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On the day Audrey Monell officially took charge of the family plumbing and HVAC business she’d grown up in, one of the company’s long-time techs announced to her father that he was never going to work for a woman.
Dad told the tech, there’s the door.
“You never want to lose a skilled person,” says Monell, 34, president of Forrest Anderson Plumbing & Air Conditioning Inc. based in Glendale, Arizona. “But looking back on it, technically, he’d always worked for a woman.”
Here’s what she means: The company got its start after Monell’s grandfather, Forrest Anderson, returned from serving in the Navy during WWII to start his business in Rockport, Ind. in 1948.
Years later, Forrest and his wife, Delores, took a vacation to Phoenix in 1961 and decided to move there. To hear tell it, the decision to relocate 1,600 miles away was made very quickly. Like, the week after.
“Grandpa knew that a happy wife was a happy life,” Monell says.
Once in Arizona, her grandmother was a big part of the business. And when her father, Don Hensley, who remains the chairman of the company today, took over, her mother, Marian, who remains the company’s secretary/treasurer, was also just as much a part of the business, too.
“My mom was always a figure head in the company,” Monell adds, “so who did he think he always worked for?”
Somewhere along the line, Monell joined the company.
“Well, I always worked here growing up,” she adds. “You know, from running parts to sorting the warehouse and sweeping. That kind of thing.”
Monell eventually went off to college, earning a degree in economics from Arizona State University in 2008 before returning to the business.
“I decided the best thing I could do was to remain involved with my family and continue the family tradition,” Monell says, adding that her three other siblings didn’t seem interested in running a PHCP business.
And so with almost 70 years of history behind the Forrest Anderson name, Monell wants to build its future.
And isn’t that the point, whether it’s a son or a daughter taking over from dad or mom? Monell is a leader like any other who remains committed to her 26 employees, countless customers and her grandfather’s four guiding principles:
Plus, for added measure, there’s Don and Marian’s mantra, too: Our word is the one thing that we have that truly matters. When we make a promise, we keep it. And if we mess up, we fix it.
“The smartest decision I made was to ignore pessimists who didn’t think I could succeed as president because I was a woman,” Monell says. “They repeatedly told me family business succession rate is almost nonexistent by the third generation. Instead, I accepted the challenge to make our family business a success.”
So for Monell, it’s all in the family. For more than eight years, she’s led her family business and worked to increase the gross profit margin by 10 percent and, through the implementation of new policies and procedures, increased revenue by 23 percent.
Granted, Monell may have been down one tech on the day she became president, but plenty of others stuck by.
Longevity is one plus for the 68-year-old firm with some techs working for well more than 20 years. One tech has been there 27 years. And the company’s plumbing manager actually grew up with Monell’s father in Indiana before the big move to the Southwest.
“Every good leader needs humility,” she adds. “Knowing when I am wrong, admitting my mistakes and learning from them is the key to growth. I would not be successful if not for everyone around me, so I make sure they know how much I’ve learned from them and appreciate them.”
As a leader in a skilled trade industry, Monell is also passionate about sharing her rather nontraditional career path with other women. She regularly counsels other women on benefits to a career in the skilled trades and how to best turn those opportunities into a career and business ownership.
“My No. 1 goal is to continue my family’s legacy of doing right by the customer and create an amazing work environment where everyone feels appreciated and respected,” Monell said. “My goals specifically within the industry are to have an almost paperless process for the techs and customers and to grow our service department by being a leader in the high-tech side.”
In the past few years, she has reduced many obstacles that slowed down techs by introducing a paperless timecard system, setting up mobile payment processing, and transitioning to paperless invoicing.
To that end, the company elected to use Service Fusion to implement its paperless procedures.
“To my mind, some of these technological methods are pretty much basic business practices that most owners do,” she explains. “But the paperless aspects simply help owners keep on top of everything so much more efficiently. It’s what you have to do now.”
Take job costing. “Every single invoice whether it’s for $100 or $500,000, we know all the costs involved and can account for everything,” she explains. “And to track everything specifically. That alone increased our profits.”
Monell also mandated a paperless timekeeping system, with the 20-some techs running 18 trucks keeping track of their time on smart phones.
“That way we have up-to-date hours on all our jobs,” she explains, “and we don’t wait until weeks later when everyone turned in a timesheet for payroll to discover a problem. So that really helped with efficiency. As I said, this is just solid business skills implementation, to better manager where the dollars are coming and going.”
Equipping the techs with iPads also gives them 24/7 backup to look up information for their work, such as materials and owners manuals.
“All the information they need is literally at their fingertips now,” Monell adds.
In addition to high-tech, the office is admittedly high-touch as well. Monell’s office, for example, is right out in the middle of the open floor layout.
“One of our other philosophies on how to run a business that we’ve stuck with since grandpa’s days is we take out the trash,” Monell says. “It doesn’t matter who you are or what position you’re in. If you’re the last one to leave the office and the trash can's full, you take out the trash.”
As for another generation, Monell says her 20-year-old nephew, Kyle, has been working at the company for a year now as a plumber’s helper. In the wings, Monell’s daughter, Ava, who just turned 7, is making a dollar an hour doing some filing.
“She really wants to start answering the phones,” Monell says, adding that she may have to wait a few years before doing that.