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Max Rohr, D.D.S.? Can you imagine such a thing? For a brief moment, however, Max could have thrown away his entire plumbing and heating career to spend his life looking into peoples’ mouths.
“I did not like it after all,” Max says. “But I did love hydronics and I did grow up in the plumbing and heating trades. I think my earliest childhood memory was the smell of the plumber's putty because daycare was just kind of going to job sites with my dad.”
So, luckily for the PHCP industry, Max decided join the family business so to speak.
His dad and mother, Bob “Hot Rod” Rohr and Ellen Rohr, started out in the contracting business running a pioneering radiant heat installation business in the 1980s. After they sold the business, Hot Rod, a well-known wet head who earlier this year won the Radiant Professionals Alliance’s Carlson-Holohan Industry Award of Excellence, eventually joined Caleffi as a training and education manager. Meanwhile, Ellen became a highly sought-after business coach and, more recently, started ZOOM Drain, a national drain-cleaning franchise. (And did we mention all three write columns for PHC News?)
Max began his career in 2008 with an internship in Italy for Caleffi at its world headquarters in Fontaneto d’Agogna. After that, he spent a year at Able Distributors, Chicago, and then four years at Shamrock Sales, Silverthorne, Colorado, before heading to REHAU as a marketing and academy manager in the company’s building solutions division, based in North America in Leesburg, Virginia.
And now it’s back to square one for Max as of Oct. 1 when he rejoins Caleffi as a training and education manager.
We did an Off the Cuff podcast with Max last month and you can listen to the entire episode and others at www.phcppros.com/off_the_cuff.
For this feature, we’ll focus on his beginning at and return to Caleffi:
PHC News: Before we start talking about your new job at Caleffi, take us back to how you started there.
Max: In the summer after my dad started working at Caleffi, we took a family trip to Intersolar in Munich. There, I met his bosses in Italy and the international sales team. At the end of the show I said to Sergio, the sales manager for North America then, “If you are ever looking for an intern to come over to Italy, let me know. I’d love to do that.”
He said something polite, like, “OK.” Keep in mind, this also was right in the middle of the Great Recession. So, I didn’t give it a second thought.
But a week after we got back, I got an email that said I was welcome to come to Italy for a year to train. I took a crash course in Italian and figured out what type of visa I would need to work in Italy.
I started in the product return department, which is a great place to start because you really get to know the products.
The first full sentences I understood in the returns department with my very limited Italian was something like, “your soccer team is terrible, because they lost last night and fell two places in the standings. They will never recover and you should probably burn your jersey in shame.”
Soccer was talked about a lot. Paolo, the manager of the returns department, had a favorite team, Inter Milan. One particular day Inter Milan has just beaten Barcelona in an upset the night before. Paolo had gone to the game. The day before, everyone was saying Inter was going to lose badly.
I arrived at work a few minutes before Paolo that day. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw an employee entrance door essentially explode open as if a car struck it and slapped all the way back around to the inside wall. Through the door, like the lead singer in a rock band coming onto the stage, Paolo stepped through and yelled “Andiamo Ciiiiiiiii”, meaning “Let’s go!” He then strutted past the rival fans on a long path back to our office, swinging around his Inter Milan scarf.
PHC News: In talking to beforehand, I know when of the big parts of the internship was writing a series of manuals in English. Tell us about that.
Max: I would go to different departments with managers and machine operators and write down what they were doing in English. For example, one summary was on what was then the newest building on the Caleffi campus, a vertical warehouse, or magizino vertical.
This is a beautiful tall structure with no windows because the entire storage and retrieval process is done by robots. No forklifts in the building, just robotic forklifts and cranes. It’s about 100 feet high and as a long as a football field. It seems like it should be the setting of a James Bond scene.
There were boxes of material zipping around at about 9 feet per second, the cranes fly up to the next storage space on a diagonal and then use the force of the heavy boxes coming back down to generate electricity, like the brakes on a hybrid car.
They don’t need lights, except for when they walk in to do testing, during normal operation, there isn’t a single employee in this structure. In a normal day of operation, a group of shipping employees stand at automated picking stations just outside the warehouse and place the orders for the robots to retrieve.
The vertical warehouse figures out how to best find the boxes to be picked and even shuffles the return trips, depending on priority.
And so it went like that in other areas of operation. I think to this day, parts of these manuals that haven't been updated since my time there with new machinery or whatever are still used for factory tours to English-speaking visitors.
PHC News: You told us an interesting story about your first heating bill. Since we’re both in the heating business, tell us about that bill.
Max: The first heating bill that I got, as soon as it got cold, was something like $600 at the time. This was just an apartment and was even under an occupied space that was warm. But it really illustrated the difference in what they pay for energy compared to over here. And it also shows how European countries are just so far ahead of us with hydronics because they just have to be. Homeowners there can’t be afford to run an inefficient heating system.
PHC News: What can you tell us, in general, about the new job at Caleffi?
Max: On October 1st, I’ll start as a training and education manager. In all of the steps of my career, I would constantly be double checking what I was working on with a copy of Caleffi’s idronics, or tuning in for a webinar. Caleffi came to the US and made the decision that they wanted to be known for training and excellence in education. Since they sell components, they need to know what is happening upstream and downstream of each of their components. It keeps the group really sharp.
They offered me the job and it fit for a few major reasons. They said I could live anywhere, so we are moving back to Utah, where we have a lot of family. Plus, I would be back with a group I had known and liked for 10 years, who gave me my first post-college job, in the middle of a recession. It would also mean I got to work with my dad full time again. It has a nice, career homecoming feel.
PHC News: With everyone still dealing with pandemic, how do you see training taking place at Caleffi, at least for the time being?
Max: Caleffi was delivering a ton of virtual content, before everyone was forced to do it after COVID hit. I think the trick now is to keep setting the bar with quality and find different avenues to stay in front of customers.
There are a lot more competitors for the virtual lunch and learn hour of a work week. And with webinar fatigue setting in, I think shorter timeframes and more video will be well received.
Everyone is adapting to the new world, but a bright side is that it pushed the industry into the virtual training world that has been embraced by so many other industries already. I imagine if you surveyed PHCPPros for avid Zoom users in 2019 and 2020, you would have a big jump.
It is very hard to tell when in-person training will be back. Even if manufacturers wanted to start 2019-type travel training again right now, who would host them and how many contractors would go?
I think the in-person trainings are going to shift to more of a tailgate event only outside of a football stadium, it will be in the yard of a construction site. It will require a different set of presentation skills.
PHC News: When we planning our interview you mentioned that, of course, technical training is a given for contractors. But you also had some thoughts on the importance of telling contractors how to explain products and systems to end-users. Tell us more about that.
Max: One of the things I loved about working at REHAU is that we started to build in more sales content. Ideally, when you learn the technical ins and outs of a product, you can also teach it to someone else. In the best case, you can also explain it to a homeowner or end-user why what you are doing is important. What good is the latest, greatest residential boiler technology, for example, if you can’t convince the homeowner that it is better than technology that is 25 years out of date?
The best salespeople I know ask a lot of questions and listen for pain points or opportunities and then pitch the feature and, more importantly, the benefit of the product or service to the customer. My favorite training material to present combines a bit of the lessons my dad teaches about technical topics and the lessons my mom teaches about getting it sold. That is where trainers can add additional value in a crowded virtual education landscape.