Spotlight – Gary Haby, President, Service Mechanical Group
SAN ANTONIO – As the 20th anniversary of Service Mechanical Group (SMG) approaches, Gary Haby, one of the company’s original founders, serves as its president and is celebrating his 70th birthday this month. Today, two of his sons work for the company that he helped establish.
As he looks back at how he got to where he is now, he also looks ahead. With him and his family participating in the stock show, he sees the young people of the next generation and watches them grow and contribute back to society. The message he takes from this is to “invest in the future,” referring to the kids. “That’s the future right there, and you’ve got to make it good,” he says.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up north of Castroville in a small town called Rio Medina. I attended St. Louis Catholic School out there for eight years, and then I went to a public school, Medina Valley, which was established about the time I became a freshman. I attended college at San Antonio College. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do so I was in computer programming.
In the meantime, the Vietnam War was going on. So, I joined the Reserves, and probably after about a year-and-a-half of college, our Reserve unit got called up to active duty. I served about 24 months. I was stationed mostly in the states. I was an aircraft engine mechanic, and we worked in their tech school at Hamilton Air Force Base in California, which was very interesting. I had very good teachers there.
We worked with the instructors setting up the classes. We were actually students, and we were kind of the instructors’ assistants. We’d set up the class for whatever they were going to learn that day on a particular aircraft engine. But we were learning also.
What did you do after your service?
I came back to San Antonio and went back to school. I was going to get into computer programming, but of course, after that time [had passed], everything had changed. So, I was really behind the times.
I talked to some people before I went into the Air Force about getting into the HVAC trade, but I never really pursued it. I had a lot of guys telling me it was a good trade. At that time, the school offered what they called mechanical and environmental technology. You’d go to SAC for two years, and you could transfer to the University of Houston and get a bachelor’s of science.
I went to SAC for two years. I went to University of Houston a year, and during that time, I met my wife. We ended up getting married, and I never did finish school. But I did have a good background. It was a very high-tech school.
I ended up working for the Phil Price Company. It was a HVAC rep here in San Antonio. They were like a mechanical contractor supplier. I worked for a guy by the name of Dale Vickers. The reason he hired me was because I had attended the University of Houston, which he had graduated from.
What was it like working for them?
It was interesting. I was in the sales, the service part of it, and we actually did the start up of it. I learned every aspect of the field that we had to get into. I looked at a plan, sold the equipment, made sure it was installed right, and then we’d go out in the field and place it in operation.
They had a very good regular service tech that I worked with there. His name was Waymond Keener. That was pretty good experience. I learned a whole lot. Of course, my background, being in the tech school that I went to – he knew the hands on, but I knew the theory of it, and him and I worked great together. He always told me, “I’m impressed how you can remember everything and know so much about this so young.” I was probably 24. I said, “Well, I don’t know everything.”
How long did you work there?
Probably about three years, and then Mr. Vickers went into the mechanical contracting business, and he asked me if I wanted to go with him. I had some reservations, but I did go with him. I learned a lot about the contracting part of it and the installation part of it.
Then, I had a good background. So, I could communicate well with the suppliers. Also, I was helping on all of their control work. I worked for him probably two or three years in that part of it. Then, of course, at that time, I had more experience, and the Phil Price Company wanted to expand into a service company. So, I went back to work for Mr. Keener. And he and I did start up service, and we serviced chillers and boilers.
And I would help Dale – go in and help them on their controls, kind of part-time. Of course, when you’re young and married and have a kid, you need extra money.
Then, Mr. Price passed away, and the service company stayed in business. That was about 1977, and I worked with Waymond in the service business maybe a little bit longer, and then Mr. Don O’Toole – he used to be a service tech for Trane, and he opened his own business.
I went to work for him in March of 1978. He also hired a lady whose name was Judy Dreggors. She knew the mechanical side of it, and she was our office manager. She was an amazing lady. I could call her out of Laredo, and the next morning, the parts were sitting at the bus station. I don’t know how she got them – that was back before the Internet, and she did a very good job.
