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After serving in the Navy, Hunter Botto thought he might stay where he ended up after four years and take a job at a power plant in Charleston, South Carolina.
Like any son growing up in a trades household, Botto worked for his dad, Richard Botto, from an early age and became an “official” plumber for Botto Brothers Plumbing & Heating, Hicksville, New York, for a year or so before shipping off to the high seas as a boiler technician on a couple of destroyers.
“He wasn’t overly happy about my decision,” Botto says. “And then a day or two later, I got a call from my mom asking to please come home and help my father with the business. And, you know, when mom’s calling to tell you to do something, it’s, alright, mom.”
And so, Hunter joined the long history of a business that serves the Long Island community. In 1937, Irwin and Robert Botto were the original brothers who set up shop. That partnership lasted until the 1950s when the two sold the business to Irwin’s son, Richard and cousin Irve.
About a decade later, the Richard and Irve decided on a split, with Irve forming Botto Mechanical, a union mechanical contractor still going strong to this day, and Richard sticking with the legacy of the largely residential service business of Botto Brothers.
Hunter became a plumber in the late-1970s, studying for his tests at the famed General Society of Mechanics & Tradesmen of the City of New York, founded in 1785. (Any wethead visiting Manhattan should stop by; it’s the permanent home of the original System Syzer wheel developed by Gil Carlson, a replica of which is given to the winners of the Carlson-Holohan Industry Award of Excellence. And if that’s not cool enough, parts of the John Wick movie franchise were filmed inside the building.
After rejoining the business, Hunter’s younger brother, Roger Botto, joined the enterprise in the early-1980s. The two brothers eventually bought the business in 1993. In 2015, Roger introduced his son, Christopher Botto, to the trade. Hunter retired – make that “semi-retired,” – a couple of years ago and the business remains under his brother’s leadership.
“I’m always in contact with the homeland,” Botto told us over the phone from his home in Florida.
Like plenty of other contractors, the pandemic hit his Botto Brothers hard with his brother having to lay off 90 percent of his staff. Quickly, however, Roger did receive PPP money to put people back on the payroll. One saving grace for the firm is that Botto Brothers is a key Kohler authorized contractor to handle warranty work on Kohler products in the greater New York area.
“That has kept him and his son busy in the early days of the pandemic when there wasn’t too much other business to be had,” Botto adds. “But we’re contractors for an 86-year-old business. We’re all pretty thick skinned when it comes to that stuff. We’ve had good years and bad years. You learn to never take the good years for granted. And when the bad years come, we’ll find a way to get it done.”
We talked to Hunter for his thoughts on his year ahead as president PHCC National Association:
PHC News: Well, first off, it’s probably going to be a different year as president on account of Covid-19. What are your thoughts?
Botto: I’ve always had this dream of becoming president of this organization. And part of that dream meant to travel and meet people face to face, shake a lot of hands, find out what their issues are and try to find a way to help them. That can all happen better in person, but that’s just not the way the world is going to be.
So, yes, it is going to be a different year, but everyone is getting used to communicating virtually these days. I may not do as much traveling to other PHCC groups around the country, but we’ll adapt like everyone else to this new normal and have plenty of Zoom meetings in the months ahead.
PHC News: What have you heard, in general, about how the pandemic has impacted other PHCC members.
Botto: The pandemic has impacted PHCC members in so many ways. To name a few: They quickly had to stay informed about new safety protocols and implement new procedures in their companies. They had to locate and purchase the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment. They’ve had to explore options for contact-less contracts and payment processing. They’ve also had to make some big adjustments to their office operations to ensure the safety and health of all employees and customers.
It hasn’t been easy, but PHCC members have shown a lot of innovation and resilience as they have addressed these challenges.
PHC News: How has the PHCC helped the contracting community through this challenge?
Botto: PHCC acted quickly to provide the resources and tools to help members during this challenging period of time.
First, we developed an online PHCC COVID-19 Resource Center full of targeted resources compiled specifically for our members and chapters. We then transitioned to a COVID-19 Recovery Center featuring best practices and templates to help members adapt their business practices for the “new normal.”
We also set up a “Contractors Talk,” an online forum for members to share challenges and solutions.
In addition, our COVID-19 Webinar Series continues to provide timely, relevant information from industry experts. Our message throughout this crisis is “We’re Here for You.”
PHC News: The other elephant in the room is this year’s virtual PHCC CONNECT. What can we expect for this year’s show?
Botto: Attendees can expect the same kind of value-packed experience they’ve had in the past, but in a new, innovative format. They will also have the added benefit of experiencing it all from the comfort of your office or home.
