In 2019, PHCPPros launched the “Millennials On The Move” honorary listing in Plumbing Engineer, PHC News and The Wholesaler magazines. The listing was created to shed light on what is now the largest generation in the workforce, while also launching bigger conversations on topics such as industry recruiting, talent retention, leadership development and more. Now, we're expanding that conversation outside of the annual print listing with our monthly “Millennials On The Move” newsletter.
In our March spotlight, we introduce you to Aaron Salow, CEO and founder of XOi Technologies!
PHCPPros: How did you get into the PHCP industry?
Salow: I remember when I was five years old, I grew up around my grandfather who was a general contractor. My other grandfather was a farmer and my dad worked in the trades, as well as in manufacturing. So, the industry was definitely all around me while I was growing up. My familiarity with the trades and understanding the appreciation and pride behind what folks in the trades do every day was instilled in me when I was pretty young.
In terms of my professional career, I'd say I was more directly involved with the PHCP industry while working with Allied Modular, designing and selling modular cleanrooms for businesses, corporations, and federal agencies across the country. I was fortunate enough to study cleanroom science, and as a result I became deeply educated in the process of developing cleanrooms. I also became certified within HPC, managing ISO 16 949, and obtained additional certifications including positive-negative pressure rooms and particulate-per-cubic-foot. Working on the creation of cleanrooms is definitely where I got most of my professional experience.
PHCPPros: What have been some of your career highlights so far?
Salow: I would say three things stand out more as themes rather than particular highlights.
No. 1, helping the most-senior technicians, who might have a tough time staying in the trades, to continue to have a major role because of our new technology. Physical ability isn’t everything, and technicians of any age are able to continue their careers due to what we built here at XOi. There have been many, many moments where it's been pretty emotional to see what we're doing for men and women in the trades. I can remember their names and faces quite literally while sitting across the table from them as they’ve said to me that they wouldn't have a job if they didn't have technology like this to express what they do and share what they’ve learned over the last few decades through our technology. Those were pretty meaningful moments.
No. 2, definitely seeing the team, as we've grown our business, to grow as individual team members, and to watch as they continue to grow has been really, really cool.
I've been fortunate to be able to kind of tie this into highlight No. 3, which is starting a company with two of my best friends. I would say all three of us are uniquely unqualified to start a company. I think that chip on our shoulder, though, and that drive, has a lot to do with the place we are in today. We still have a long way to go, but this has definitely been a career highlight, because those relationships mean so much to me. And, the opportunity to do something special for a group of people in a blue-collar space that we care deeply about is just a highlight in and of itself.
PHCPPros: Are you affiliated with groups and organizations in the PHCP industry?
Salow: Yes — The Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC), SRT, Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA), and Mechanical Service Contractors of America (MSCA).
PHCPPros: Do you have any mentors in the PHCP industry or otherwise?
Salow: Yeah, for sure. So, we have had advisors and mentors for XOi from the beginning. And these are some of the smartest leaders in this space. Some were industry leaders who have retired and moved on to associations or have become CEOs of service contract organizations. We have worked with mentors on a more formal level, too. But also, a lot of friendships have been built over the years and we have relationships with other professionals that serve as mentors.
I think the most compelling thing about the mentors in this industry is the nature of their attitude and how down-to-earth they are. It's really compelling and exciting to learn from such smart people who share such a salt-of-the-earth mentality and don't take themselves too seriously—and also know how to have a good time. These folks are really, really brilliant in multi-billion-dollar markets across the country, so I think that's really interesting.
You meet mentors and leaders that came from the ground up, and others with Harvard MBAs who may all work within a big service contracting organization. But typically, you have a guy or gal who came up through the ranks, started out in the field, then became a salesperson, then a manager, a service leader, or an operational person. They may have progressed to a different role, had an opportunity to become CEO or start a business themselves after working for another contracting organization. So, I absolutely have mentors. And, I think the nature and mentality of those mentors in this industry are compelling and probably worth mentioning.
PHCPPros: Do you consider yourself a mentor?
Salow: That's a tough question. I wouldn't say that I actively mentor, but certainly, I have been humbled to have folks ask for advice over the years. And, I'm always happy to share it. I’m probably not as intentional as I should be about giving back, because sometimes I’m so 'heads down' and everything’s happening so fast as you start to grow a business, that it can be difficult to prioritize mentoring. I’m not certain if I have the skillsets to be a mentor, but I am certainly happy to be helpful to anyone that asks.
PHCPPros: What does it mean for you to be featured as a PHCP Millennial On The Move?
Salow: Being part of that generation, and also kind of being on the edge because I was born in 1982, I think it depends on how you define a millennial. I’m either right on the edge, or maybe I fit in when that generation started. But it's allowed me to straddle two perspectives, I think. The generation a bit older than me supposedly looks at millennials as being lazy, and that they don't want to work. It’s kind of funny though, because I think every generation looks at the newer generation and says those things, and it's just the nature of getting older.
But, the interesting thing is that I've been close enough to the edge of that to see the skilled trades gap from the perspective of a younger person as I was coming up through it myself. And as an official millennial, I am also able to see that transition and the positive impact of technology. As an example, in my marketplace I’ve seen the impact XOi’s technology has had on younger people engaging with it. I think many millennials might feel industries are not moving fast enough to engage with technology that any younger person would come to expect in their own lives. Why would they not expect it in their professional lives?
I am definitely happy to be part of the the PHCPPros Millennial On The Move series, and I think about our generation’s ability to engage technology and to create products for a market that desperately needs it. I'm not big on bragging about anything, but I do think that as a generation, even though all generations can work together to create change, we can help bring technology to industries that will really benefit from it.