By Valerie Stakes
Left to right: Kelly Bryson and Matt Smith, general manager of Control Concepts, the controls department of Berg Service. John Sanders, service plumber, is pictured in the rear.
Bryson, a 30-year veteran of the HVAC industry, started at Berg. Inc. as an administrative assistant. She is currently executive vice president and chief operating officer for Berg, Inc.and president of Berg Service (A Division of Berg, Inc.)
"Never give up, and don't take 'no' for an answer."
These are the words of advice from Kelly Bryson when asked what it takes to be successful in the HVAC industry.
It's no surprise that this positive attitude and tenacity has led to a thriving career that began in 1975, when Bryson was hired as an administrative assistant at Berg Inc., a $27 million Design/Build mechanical construction and service contractor in Shreveport, LA.
While working for eight project managers and engineers in the company's operations department, Bryson became quickly fascinated by the process of project design and turnaround. She also saw the career potential that HVAC could offer.
"In order to move through the ranks at the company, you start in the estimating department. So when I told Bob Hamm, CEO, I wanted to learn to estimate and bid mechanical projects, his initial response was, 'We've never had a woman in this role before,'" says Bryson. "However, I knew this was what I wanted to do. So I told him that if he didn't give me a shot, I would have to leave the company."
Fortunately, Hamm admired Bryson's drive and determination, and in early 1981, she joined Berg's estimating department.
Bryson recalls how Hamm, John Tarlton, vice president of estimating, and Jim Alderson, senior estimator, all took an active interest in her development as an estimator. "They would spend hours with me, discussing mechanical system design and installations," she says.
After five years as an estimator, Bryson had become increasingly interested in project management. This time when she told Berg's management of her desire to move ahead, they weren't surprised. Instead, they offered her the number two position in the company's service department, in charge of quick-response projects.
"Although this wasn't exactly the full-fledged project management job I'd envisioned, I believed if I proved myself in this smaller work environment, I'd soon be promoted into the operations department," Bryson says. "To my surprise, I fell in love with the service business and knew I'd found my niche!"
Bryson discovered that service brought new and exciting challenges each day, and that her estimating skills came in handy as she met with owners, sold jobs, and managed installations.
She quickly moved ahead again the following year when the service manager in the Shreveport office resigned. "Once again, Bob Hamm was completely supportive and agreed to give me an opportunity to prove myself in this new position," Bryson adds.
When she was hired to head the Shreveport service department, Berg's Lafayette, LA service office was being run by a different manager, and as a separate profit center.
According to Bryson, "Both offices operated with different methodologies, with no real internal communication, and a marked lack of synergy."
To solve these issues, Bryson sought to combine the two service departments under her leadership. She outlined the many benefits that a united service division would provide the company. Not only did her vision get the full support of company management, she was also named vice president of Berg, Inc.
She immediately took steps to reorganize the two separate groups into one synergistic business unit. Since that time, Berg's Service Division has grown from $1.8 million in annual revenue to a projected $15 million for 2005.
The company has also opened a service office in New Orleans, LA, and currently operates in Shreveport, Lafayette, New Orleans, Lake Charles, Baton Rouge and Alexandria, LA and in East Texas and South Arkansas. In addition, Berg opened a controls division in 2000.
As the company has grown, so has Bryson's role in the company. In 1999, she was named president of Berg's Service Division. In July 2002, she was named executive vice president and chief operating officer for the Commercial Construction and Service Divisions of Berg, Inc.
The Power of Learning and Sharing
In addition to working with a great team at Berg Inc., Bryson points to training and association involvement as crucial components of her professional development.
During her years at Berg, she has taken advantage of the many educational opportunities available, such as manufacturer training and classes through MCAA's (Mechanical Contractors Association of America) Advanced Institute for Project Management.
"Berg, Inc. has long been committed to providing high quality training for its employees," says Bryson. "In fact, we were recently awarded a $400,000 grant from the state's Department of Labor to invest in further developing our training program."
On the association front, Bryson was an active member of the Service Focus section of Berg's MCAA Peer Group, which included contractors such as McKenney's, McKinstry Co., Murphy Co., and McClure Co.
"I learned much from my peers regarding best practices, and the group critique process was invaluable for improving our service department," she says.
Bryson has also been active on the national scale with the Mechanical Service Contractors of America (MSCA), serving on both the association's marketing committee and its Board of Managers. "Serving on national committees gives you a 'big picture' perspective of what's important and what's changing in our industry," says Bryson.
When it comes to spreading the word about HVAC as a career, Bryson and her colleagues at Berg work hard at recruiting women and men by speaking at local career centers and high schools. They also work closely with their local union apprenticeship program.
At the same time, Bryson wants to offer women the same opportunities and support given her throughout her career.
"I encourage the women who work for me to pursue their career dreams and to develop their personal leadership skills. I feel that an important part of my job is to make sure all my employees, male or female, are as successful as possible."
It's this generosity and commitment to the industry that makes Kelly Bryson our 2005 HVACR Woman of the Year.
What is the WOMAN OF THE YEAR?
Although the HVAC industry is traditionally a male-dominated field, there are a growing number of women in leadership positions who are making a real impact. Because it was time for these women to get the recognition they deserve, Contracting Business created the HVACR Woman of the Year program.
To find nominees, we reach out to our readership and industry associations for recommendations. Nominees must either own a contracting firm or hold an upper management position, and be a leader in the HVAC community. We also look at years in the industry, positions held, technical expertise, association involvement, and the commitment to promote and improve the HVAC industry.
If you would like to nominate someone for next year's program, please e-mail Valerie Stakes, managing editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.