Throughout the past 40 years, Tom Barrett has held nearly every job in the industry. And for the past 9, he’s been leading our service team. I sat down with Tom recently to take a look back and a glance forward on both the industry as a whole and ECT, specifically.
Tom began in the industry at 14 years old learning the electrical trade. When he was out of school, he spent 10 years at the University of Louisville and then 20 at Siemens before joining ECT, mostly in the world of electrical work, becoming a master electrician. Tom remembers the early 1980s with lots of lay-offs and he was serving as an apprentice. The team he was on had hours for him and began teaching him the service side, a skill that will always be needed. Tom was never in the position of being laid off and continued to learn new parts of his trade and perfect his skills.
Much of the electrical work he was handling at that time was low voltage, mainly fire systems. Eventually access controls was invented and he started working on installing access and security. At that time, the University had seven cameras across three campuses. It was a different time for sure. He went on to Siemens where he grew his department from 2 to 26 people working on anything from engineering, design and project management. Sales always tied into what he did simply by the nature of the job.
When Jeff Murphy became CEO, one of his goals was to build the service team. Tom has led that team and created something special with these guys. “It’s very hard to put into words, but it’s like watching your children grow up,” he said. When he first started leading the team, he had one guy on security service and one guy on temperature control service. Over time, the guys learned each others’ skills so they could pitch in and help out. There’s a sense of pride among this team. They support each other through every situation and Tom says that’s the kind of guys they are – he takes no credit for it. He says “You put one steering wheel on a car for a reason and I just happen to be sitting behind the wheel. I’d be a fool to turn right if you tell me to go left.” He’s emphatic that just because he’s ‘the boss’ he expects his team to redirect him if he’s headed down a wrong road.
His favorite part of the job? He loves being in the field with the team – he says that’s where they do our best work. He says when the guys hit a roadblock, his job is to clear it so they can go about the job at hand.
One of the things that Tom points out as being so important is how much they care about their customers and each other. “They’ve been here with major medical issues, we’ve lost a team member, we’ve had up to three with significant medical issues needing to take time off and I’m most proud of how tight the team is. They cover for each other. When one of us falls down, the rest of us carry him and the work that needs to be done. In all my years, we’ve never had trouble covering call for each other. Call is not easy. But they care about each other so much, they jump in to help.”
“This isn’t a job,” Tom says. “It’s a family. I wish it wasn’t unique in the industry, but it is. Our business cares about doing what’s right. We’re in this for long haul.”
Tom knows our service is different because of his years in the industry. Sure, there have been times we’ve made a mistake, but we’ve fixed it – even if it means a loss on our end. “We will make it right for the customer, no matter what. We gave our word. We came through. When you can show your team we’re going to do what’s right for our customers, period, you set the example to make us do what’s right for the customers. We can make mistakes, sure, but we don’t run from them. We admit it and we fix it. It’s been a neat thing to watch.”
“If we go to a site and customer is unhappy, when we leave, they’re better. We like to help people. This can bring a lot of job satisfaction because you know you’re helping someone. When you leave, they don’t have a problem anymore,” he said. Of course, he went on to say you never know what’s coming… what the problem will be, how long it will take. Sometimes the schedule could change six times a day. Priorities change, emergencies happen, but we come through.
Tom shared a bit about the past year and said COVID did not close us down. We did make concessions, had a way for people to work from home if needed. The team was flexible and communicated well. “Being respectful of each other’s needs and accommodations, to my knowledge we did not let a single customer down through COVID. We did not miss a single call.”
“The thing about service guys, they are pretty damn good people,” Tom said. Yeah, I agree.