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The love of family and passion for an industry fulfills the spirit of Nick Giuffre, an industry icon.
“We have to be there, we have to be present, we have to be involved, no matter what the conditions are because the economic challenges of the industry are certainly never going to change, whether the business environment is strong or slow. This isn’t an industry that’s only for the good times, it’s an industry for all times. That’s what I mean by all-in.” — Nick Giuffre.
How do you define a legend and icon? There are many ways to answer this question, but it boils down to a person’s character. How does a soul guide people to be the best they can be, helping others along the way? They are the change makers, the fearless leaders who always try to make life or a situation better than when they entered upon it. Add a dash of charm, wit, and magnetism — you know what I mean. It’s when the individual walks into the room and you can feel the energy change before you see who is there. This is how I define a legend. This is how I define Nicholas “Nick” Giuffre, retired CEO of Bradford White Corp., and for all these reasons and more, he is the recipient of The Wholesaler’s Person of The Year.
In July of this year, Nick retired from the water heater and boiler manufacturer after 40 years. Based out of Ambler, Pa., the company manufactures and sells its products for professional installation only and is comprised of a tight-knit group of employees — Nick prefers the term family to employees. His dedication and contributions to the industry are lengthy. But this path would not have been possible if it weren’t for a job interview “family” got him, and the “family” he built along his 40-year journey.
In the late ‘70s, Nick was a senior at Bloomsburg State College (now University) and while home on Christmas break, he attended a family wedding. At the reception was his cousin Michael, a successful business man, and Nick’s father walked him over to him and said, “Nick’s getting out of college in May. Do you have anything for him?”
It turns out that his cousin, Michael DeLuca, was then an executive vice president at Bradford White. He gave Nick his business card. After following through, Nick landed in the office of Bob Carnevale, who’s direct boss at the time was Nick’s cousin, Michael. I asked Bob if he remembered the interview, and with a smirk on his face, he leaned back in his chair and smiled. “I was told to interview a young man who just graduated from Bloomsburg State College,” he said. He didn’t have a lot of information on Nick other than that, and he was his boss’ cousin. “This was in the ‘70s when double-knit suits were the ‘in thing’ and Nick shows up, a good-looking young man, ready to go and smiling eagerly —in a shrimp-colored, double-knit suit,” Bob recalled.
At the time there weren’t any open positions within the company, but Bob and others believed in hiring for character and personality, not just talent. “Nick was special — and one of his qualities is that he is a people-person,” Bob said. “He looks you in the eye when he talks to you and is very comfortable. We knew he was special and had to find a place for him.”
In 1978, Giuffre started in the service department at Bradford White. He exemplifies the “from the bottom up” success story, eventually leading the company.
No Easy Road
“One thing I never did was say no,” Nick said. “If anyone asked me to do anything — inventory, work on a weekend — I never said no. I felt everything was an opportunity to show the company that I cared and could work hard. I’ve been in every role — I think I have 18 business cards. And by doing every role, it got easier to become a mentor. “
In 1985, Giuffre heard that a regional sales manager within the company was leaving. With courage and confidence, he walked into the vice president’s office and stated he wanted the job. The VP told him “You’re too young, regional sales managers are older in this business.” Nick responded, “I know the product inside and out and can outsell anyone.” He had the fire and the drive to advance the company forward. The VP relented, giving him the position, as well as a mentor. To Nick that person was Ted Sikorski. Under Ted’s guidance, Nick flourished.
“That was a big turning point — 1985,” he says. “I married my lovely wife Kathy and became a regional sales manager.”
In 1992 a major opportunity presented itself. Bradford White was part of a conglomerate with the parent company, headquartered in Australia. To continue growing through acquisitions, the parent company needed to sell Bradford White. Bob saw the opportunity and seized it. They would reinvent Bradford White to manufacture product only in the United States and sell strictly through wholesale distribution. I asked Bob if he ever had any doubt the new model would work. He looked me in the eye and said “On day three I KNEW it would be successful. The vision was simple. We were going to have a company to deal with the wholesale-trade only, with a high-quality product at a competitive price.”
Nick had a decision to make. Either stay with the parent company and move or join Bob and the others on a vision they all knew could work — with hard work. It all came down to family. “I was an only child of Italian-American parents, and we’d just had their first grandchild, and I said I’m not moving,” Nick recalls. “I jumped at the opportunity and vision Bob had and moved forward.” It was a decision he knew was right.
