The HB McClure Company is a heating and cooling systems contractor that has operated out of the Pennsylvania area for over 100 years – and operated for the last decade as 100 percent employee-owned.
The business was founded in 1914 by Herbert Bassett McClure and Curtis Fisher, and over the ensuing century, it has grown into a full service commercial/industrial mechanical contractor.
Shelly Matter, the firm’s Director of Business Development, refers to the transition of the company being purchased by Bob Whalen, CEO of HB Global LLC, in 2008, then becoming an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) business in 2010, which means that HB McClure is 100 percent employee-owned.
Matter says the ownership change has led to a culture that is second to none in the industry because everyone who works for the company is an owner of it and, now employees across the board take great pride in the company. “HB is made up of hard working great people – we consider one another family.”
Carl Feaser, Vice President of Commercial Construction at HB McClure, emphasizes that its goal is world-class customer service. The focus is on delivering quality work and overall customer satisfaction, a solid focus for the company ever since the 1980s when the company moved to including pre-construction in its philosophy.
Thus far into the company’s formidable progress, Matter feels its biggest accomplishments, aside from becoming an ESOP, are its many acquisitions of strong companies whose core values align with its own.
The team’s first sizable acquisition was in 2014 when they purchased IT Landes located in Harleysville, Pennsylvania, which enabled HB McClure to extend its reach closer to the Philadelphia market.
IT Landes operates as a separate division of HB Global LLC, which has allowed for a great deal of growth on the commercial side of the business, including a count of over 500 employee owners on the roster (compared to a decade ago when there were a little over 200 employees altogether, Matter recalls).
Further acquisitions include design-build mechanical contractor Worden & Shewell of York, Pennsylvania in 2015, and purchase of commercial HVAC contractor Accu-Aire Mechanical Services, Inc. of Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 2018. The company has seen marked growth over the past decade.
These acquisitions obviously dovetail with Feaser’s statement that HB McClure sees itself as a one-stop mechanical and plumbing business that can design, build, maintain, and replace anything that a customer may desire, and its resources and the wide-ranging skills of its sizable body of employees make this possible time and again.
HB McClure has recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary of becoming completely employee-owned, a huge milestone.
Matter sees this placing of the company in the hands of employees as a phenomenal opportunity for employees to become personally vested business owners. “The employees earn shares in the company and as the company grows, their stock value increases,” she says.
The business also offers its employees many opportunities for individual growth thanks to initiatives like HB University, a department within the company that establishes training modules for workers to acquire new skills in several different areas, should they desire to grow in such a way (for instance leadership, soft skills, and even public speaking).
Feaser has himself witnessed the impressive growth this extensive training has allowed and feels that it is within the company’s four major values of team, trust, growth, and grit. These values continue to lead the way for the HB workforce.
Employees at HB McClure seek to cultivate relationships with clients in the same manner that the familial relationships within the business are made and nurtured. With their commitment as owners, workers look to always provide superior service.
Company employees are highly proactive in client relationships, often participating in training on better ways to service clients as providers.
This client-first attitude extends to the company’s approach to community outreach. According to Matter, the company is highly involved with many non-profit organizations. Employees volunteer time and efforts to causes like Junior Achievement, The Salvation Army, Bethesda Mission, Girls on the Run, American Heart Association and even local sports teams and charitable initiatives like the Heart Walk and the United Way Day of Caring.
The company is actively involved in charitable efforts throughout the region and is always looking beyond its considerable success to give back in some form or fashion, another way in which its core values of trust, team, grit and growth are lived out every day.
Constructing a future
Regarding the construction industry, Feaser sees challenges ahead in 2021.
The rise in material costs and a degree of uncertainty in the country has reduced the inclination of both individuals and companies to spend as freely as before. There has also been increased pricing pressure, with a greater number of bidders on each project, as well as individuals fleeing the cities for the suburbs (although Feaser sees this as an opportunity as much as a challenge).
“During tough times,” Feaser says, “the true identity of a company comes out and we have had to work a lot harder.” During the initial advance of COVID-19 in 2020, construction in Pennsylvania was largely shut down, which led to HB McClure having to “slam on the brakes” on its projects. The company was forced to lay off 95 individuals and its operations were effectively stopped for around a month and a half.
Although HB is back on its feet, quarantine measures continue to make things a bit harder as projects can be shut down at a moment’s notice if even one worker develops a COVID symptom. The delays inherent in these quarantines have led to the speeding up of the end date on many projects so a lot of work has had to be sandwiched to be completed.
Aside from the timing complications of the past year, Feaser says that the process of finding skilled workers is a constant challenge to HB. So far, the best way to handle this challenge has been to make HB McClure simply the most rewarding choice of employment, in every way, to those rare and sought-after people.
The company’s status as an ESOP has been a huge help in this, as has offering in-house opportunities for growth, such as with HB University. Matter also notes that the company is currently dealing with a global trades shortage due to the mass retirement of baby boomers, which is a problem, Matter notes, that has been haunting the industry for some 20 years.
Matter observes that, because the generations that came after the boomers were so strongly oriented toward college and universities, the trades were neglected as a long-term profession. Consequently, companies like HB are becoming much more actively involved with trade fairs, job shadows, internships, and any other available ways to raise awareness of the employment opportunities in the trades, and also awareness of the support available to those on that career path.
A good start
As 2021 rolls on, it looks as though the HB McClure people will continue to pursue growth both as individuals and as a company and to succeed regardless of the economic conditions in the market.
As for the company, it has new plans to grow beyond its current geographic area and to continue to strengthen its bench while it does so. Matter also happily regards the company’s winning of the ACCA 2021 Contractor of the Year award as an omen that a good year stretches ahead.
This prestigious award is an industry recognition that the company has had its eye on for some time and plans are in motion for a proper celebration.
The HB McClure company has seen setbacks successfully faced and victories enjoyed in seemingly equal measure for the last year, and both have added to its momentum.
There’s no doubt that the employee-owned company has begun 2021 with its spirits up, with a motivated workforce, and with clear goals in mind.