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Shamrocks to bluebonnets

image Alan O’Neill, founder and CEO of Abacus Plumbing, in front of one of his “You can count on us” trucks.

Houston - The story of Alan O’Neill, founder of Abacus Plumbing and CEO of the South Central Region (Texas) of the Wrench Group, is the quintessential American success story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

         The story begins in O’Neill’s native home of Dublin, Ireland, where no one he knew went to college and everyone he knew had a trade. O’Neill’s father was a laborer for the same company for 49 years, and told his son that as long as you have a trade, “you’ll never be idle.”

         Upon graduating from high school at 16 (the standard age in Ireland), O’Neill interviewed to be a plumber and got the job, as it was the “first opportunity that came up.”

         While working for Ireland’s national airlines, Aer Lingus, O’Neill saw an ad for the American immigration lottery. If one’s name was selected, one got a green card to come to America and work. O’Neill put in his and his wife’s names. Both names were chosen a year later. O’Neill didn’t see a future at Aer Lingus, and while the “idea of immigrating always appealed to me and my wife,” they looked at but rejected Australia, as it was too far away.

         O’Neill’s wife had an uncle who lived in Houston. “My impression of Texas was cowboys and tumbleweeds,” he jokes. But the uncle said to come over and just see it. The O’Neill’s came over in May 1996 to glorious sunshine (as opposed to the constant rain of Ireland) and nice temperatures.

         With a healthy economy and plenty of work for plumbers, the O’Neills took the plunge to Houston later in 1996.

         With a growing family and O’Neill working too many hours, he was offered the chance to become a service manager and work steady hours. He then rose to become president of this company and it grew under his leadership.

         Fast forward to 2003. Knowing he could lead a company, O’Neill founded Abacus Plumbing with a former boss as partner.

         Why ‘Abacus’ Plumbing? They wanted an alphabetically friendly name. O’Neill picked up a dictionary, and the first word that made any sense to him was ‘abacus.’ An abacus is a machine you count on, and O’Neill reasoned, “’Abacus Plumbing’— something you can count on. I like it.”

         Today, Abacus is one of three companies in the South Central Region of the Wrench Group in Texas. They bring in $100 million in revenue yearly with 700 total employees. The two other companies are in Dallas. Abacus alone employs 200 people and brought in $38.1 million in 2017.

         O’Neill said that he came over to America when he was 35, and his goal was to “be off my tools by the time I was 40.” He wants to grow Abacus into a $100 million division of Wrench. The biggest obstacle to growth is finding and keeping quality employees.

          The former 16-year old plumber from Ireland someday sees himself on “a beach in Hawaii with blue water…in the next 10 years I’m hanging it up and enjoying the fruits of my labor.” He’ll leave Abacus (and Wrench) in the hands of another CEO, as it doesn’t matter who the owner is; what matters is “what you’re doing for your people and what you’re doing for your customers.”

         The bottom line: O’Neill is a true American success story. He rightly stated, “I’m very proud of what I’ve built.”

         Abacus Plumbing is a plumbing, HVAC and electrical contractor in Houston. -dsz

 


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Dan Zulli dan@constructionnews.net