In 1992, Bradford White Corp., now owned by an Employee Stock Ownership Trust, was formed and had plans to deliver high quality, superior products made by American craftspeople. “We are serious about keeping jobs and creating more jobs at Bradford White,” stated Bob. The company has now grown to three factories — Middleville and Niles, Mich.; and Rochester, N.H. He went on to say, “we continue to create more jobs for the American worker.” “We’re all-in when it comes to the industry, and that is in the good and bad times,” noted Nick. “Nick cares deeply about Bradford White, its employees, and their reps. He also believes so completely in the Bradford White story, which is an American success,” stated Michael Hobbs, president of Carr Co., and current Chairman of AIM/R.
The company focused on building relationships and partnerships with contractors and wholesalers. A piece of literature created at the time states, “If you’re a contractor or wholesaler, you should be celebrating, too.” Bob knew that for Bradford White to succeed, you had to meet and understand your customers. Nick was a natural at building relationships, and so out he went on the road.
“I have worked with Nick over the years and in the many different positions he held at Bradford White. He is a workingman’s guy - and approachable regardless of the role he has held. Nick is a Chairman, a counselor, and intuitive benefactor to his friends. Above all, he is a great friend.” Gib Secker, president of Western States Sales, Inc.
To integrate the wholesale distribution-only philosophy, it was essential to get the word out. The internet wasn’t as available or sophisticated as it is now. “The biggest thing I did at that time was create what we call kick-off dinners,” Nick recalled. “We had to figure a way to tell our story to the contractors. We took the entire philosophy, quality, features, breadth of product line and created a presentation, and called it a kick-off dinner.” And, they were legendary.
These dinners helped the manufacturers’ representatives deliver the message to the wholesaler, who in turn delivered it to the contractor and then, ultimately, to the consumer. The events were a huge hit and helped to achieve the same consistent message throughout the industry channel — just as Nick had intended. He would spend countless days each year traveling on sales calls with Bradford White’s reps.
“Every day, and through hundreds of presentations, Nick always demonstrated enthusiasm and passion for the professional installer, our industry, and the wholesale supply channel,” noted Kelly Michel, president of Michel Sales Agency. “Our nickname for him was ‘Prime Time,’ and when he came in for a presentation, the lights burned bright, the noise grew louder, and guests started clapping and cheering… “Prime Time” has started his show!”
During those early years, it was important for members of Bradford White to involve themselves with organizations supporting the sales model. “We recruited the entire Bradford White family for industry involvement to constantly tell the same story without wavering,” said Nick. “Twenty-six years later, no matter how you market it, it’s the same story, Bradford White is all-in.”
“One of the primary sources of passion for Bradford White comes from their management team. Nick created such a high level of passion for the company, as a rep, you would run through a wall for both him and Bradford White,” stated Hobbs.
When it came to the wholesaler audience, Bradford White knew that once you had the confidence and support of a wholesale distributor, it would help spread the word to its contractor customer base. “Karl Neupert of Consolidated Supply — no one did more diligence than him,” Nick said. “After he saw the Bradford White product and its features, and how contractors grew to love it, he became one of our biggest advocates.” Not only did Karl Neupert become an advocate, but he, along with the Neupert family became close friends of Nick.
Karla Neupert Hockley, president of Consolidated Supply Co. shared the same sentiment. “My greatest industry honor came in 2011, when I presented Nick with the Fred V. Keenan Lifetime Achievement award during the ASA Convention. It was remarkable to see someone recognized for his lifetime achievements, yet still have another decade to contribute and make a difference.” She went on to say “His stewardship and leadership within the industry are unparalleled. Consolidated Supply Co., the Neupert family and my late father, Karl, are all the richer for having Nick and his talents in our industry. More important than his industry legacy are the countless lifetime friendships he has made along the way.”
Nick became actively involved with the American Supply Association (ASA), serving on several committees, including the Executive Committee and the Education Foundation. When its foundation formed an endowment — ultimately renamed to the Karl E. Neupert Endowment Fund —Nick went “all-in” and Bradford White was the first water heater company to donate. The $250,000 contribution set the cornerstone for other companies in the industry to step up and in, to build a healthy future for all.
Nick was actively involved in the organization. He served as Chairman of the ASA Vendor Member Division. He went on to become a board member of ASA and the ASA Education Foundation. He chaired the ASAEF Investment Committee. He worked tirelessly to incorporate everyone in the industry and became an advocate to include manufacturers’ representatives into ASA. “I am very proud that we got more people involved, including adding representation from AIM/R, the ASA Women in Industry and Young Executives to have a seat on the ASA Board.”