The comprehensive program is full of high-quality education and networking opportunities designed to help “Expand Your Vision for Success.” There will be a very strong education program featuring two inspirational and informative keynote speakers and more than 20 education sessions.
And the Product & Technology Showcase will offer reimagined opportunities to make connections and discover innovative products. From virtual networking events to online chats with presenters and fellow attendees, attendees will have the opportunity to meet, be inspired by, and learn from each other. This in-depth learning experience promises to reconnect us as an industry and an association.
PHC News: What do you hope will be the main takeaways from this year’s CONNECT?
Botto: We hope those who attend come away more confident and prepared to lead their businesses in uncertain times than ever before. They’ll have new insights on several key areas, including how to manage through these unprecedented times (and any other challenge that may come up in the future), how to reimagine work and business models that have drastically changed, and how to create new financial strategies to lead in amore secure future.
PHC News: Looking at the year ahead for your term as president, what is your platform?
Botto: Getting the membership involved is a big part of my platform. There is so much this organization offers its members and we at national need to get the word out. We want the one-man shop to know our association advantages just as much as the larger firm. We’ve started expanding into HVAC and indoor air quality in a big way, plus, there is so much technology that younger people can learn – but, of course, not just younger people!
So, we want to close the gaps with communication across the board, from our national to our states, to our locals and, you know, and, and get a better communication about our programs that lead to all these advantages for members. We’re all looking to connect the dots better and in this time when a Zoom meeting can reach a lot of people all at once, we will get zone director and state presidents to let them know what’s going on.
The last thing I want members to think is we’re up on pedestal. No. It's our job as leadership to get, you know, get, get the information, the proper information to them.
Related to getting the word out to all our members is that we also want to grow the association. We really do need strength in numbers from legislative standpoint and our Legislative Day is one of most important national events. Strong government relations can lay the groundwork for the many, many years ahead.
We’ve fought so many issues in D.C.; some have gone our way and some have fallen short. But it’s always a good thing to meet senators and congressman – and many state groups take on other issues at their state capitols, too.
Finally, workforce development shouldn’t be a surprise. Simply put: We all need to create more plumbers and heating techs. So, we need to create better training environments for them, which we definitely can do though our Educational Foundation.
With the high cost of college tuition these days, a job in the trades looks better and better to a lot of young people today. Plus, we give away six figures in scholarships a year that students thinking about the trades can use for apprentice schools and training. All they have to do is fill out a form. The opportunities are wide open for the younger kids, and where we have the money to help them.
On this subject, I’d also add it’s worthwhile to look at promoting the trades to even younger kids than high schoolers. For example, I’ve been involved in Boy Scout activities all my life; my dad was the plumbing merit badge counselor for my own troop. In Long Island, we connected with scouting activities to talk up the trades because once they get to high school, they’re directed to college. That’s great. College is a wonderful thing. But not everybody is set up to succeed by trying to get a college degree.
PHC News: How’d you get involved in the PHCC activities?
Botto: I like to think I was one of the younger guys when I joined! I was always friendly with the other plumbers in the neighborhoods. This was at a time when not too many years before, you may not have talked to the plumber down the street who was out for the same jobs as you.
The president of the association, however, wanted to change that, and get people to band together on battles that needed to be won for the betterment of our plumbing community in Long Island.
So when I started to go to meetings, I saw the plumbers I always bumped into and they were very happy to see me there, and they just brought me in with warm and loving friendship.
And before you knew it, we were meeting with county officials and going to the state capitol – shaking hands and kissing babies, just to let people know who we were and what we represented. I enjoyed it.
PHC News: We know you were also active in the New York state association and even become a Zone Director. But how would you boil down the value of getting involved in the association overall?
Botto: I was always learning for the people in the room. We got to a point where we could talk pretty much about anything with our colleagues. Oh, you got that job? What’d you do to get that job? Maybe, somebody was using a pump that you weren’t familiar with and by the end of the meeting you knew what you needed to know about changing up your next pump order. Everyone learned more about running and growing their businesses just by being in that same room. And the thing is there wasn’t just one person that knew it all. We would just bounce things back and forth to each other, which helped us all.
Those were also fun years, you know, just getting noticed and trying to make it a little bit better. And I think we did that.
I'm never one to sit in the corner and not say anything. If something's on my mind, something's bothering me, I’m going to say it. I guess it's a New York frame of mind where, if there's something broken, we gotta fix it. How do we fix it? Not exactly sure how, but we’ll figure it so let's get it done.