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Home | DALLAS / FORT WORTH | Spotlight | Spotlight – Jeff McBrayer, President, ATMAC Mechanical

Spotlight – Jeff McBrayer, President, ATMAC Mechanical

image ATMAC Mechanical LLP’s Jeff McBrayer

DALLAS/FORT WORTH – A heart for service is what led former accountant Jeff McBrayer to leave the fast track of corporate accounting and lead a North Texas mechanical contracting company to be “Service at Work.” Nearly 11 years later, the president of ATMAC Mechanical LLP reflects on lessons learned and the team that helps him get it done.

Tell me about your background; did you grow up in a construction family?
    My dad, his brothers and extended family were all in sales, so construction was a different direction for me. I went to Baylor and earned my Bachelors in Business Administration and Accounting. Shortly thereafter, I got my CPA certificate and went to work in a public accounting firm for four years.
    That experience was great because it gave me a chance to work within a lot of different industries. Many clients had jobs that were very project-based – they had a budget and we were trying to achieve the goal of finishing our audit engagements on time. There’s definitely a service aspect as well because we were working on an ongoing contract basis with our customers and we wanted to give them our best.
    Some of our customers at the accounting firm were mechanical contractors and builders, so I had some experience with construction business as well as manufacturing companies. At these engagements, we were at their office working with the administration, so it allowed me to compare and contrast the personality of the companies.

How did you make the leap from accounting to a career as a mechanical contractor?
    I got my MBA after working in public accounting while in Chicago. I spent five years there, and I spent a little time after school working in investment banking in New York “climbing the ladder.” I thought – even as I was growing up – that was what I wanted to do, but I realized the corporate climb wasn’t for me; I enjoy working with people more.
    I realized I was looking for something in the corporate world that didn’t really exist for me. I was more comfortable taking what I had learned in business school and then looking for a business that was more aligned with my personality and work to improve it.
    I started looking at service-oriented opportunities after my wife Katie and I moved back to Dallas. The original owner of this company, George Smith, started the business back in the 1950s as an A/C service company. His son, Dan Smith, took over the company around 1990 and added a construction component, grew that business and hired many of the key employees that are working here today.
    Dan Smith and I met in late 2004. We talked about the business and George’s interest in selling it. I did some research into the company and it was a good fit for us both. He already had key people on staff in the plumbing and air conditioning trades, and I could add my business background and value of service. I felt like we made a good team together. The company was renamed ATMAC Mechanical, and we’ve been able to grow the business into what it is today.

What was the first year like?
    It was difficult. Establishing solid relationships are very important in this industry and it took a lot of work to develop those relationships. I think people needed to see how it all was going to work out first.
    It didn’t take us long as a company to succeed, though. Jerry Thompson, the VP of plumbing construction, Chris Brister VP of HVAC and all the skilled tradespeople on our team really work well together. Our personalities fit. Jerry and Chris approach the business the same way I do: We’re all serving each other and serving our customers. It’s the tradespeople out in the field that are getting the work done for our clients. Jerry and Chris serve the guys in the field and I serve them by managing the process, solving business problems. They don’t have to worry about the financial and accounting part of the business. They focus on the job in front of them and get it done right the first time. We say ATMAC Mechanical is “Service At Work” because it is what we believe in. It’s how we get it done.

What lessons have you learned in the past decade from your work here?
    When I started 10 years ago, I felt I should defer to the technical guys and trust our people to do a good job. I’m glad now that I took that approach, because I’ve seen firsthand the growth that takes place when you let people make their own decisions. You have to allow them to make mistakes. There’s a lot of growth that comes when they think through that process and not have to worry. You want people to be able to take risks and not be risk-adverse for the company. I trusted that it was the right approach, and in the end, I’m glad that’s the way it went.
    I naturally trust others to do their best. The hardest thing for me is to let them be accountable for their decisions and know when I need to give somebody a pat on the back versus saying, “We need to do it differently next time.”

What fun things do you do as a company?
    We brought all of the employees together at Christmas. We usually do a cookout in the back warehouse area at Christmas, but we were so busy last year, we went over to Dickey’s Barbecue – we outsourced it! It’s a lot of fun. It’s important for all 75 people to come under one roof, to sit at the same table.
    We also just went though a process where 15 of the core group office and supervisors spent an afternoon in a leader-facilitated session to come up with ways we can improve as a company. It started off with anonymous feedback about what is working and what’s not working. From there, we talked about what values were important for the company and conversely, what actions were not.  We then all committed together to continue to work to create a culture that’s aligned with our values.

What do you enjoy about your work?
    I get a lot of satisfaction when I see that our employees enjoy their job. It’s really rewarding when the general contractors send me a note saying my foreman did a great job. I get a lot of satisfaction out of that because that means the team worked. We put them in a position where they could succeed.
    The other thing I enjoy is when employees want to grow professionally. When somebody says they want to take a class or they want to get into a certification, that’s incredibly encouraging because that shows me that they’re thinking about their career and taking the opportunity to grow.

When you’re not working, what do you like to do for fun?
    I grew up playing tennis, and after school, I started playing golf, which I’ve enjoyed. My sons play golf, too. One is playing high school golf so I enjoy doing that with them.
    I prefer tennis. So it was fun for ATMAC to provide the air and plumbing at SMU’s new indoor tennis facility, which we finished last year. That was pretty satisfying for me because I remember growing up and playing on the SMU courts. It was great to be able to be a part of that project.

Tell me about your family.
    My wife Katie and I have three children – a 16-year-old son, Matthew, a 14-year-old daughter, Molly and an 11-year-old son, Barrett.
    We like to go to the mountains in Colorado together to ski during the summer to enjoy the nice climate. I wouldn’t say I’m a good skier, but we do it every year!
    We enjoy the outdoors; my wife is from a family that enjoys the outdoors, and we wanted to pass that on to our family. We go to West Texas during the hunting seasons and enjoy the wildlife.

Have your children expressed an interest in working in the business?
    Not yet. All of the kids have helped me here at the office doing age-appropriate things. I am encouraging all of them to get a strong math background and I’ve encouraged my son to look at some sort of engineering if he wants to go that route.
    I get a kick out of telling my kids that I’m in the plumbing business after all of that accounting work. I haven’t been asked to come to career day yet at school, but I’m very happy with what I do!

What do you hope the future holds for you, both personally and professionally?
    I think that’s the fun part of life. When you’re raising children, at some point you’re not only supporting them, you’re trying to help them realize their goals and trying to be a good example through serving, through volunteering. Passing some of that on to them through our actions is how we see the future.
    The company will grow through each of us developing and mentoring each other. We have capable people that we trust and we have been able to give them appropriate experiences. That’s why, for us to grow the way we’re going to grow, we’ll keep developing our people and give them opportunities to grow.

Do you think you will continue to focus on ATMAC Mechanical, or will you eventually explore other options?
    I enjoy what we’re doing very much. If that changed and I didn’t enjoy it anymore, I might start to think about exploring other options. It took me a while to get here, but it fits. We all have the same goal in mind – to be of service. I see myself here for a while.

    Plano-based ATMAC Mechanical provides plumbing and HVAC for new construction, renovation or retrofit, commercial service and emergency repairs. –mjm

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Sue Johnson sjohnson@constructionnews.net