He became actively involved in supporting the plumber and the Plumbing, Heating, Cooling Contractors—National Association (PHCC-NA). Nick is a fearless supporter, guide and sounding board for the professional installer. After all, it is through their input that a professional’s job site becomes Bradford White’s “working lab.” Engineers can build a product, but without working together with the professionals who install the product, one cannot build a better machine. He learned this wisdom from Bob - to always keep your ears open. Bob told a story about meeting with a contractor in California, who had trouble installing one of Bradford White’s heaters. There was a challenge with the placement of valves on the water heater. The contractor looked at Bob and said, “Mr. Carnevale when was the last time you installed a water heater in California?” His answer was never – and he understood that the company needed contractor input, and the importance of keeping open the accessibility to reach any executive in the company was essential.
“Nick is truly a ‘lion’ within the PHC industry, and his commitment has always been all-in,” noted Michael R. Copp, executive vice president, PHCC-NA. “His clarity, constancy of purpose and personal courage are the same attributes that PHC professionals exhibit who understand that they play a leading role in our movement to protect the health and safety of society and the environment. Nick has continued to be an activist for professionalism and excellence within the PHC industry.”
Coming full circle in the being all-in in the industry channel is supporting the manufacturers’ representative. When AIM/R was formed, the group looked to Bradford White. “They came to me and said they were trying to make the reps better businessmen and women,” Nick said. “They talked about CPMR (Certified Professional Manufacturers’ Representative), the accreditation for the business. It is an MBA program for manufacturers’ representatives allowing them to serve their customers and the industry with high standards of professionalism.
He wrote a letter and called on all Bradford White’s rep agencies. “I said it would be wonderful for all our reps to be members of AIM/R,” he added. “They are professional firms — part of the Bradford White family — and being a part of AIM/R gives them an advantage of professionalism. We hold our reps to a high standard for they represent and deliver our message and story day in and day out.”
A year after he started making the calls, Bradford White significantly increased its manufacturers’ representative participation in AIM/R. Moreover, many of BW’s reps are CPMR-certified — a feather in the cap of Nick who so believes in promoting avenues of excellence in each portion of the channel. Nick is so passionate about AIM/R, he was the first manufacturer speaker at its convention.
He has worked tirelessly to forge the industry forward. So, when the nation went through the Great Recession in 2007 through 2009, it was all-hands-on-deck to send the message to industry members to continue partnerships within their respective organizations. “We needed to continue to support the organizations that were the voices of the industry,” Nick explained. “People go into survival mode, and our message was we have to have a strong industry during good times as well as during tougher economic challenges. The stronger the industry is, the stronger all of us will be.”
Honors and Accolades
ASA honored Nick in 2011 as the recipient of the Fred V. Keenan Lifetime Achievement award in recognition of his lifetime contributions and achievements in the plumbing, heating and cooling industry. Nick was very sentimental when he spoke about receiving the award, his strong stature softened and humbled at the same time.
“That award meant so much to me,” he said. “It solidified the efforts we as an industry (he includes the past recipients before him) put in during the tough times. Anyone can step up to the plate and put money into the church basket when times are good. But when giving’s a little painful, and a little inconvenient, then you know you are contributing. I look at all the associations that way. We have an obligation.”
In 1997, he was awarded the prestigious Golden Eagle Award from AIM/R, and earlier this year at its annual conference, he was presented a special Lifetime Achievement Award. Attendees jumped to their feet when he took the stage, and the applause was deafening - the show of adoration and respect for him was electrifying.
“His unselfish support of our industry with donations and time is legendary; I’m sure he holds the world record for the most PHCC meetings attended,” noted Stew Chaffee, president of Rich-Tomkins Co. “What our industry folks don’t know is that Nick and his wife Kathy are just as generous and influential in many worthwhile causes outside of our industry.”
“Nick Giuffre is exactly what Horatio Alger was writing about,” said Michel. “Modest beginnings to the leadership of a large company. Nick is the single greatest influence, personally and professionally, in Michel Sales 82-years in business.”
PHCC’s Copp added: “No matter who you are within this great profession, you have been influenced by the good work of Nick Giuffre. We need more maverick’s like him in our profession who think independently, but who collaborate respectfully in duty to this critical industry.”
“Contractors love him because they believe, rightfully so, that Nick is on their team,” noted Sig Schmalhofer, founder and chairman of the board of Signature Sales. “Wholesalers love him because of his sincere, enthusiastic interest in their business and his dedication to addressing their issues. Reps love him because Nick is their friend at the factory and their advocate. And his Bradford White colleagues love him because of his steadfast loyalty and passion that is impossible to squelch. If there is a man who is loved more than Nick, I haven’t met him.”
