the Goettls in 2007.”

Goodrich became an entrepreneur in the home services industry and an author of a book on running an HVAC business. In 2019 his company did $101 million in business. 

That made him an excellent choice to kick off ServiceTitan’s “Toolboxs for the Trades” podcast, joining host Jackie Aubel for the first episode. (Don’t miss the story about the dog at the end.)

But there’s one more thing you need to know about Goodrich’s experience with his father’s business. 

He almost ran it into the ground. 

A lesson in humility while building a HVAC powerhouse

Goodrich had started in the HVAC business no differently than anyone else—in a service truck. That hadn’t changed when he bought the company from his mother. 

“It was me and a van,” he says. 

But he quickly hired employees and became, in his words, “a bigshot businessman.”

“I got my new loafers and slacks and shirt, got rid of my van and got a BMW,” he says. “That’s what you do, right?”

Well, not exactly. Within a year or so, Goodrich says, “I was financially challenged.”

Upside down, Goodrich … bought a book. And he applied what he learned from the business philosophies of Michael Gerber “religiously.”

“I kept it in my back pocket for 36 months, and I read it 39 times,” he says. “From that action, screwing up my own family business so fast and then fixing it, I kind of became a turnaround expert in the industry.”

That he is. Goodrich has bought, turned around and sold 24 businesses in his career. 

The philosophy he has used in each case is simple. Make everyone who comes into the organization better—a better leader, better technician, better, more determined person, better father. He accomplishes that by teaching them to break through boundaries. 

Was the grit and determination it took to turn around the family business, and rebuild all those others, a product of what Goodrich learned from his father? Partially. 

But there was something else. 

“The main reason I did it was because I couldn’t bear to go tell my mom that I had crashed the family business that my Dad ran successfully for 20 years,” he says. “So I couldn’t stop. I had to get through it.” 

And once he did, he had to shine a light.

Leadership principles for building a strong business

By 2012, Goettl was no longer making HVAC units but was still operating as a service and installation company in Phoenix. But the company was struggling. 

In January 2013, Goodrich came to the rescue. 

HIs path would go full circle, from illuminating a Goettl unit with his flashlight to being the CEO. His father, again, showed the way. 

“I just kind of felt like it was my destiny,” Goodrich says. “My dad believed in Goettl Air Conditioners. So I bought the company.” 

It would be another resurrection. The year before Goodrich took over, Goettl had done $11 million in sales — and lost $3 million.

“It was bleeding,” he says. 

When Goodrich bought Goettl Air Conditioning and Plumbing, it was still only in Phoenix, where it had been since 1939. Now there are Goettl branches in Tucson, Las Vegas, Corona, Calif., Simi Valley Calif., and San Antonio. 

“My team has done an incredible job,” Goodrich says, “growing that business and growing the brand.”

With Goodrich, again, shining the light. 

A leadership style built on sound principles

How did Goodrich turn all those companies, including Goettl, around? With a leadership style he says has evolved. After more than 45 years in the trades, he says he understands the people and processes necessary for success. 

“Those who know me from back 20 years ago, I was probably not as kind and gentle as I am today,” Goodrich says. “I think that happens just with age and experience.”

How does that look now?

“I wouldn’t call myself a kind, gentle leader, but I’m not a tyrant, either,” Goodrich says. “And I’m not a taskmaster.” 

Here are the methods Goodrich says he has nurtured, in himself and others, over those 45 years. 

  • Have a system: Everything Goodrich has built has been based on procedures perfected over time. “I built the business on systems, I trained (employees) on systems, and I have taught everybody that everything we do is about a system,” Goodrich said. “If we can’t develop a system and quantify the system, we just don’t do it.” 

  • Understand talent: Finding people who are good at what they do, or can be, and building on those skills is key. “I’d say I’m pretty good at finding talent because I know where to see it, how to cultivate it, how to get people thinking in the right direction for success,” Goodrich said. 

  • Be present: Goodrich makes sure he mixes with everyone in the organization, even when geography doesn’t make it easy. “We’re getting so large now, but I do go to the branches regularly,” Goodrich says. “I make sure that I’m talking to the guy that cleans the yard, to the guy who runs the warehouse, to the sheet metal guy to the plumbers, the air conditioning guys. I mix with everybody. I work the room.” 

  • Relate to your people: Because Goodrich has been in the trades for so long, and has been in the truck himself, he understands tradespeople. “I know the challenges and I talk to them about the trade,” Goodrich said. “I pat ‘em on the back.”

  • Be human: Leaders can’t be afraid to say they don’t know, Goodrich says. “I think that garners a lot more respect than always being the smartest guy in the room,” he says. Instead, ask others in your organization for help. “That fosters a real team environment,” he says. 

  • Don’t back down: When facing challenges, such as COVID-19, stand strong. “I don’t waver. I don’t back down from a fight,” Goodrich said. “Challenges like we are having with COVID, we face it together. I give people strength to move forward. I let them do their jobs.”

Leaders who have made an impression

Asked who influenced him in terms of leadership, Goodrich mentions Michael Gerber, author of the E-myth, the No. 1 selling business book of all time. “There’s nobody in business who hasn’t heard of Michael Gerber,” Goodrich says. “I think he’s been a true inspiration to me the whole time.”

He also mentions Jim Abrams, who ran Success Group International, and Matt Michel, who runs Service Nation and Service Roundtable. He credits many leaders he has met through his career in the trades, including ServiceTitan co-founder Ara Mahdessian, noting the all-in-one home services business platform’s online playbook for dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic

“I think for anybody in what we do, it’s incumbent on them to get out and mingle with these best-practices groups,” Goodrich says. “That’s where I’ve found the best influencers in my life.” 

Goodrich wants to be one of those influencers for others in the trades. Helping those in home services has become his passion.

“I tell people nowadays I’m resigned to the fact that I’m not in the air conditioning and plumbing business, I’m a business builder,” he says. “I implement the concepts I taught years ago in my book on how to build a business.”

Goodrich says he talks to as many as 15 tradespeople in a day about how to build their business by adding processes. 

“I’m just trying to save people 10 years,” he says. “I really feel like it took me 10 years before I really got momentum behind me. … If I can save (people in) my industry a few years and a few struggles, or the stress, I love to give back.” 

The most influential leader of all

Goodrich was particularly close to the most influential leader in his life — his father. 

“He was a very intelligent guy, very entrepreneurial,” Goodrich says. “He just braved through all the challenges. He showed me and everybody else there’s nothing we can’t do.”

That includes doing things that seem impossible, or too hard. Nothing is out of reach if you build the right system for success, Goodrich says. 

But you need the right mentors and influences to help you find the path. Even those with $100-million-a-year businesses, including Goodrich, needed that.  

But it took him a while to figure that out. 

“At dad’s funeral,” Goodrich says, “I realized that every time he was handing me that flashlight, he was passing the torch.”

He was also lighting the path to Goodrich’s future and, in a way, encouraging his son to do the same for others in the trades. 

Like magic. 

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Toolbox for the Trades is a podcast where top service professionals share the tips, tricks, and tactics they use to succeed in their industry. Hosted by Jackie Aubel, this podcast is brought to you by ServiceTitan—the leading home and commercial field service software.

Episodes will feature stories and strategies to help contractors grow and scale their service business.

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