Achievement in the mechanical contracting industry, continued association leadership and volunteerism, and a commitment to the career development of others have earned Kathy McCauley, president, McCauley Mechanical, Inc., Bridgeview IL, the Contracting Business Woman of the Year Award for 2006.

In 2004, McCauley became the fourth-generation president of the industrial piping contracting company started by her great-grandfather James McCauley in 1926. Also in 2004, she was the first woman to be named president of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCA).

Appreciation for HVAC and Construction
McCauley’s interest in engineering was nurtured during her high school years, as she started to become more aware of the nature and purpose of the family business.

“I would visit jobsites with my dad , Jim McCauley, Sr., and from that point on, I felt a sense of pride in the family business,” says McCauley. “To be able to say our company helped build the Keebler factory or the Coca-Cola plant really meant something, because of the tangible nature of construction and manufacturing.”

McCauley capitalized on that early interest to become a registered professional engineer (PE), with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Valparaiso University, and an MSEng. In construction management from Cal State Long Beach.

Her first professional assignment was with Schmidt, Gardner and Erickson, a Chicago architectural engineering firm. Next came positions as project engineer and field engineer for The Austin Company, a leading architectural, engineering, Design/Build and construction management services firm, which included a considerable amount of HVAC engineering design.

After four years of living and working in Los Angeles, McCauley came home to McCauley Mechanical in 1991 as an engineer and project manager. She then served for six years as the company’s chief financial officer, before being named president in 2004.

McCauley Mechanical added commercial HVAC services in 1981, as the industrial plants in and around Chicago started to expand, and required more air conditioned office space.

Today, HVAC projects contribute to more than half of the company’s business. In 1993, the company added sheet metal fabricating to its palette of services. HVAC service was added in 1998. The company typically employs 50 field professionals, which peaks at about 100 during the summer.

The Education President
Kathy McCauley has made education a hallmark of her MCA presidency and her entire HVAC/construction career. She was chairperson of the MCA Information Technology Committee, and she currently serves on the Advisory Board to the Department of Construction Technology at Illinois State University.

She holds a similar post at Triton College in River Grove, IL, where she recently taught a course in construction estimating for new high school graduates, people with construction related office jobs who were interested in advancing, and for tradesmen interested in taking on supervisory positions at their companies.

McCauley’s association involvement includes:

--Chicagoland Sheet Metal Contractors Association

--A 20-year membership in the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)

--Accredited through the Leadership in Energy Efficient Design (LEED) initiative

--Membership on the oversight committee of the Institute for Project Management of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America

--A seat on the board of the Construction Management Department of Illinois State University (ISU)

--Advisor to the Architecture, Construction, Engineering (ACE) Tech Charter High School of Chicago. ACE Tech was founded by a group of Chicago construction industry leaders to prepare highly qualified inner-city youths to fill the future growing employment needs in the construction industry.

A Rewarding Career
McCauley wants career seekers to know that construction careers offer many challenges and rewards, including the satisfaction of seeing a project through from start to finish. If a person likes the challenge, and the tangible nature of seeing a project through to completion, she says students need look no further than construction management.

“HVACR mechanical contracting is certainly an important part of life, and it’s becoming more important all the time,” says McCauley. “We see it, for example, in the increased work being done in schools. It’s no longer acceptable to have teachers and students sit in classrooms all day without proper temperature and filtration. And hospitals have a huge need for proper heating, cooling, and filtration.”

“I think the industry as a whole needs to keep career development in focus, through involvement with schools at the grade school, high school, junior college and college levels,” she says.

“MCA has a student chapter at ISU, and contractor members attend the regular meetings. MCA offers a scholarship, and the ISU construction management program is putting a stronger emphasis on mechanical classes for their construction management students.”

Build Relationships for Growth
McCauley says contractors must continue to find ways to remain competitive in an atmosphere in which customers are shopping a lot harder than before.

“Everything feeds into the ability to compete profitably, including a qualified estimating staff, a productive labor force, knowledge of codes, so that installations meet local requirements right from the start, and productive sales efforts in a world that emails instead of having lunch together,” she explains.

“HVAC contractors will have to have something besides low price to bring to the table, such as service, commitment, and knowledge; things that build ongoing relationships and return business.”

McCauley believes future industry growth is directly related to continued education among industry professionals in areas such as communication technology, office and project management application technology, new product familiarity, knowledge of building codes, and LEED requirements.

“The need for HVAC will grow all on its own,” she says. “People enjoy air conditioned spaces, manufacturing needs climate control, hospitals need specialized systems, and schools are becoming more enclosed in an effort to abate noise pollution and provide cleaner environments.

“The industry, therefore, must be ready for the continued growing need for the services offered by mechanical contractors.”

Anything is Possible
McCauley’s message to women who are hoping to reach a similar level of industry accomplishment is that anything is possible with the right degrees of dedication and effort.

“Don’t be afraid that it can’t be achieved,” she says. “Be willing to put in the time to learn as much as you can, stay curious, and ask questions. One of the most dangerous things anyone can do in this business it to think you must always present yourself as someone who always understands what everyone’s talking about.”

Kathy McCauley’s involvement in the HVAC industry, and her willingness to contribute her time to teaching, serve as a witness to her belief in the importance of “giving back,” and in reaching out to those who aspire to a higher level of education and accomplishment.

SIDEBAR: A Busy Day in the Life of Kathy McCauley
Kathy McCauley used to start each day with a visit to a job site. Now, as president of McCauley Mechanical, Inc., she begins each day in the office, where various items require her attention.

“I try to make a quick round through the office to say good morning to everyone, and usually somebody has something that they need to discuss with me, which are typically related to engineering or bidding.

“I check and respond to my e-mail and voice mail, and by that time a lot of paperwork starts coming in. I see all bills before they get paid, all invoices before they go out, all waiver requests, mail, notices and requests for employment verification, fringe benefit reports, and more.

“I’m often in the middle of a major business project, such as business or group medical health insurance renewal, banking renewals, annual bonding company reviews, and an occasional meeting to handle legal matters regarding insurance issues or contract reviews. And, of course, I have projects going on.

“I’m learning to delegate a bit more on projects, and don’t have the opportunity to be on-site as much anymore. My afternoons are usually taken up with purchasing, checking in with foremen, and reviewing submittals and shop drawings.”