Nick has also been involved with the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigerating Institute (AHRI). Nick served for many years on its Executive Committee, the Strategic Planning Committee, and a member of its Board of Directors and the Rees Scholarship Foundation. “To know Nick is to know a kind and generous soul with a wicked sense of humor, who doesn’t suffer fools but who is always available when called upon - to mentor, to advise, or to contribute the expertise and experience that comes from decades in the industry,” noted Francis Dietz, vice president, public affairs, AHRI. Nick was the recipient of the AHRI Richard C. Schulze Award, for his many contributions to AHRI. Dietz went on to say, “for that reason, among many others, his counsel is sought and revered.”
Words of Wisdom
Nick discussed how the customer base is changing, and that while a company needs to keep up and even go one step ahead, also it should blend the old and the new.
Bradford White makes it easy for its customers to connect with the company — online and with its 24/7 live phone center. Calls are answered by a live person - not a machine, who directs callers to the proper department or personnel. Nick gives a nod to Bob Carnevale, “That was all driven by Bob, and he is right. I believe technology with old-school respect is a nice blend for a company, but you cannot ignore trends,” said Nick. “Our structure and foundation are embedded into this industry; what’s left now is the challenge of change.”
He talked about the “knowledge transfer” to Bruce Carnevale, who has taken the helm as president and CEO of Bradford White. “You have to be prepared, and that’s Bruce’s strong point,” Nick noted. “He operates with an intelligence level that is intuitive and is able to see the overview of all things. He understands products, patterns, changes, and trends. He is hiring all the right people — industry specialists, industry veterans and people who will help Bradford White remain relevant and strong for its employees, customers and business partners in a rapidly changing industry.”
Nick set up a succession plan years ago — by bringing in new talent and “filling in the bullpen” for all the major departments and developing their leadership capabilities. Bruce Carnevale spent the last three years putting his team together before Nick retired. Bruce understands the culture of the company, has the passion that engages the industry and its customers, and has his unique personality that charms as well. “He’s a natural,” stated Nick. When asked about the turning over of the helm to Bruce, Nick shakes his head. “There are no worries. Bruce continues to instill the passion into the management team and all family members. He is a fantastic leader.” Bruce carries on, and foster’s the company’s tradition of culture and family, the same elements his father created when he developed the company’s new independence in 1992.
And like when Nick was at the helm, there is always a mentor to assist if needed. The company’s former executives — now including Nick — sit on the board and serve as mentors to both current and future generations of Bradford White’s leaders.
According to Jim McGoldrick, Bradford White’s vice president of sales, what may be more important than Nick’s “knowledge transfer” is his “culture transfer.” “Nick has led by example his entire career, and he has infused that passion for the customer and our industry in all of us,” said Jim. “Nick’s all-in philosophy has been embraced and the entire company is proud to be continuing his legacy of hands-on industry involvement and unwavering support in helping our customers grow their businesses. I know that Nick will be missed by many, but those of us who have trained directly and even indirectly under him, carry Nick’s spirit and commitments with us every day.”
I asked Nick the best piece of advice he had been given. As animated as he is, he became a little shy and timid. He referenced family many times during our interview — his wife Kathy and his four children — and lit up each time they are mentioned. I knew that he values and cherishes family, be it blood relatives or the friends he holds close to his heart. “I love people. I love doing things for people and making people happy,” he said. “There are so many things you’re taught in life, but it all comes down to being kind and generous.”
Nick plans to fill his time with philanthropy and giving back to the industry he loves. The motto, ”all-in” applies in work and life. He and Kathy are actively involved in their community and give of their time and money. He is actively involved in the Boy Scouts in Chester County, Pa., as well as a board member of the “J” Foundation, which supports terminally ill children and their families. The Giuffres’ also have generously raised more than $550,000 for the Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
In February 2016, through a generous personal gift, The Nicholas J. Giuffre Center for Supply Chain Management in the College of Business at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania was dedicated. The gift will provide students and executives with leadership training and education in supply chain management. The Giuffre’s gift also endowed the Nicholas J. Giuffre Distinguished Professor in Supply Chain Management to support the university’s supply chain management major and experiential learning opportunities for students.
“I want everyone to know I’ve enjoyed every association and relationship within our industry,” Nick stated. “It’s a damn special industry. If you get in there and give, this industry will give back 10 times what you put into it.”
At the end of the interview, I looked at Bob Carnevale and Nick Giuffre. It was apparent the relationship between the two is close — more like father and son. If you ask anyone about the character of either individual, it is always the same – a genuinely nice man, personable and one who truly cares and ALWAYS has your back. The family roots run deep, and they do not need to be blood. Because after all, once you are all-in, you will forever be woven into the fabric of the industry.
Here’s to you, Nick Giuffre, The Wholesaler’s Person of the Year. You are forever a shining light, and have made a difference in this industry, and the lives of so many.