Selling Your Company: Lessons Learned

    My father, Robert Marowske, founded Flame Heating, Cooling & Electrical, a commercial and residential heating and cooling company, in 1949. Fifty years later he sold the business to a local utility company, who also bought two other companies at the same time. After the sale, we both decided to continue on at Flame, even though it was no longer under family ownership.

    Before we knew it, the new management had failed to create a unified staff, a company name and branding, uniforms and more. As you can imagine, the company did not do well and my father and I were both let go within six months of the new operation.

    There almost seemed to be no other choice -“ in 2001 I bought the company back, set up two showrooms, and took over as company president. I realized Flame was still fragmented and I needed to do something quickly to bring the company back, restore its reputation and boost morale.

    This was a learning process. I had to revive a company that had once belonged to my family, make it more than it was before and avoid making the same mistakes the utility company had made.

    I first needed to get the more than 130 Flame employees onto the same page -“ with one set of ethics, vision, core values and professional ideals. I was fortunate to realize that the biggest asset a company leader could have is its employees. It was my responsibility to ensure fluid communication, answering questions up front and in a clean, concise manner. I also stopped all problems dead in their tracks, not letting them become larger, including the realization that if not all of the employees agreed with my ideals, I could let them make a choice if they wanted to stay or not.

    I also learned that these values I articulated were not only my personal values, but were also the corporate values. I had to believe them and lead by example with a positive attitude. As they say, you practice what you preach.

    With hard work and a commitment from our dedicated Flame employees, I saw that the company was back on track and was doing well again in a matter of a few years. I figured that it was time to expand and acquired two companies, Lussenden Mechanical and Roseville Heating and Cooling, over the past two years. I had to integrate these companies into one, very much mirroring what I did in 2001.

    I created a unified corporate culture and corporate rules, making sure that all employees from the three companies dressed the same and abided by the same guidelines. Regardless of where the employees worked or where dispatched from, they all felt like a member of the Flame team. Employees became vital in the decision-making process. They were invited and encouraged to make suggestions and I brought everyone in for regular company meetings, which was also an appropriate time to make sure that everyone knew each other.

    We are thriving, even celebrating our 60th anniversary last year. Also, since we acquired the two companies, we have had several other companies contact us, wanting to merge with us and be part of our corporate culture and team.

    To date, we believe that our 2009 sales will have increased more than 10 percent from 2008, and this year we are continuing that trend. Everyone involved in Flame Heating, Cooling & Electrical is happy with where the company is going.

    I feel as though I was very fortunate to have the opportunity twice to create one company with ideals that exemplify what I believe in. Not everyone has the opportunity to buy back their own company. It gives you a new perspective and I hope that as we continue to grow, I keep learning.

    Gary Marowske is president of Flame Heating, Cooling & Electrical Co.