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Forty years ago, a successful plumbing contractor in California offered Mark Watkins a proposition: take his 1959 or 1962 Corvette and leave town … without his daughter.
“Forty years later,” Watkins reports, “I’m married to the most beautiful woman. My now father-in-law realized that I wasn’t going anywhere, so he’d better take the time and teach me the trade!”
Watkins has found a rewarding career in the plumbing and heating industry, but not without challenges. He started as an inexperienced, hard-working laborer in 1977 and worked his way up to his current position as director of sales. He says, “I can tell you that with desire and determination, anyone can make it happen for themselves if they just apply themselves.”
Williams Plumbing and Heating, headquartered in Bozeman, Montana, has offices in North Dakota, Wyoming, and various cities in Montana; it employs close to 300 people. Williams’ coverage includes the Rocky Mountains and mountain states sector. Williams provides a broad range of services under the Williams Companies umbrella: residential, commercial, service, radiant heating, renewable energies, fleet and heavy equipment rentals, heavy and light civil as well as the recent addition of Williams Consulting.
The Williams’ model centers around the importance of nurturing relationships. The main goal is to develop those relationships between “employees, contractors and clients.”
Watkins says: “Relationship-building enables us to deliver our projects ahead of schedule and exceed the clients’ expectations. We realize that commitment, integrity and community equal longevity. Our drive, like any good business, is to be successful and profitable. We challenge our employees and management team to collaborate and be passionate about their position and role. The success of Williams Companies depends greatly on teamwork.”
Over the years, Williams has made some instrumental transitions that have allowed for company growth. In 1979, Ken Williams purchased the company from his father. Since his ownership, Williams Plumbing and Heating has grown from a meager three company vehicles, to more than 425 vehicles and pieces of heavy equipment in full operation today.
Ken William’s son and third generation Williams plumber, Quin Williams, is an executive leader who brings a fresh perspective to the company.
“Quin, equipped with a mix of passion and technological savvy, introduced the company to the high-tech side of our craft and the ever-evolving tools and services that enhance our efficiency and customer service. We’ve come a long way from land lines and pagers,” Watkins says.
The Williams team has used its polished skills and technological prowess on standout projects. In the last two years, they’ve provided work for the Big Sky Hospital, Livingston Hospital, Belgrade Medical Clinic, Watford Event Center and the new Watford Law and Justice Center, to name a few.
Williams Heating and Plumbing is currently working with Saunders from the Denver area, remodeling Saint Vincent Hospital in Billings, Montana. The team has already received an immense amount of positive feedback.
Below is a recent reference letter from Saunders:
I am writing you this letter regarding the medical gas shutdown on St. Vincent Hospital in Billings, Montana. Williams Plumbing and Heating’s ability to successfully perform a full 285-bed hospital medical gas shutdown without interrupting the medical gases to the hospital is next to none! The investigation performed prior to the shutdown and the endless hours the crews committed during it was a vital part in ensuring that we would have a seamless and successful shutdown. Your entire crews’ dedication to patient safety, infection control, the task at hand and professionalism, exceeded expectations and was greatly appreciated. The achievement of this shutdown is a true testament to Williams’ ability as a health care plumbing contractor, and we are excited to have you as a part of the St. Vincent team. We look forward to working with you on futures projects.
Williams Plumbing and Heating has had many successes like this one due to its committed team. Watkins says: “Each project and challenge has a life of its own. It becomes a part of our team, partnership and culture. As a project comes to completion, a sense of pride and honor in the accomplishment takes hold and makes every achievement special. Most of all, I credit our employees and the care they take in handling the unique personalities and challenges that each project brings.”
Industry recruitment and training are ongoing hot topics for the industry. At Williams, leaders feel that one of the best ways to recruit is through exposure and community outreach. College career fair events, community career days, local advertising opportunities, involvement with contractors’ associations, trade organizations and apprentice programs are considered “invaluable recruitment and training tools.”
The company also believes in planting firm roots into the local school grounds. Watkins says: “We have recently joined forces with the local high school and the Bozeman School District to engage and recruit at the high school level. Our goal is simple: begin with juniors and seniors and promote the skilled trades as a viable and rewarding career path.”
Overall, Williams has a systematic approach to fueling the trade gaps: “Our go-to solutions in this time of shortage in the skilled trade labor market: accurate estimating, effective management, efficient installations and outstanding performances tied all together with consistent communications between companies.”
This also means communicating with peers and other industry leaders. Williams is involved with numerous associations and groups including the Southwest Montana Building Industry Association, Montana Contractors’ Association, Home Builders Association (HBA), Habitat for Humanity and the American Welding Society, to name a few.
To make it in this changing industry, Watkins echoes a sentiment that has been said by many successful leaders: one must think outside the box and roll with the change. “It’s important not to get complacent. To stay vibrant, one needs to accept new ideas and techniques developed for their perspective trade. Continuing to educate yourself and your team with new ideas and applications for your industry specialty, would only enhance your productivity and efficiencies. Change can always be looked at as a challenge, but a successful change can be very rewarding.”
Recruitment and retention are always big buzzword challenges for any workforce, but especially one with a large aging skilled workforce and limited workers trained to replace them. Williams seems to have a winning ticket for retention. Watkins says: “How do we demonstrate the value of the company’s investment to our employees without having to gauge it by the salary he or she is receiving? We work to develop and foster programs that help promote longevity through personal development, continued education and monetary compensation based on achieving pre-set goals.”
In the end, Watkins says, even in the midst of shortage, quality shouldn’t be compromised. He says, “In today’s market, we must accomplish more with less without sacrificing quality, production or profits.”
Williams centers around good leaders, who are also “explorers.” He concludes: “Our culture is to raise up leaders with an emotional maturity about them. To become better listeners and opportunity enablers. To collaborate, motivate and inspire, by being passionate about their craft and creative in their presentation. Not only for the company’s success but for our community and the next generations to follow. Williams Companies are in constant pursuit of excellence, becoming explorers of new possibilities, who are more likely to outperform those who lack our enthusiasm.”
For more information, visit willplumb.com.
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