I worked with Don from ’78 to ’95. In the meantime, we hired several techs, and Don was a very good person to work for. And the guys we had were just super techs. Everybody got along. And Don let us self-manage. Also, we had a gentleman that Don hired from Trane, Royce Pruitt, who was an excellent person to work for. He came to work for O’Toole when Ryan, my boy that works here, was born, in August of 1995.
What happened after Don sold the business?
I guess I would say that we were not really set up for corporate operation. The foot didn’t fit the shoe. At O’Toole, things were decided, things happened and things were done. In the corporate world, we had a lot of people making decisions and it wouldn’t work out, because we were all used to self managing. I think they had good intentions, but it didn’t really work out. So, then we established SMG Jul. 14, 1997.
Who were the people who established SMG?
John [Gargotta] came in at Honeywell. He went to work for Honeywell in San Antonio, and that’s how he met us. We got to know each other. And we said, “We’d really like to break out on our own,” and six of us sat down and formed SMG; Chuck Clark, Dan Parkin, Nolan Wehe, John, Judy Dreggors and myself. Six of us started SMG, and Judy and Nolan have retired, and now it’s the four of us still going.
Tell me about your kids, goats and grandchildren.
My wife is Robbie. I have Shannon, who is my oldest daughter. She was born in ’73. And then we had Michelle. She was born in 1978. Then, we had Ryan, who was born in 1983. And then, we have a set of twin boys, Cody and Cory, who were born in 1985.
Then, I have five grandchildren right now. Shannon has the oldest girl, Brittney, who is 16. And then we have Krista, who is Michelle’s daughter. She’s 10. And then Michelle has another daughter, Kara, who is 7. And then Ryan has a little girl, Ashlyn. She’s 4. And he has a boy, Caleb, who turned 1 year old in March.
The goats come in because my boys were involved in the Ag programs. At that time, it was Marshall and O’Connor. The twins went to O’Connor. They were very active – in fact, they were all on the Ag mech[anics] teams and they all went to nationals. Ryan was probably the second highest in the nation when he went. Cody and Cory were second and third. And Ryan’s team came in second, and Cody and Cory’s were second in the nation also. They each did that two years in a row.
They also built the Ag mechanics projects for the stock shows, and we were a grand champion in San Antonio two years in a row, and then we were a reserve champion in Houston for the projects they built. The girls were active too, showing animals in the stock show. The girls raised pigs and the boys raised lambs. I think it was all a good experience for them, because it’s a life learning experience. You learn to deal with life in general, because not everything goes your way. You understand that at a competition when you’re in the ring.
The days we spent at those stock shows – you couldn’t have learned that in a classroom. Dealing with the public, the questions they ask and explaining things to them about how it works.
Where do the goats come in?
The granddaughters are the goat girls. We raise goats, because when the boys were raising animals, goats were not part of the stock show, and now they are. And the girls knew that raising the animals would be a good thing for their daughters to participate in. The girls are really successful at it, because we try to teach that there’s a lot of people who can run at 95 percent, and there’s quite a few people who can run at 100 percent, but as you get up to the 110 and 115 percent – if you’re the best, there’s not a lot of competition. Anyway, that’s what they focus on and they do a very good job of that.
What about you? What do you focus on in your spare time?
Besides helping the grandkids stay busy going to dance recitals and with the animals, I fish and I hunt. I’ve always liked fishing. When the kids were growing up, we fished at Medina Lake a lot, and we had a little place up there we used to go to. We made vacation trips to Disney World. We set it up every three to four years, and that’s still kind of a tradition. The whole family goes together.
Are you any relation to the owners of Haby’s Bakery in Castroville?
Yes, that was my dad’s first cousin.
Do you still live near Castroville?
No, I live in Helotes. We’ve been in Helotes about 35 years. My wife is from Helotes. She went to Marshall. She is a preschool principal. She was a stay-at-home mom, and then as the boys got older and went to preschool, she started to work there and became the principal of the preschool. So, that’s been about 30 years she’s been involved with preschool. She loves it. –mh
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