Wallace Lee, retired president of Nashville-based The Lee Co., died on March 26, 2013. He was 81 years old. He was one of the first contractors I met whenI first became an editor of Contracting Business and left a lasting impression on me, as well as the industry he loved so well.
I joined the staff of Contracting Business magazine in 1984, four years after graduating college. It was a lateral move for me, from an engineering magazine that focused on the hydraulic and pneumatic industry to one with more of a business leaning that targeted those folks who owned and managed HVAC contracting firms. It was a huge change for me and I had no idea what I was getting into. A few weeks after I started on Contracting Business, I was sent on the road to attend a national trade association meeting and that is where I first met Wallace Lee.
And I was just a little intimidated.
You see, this man and his company just won the third ever Contractor of the Year Award from my magazine, and was already recognized as one of the major players in a mature industry where change wasn't something that happened very much. Yet he was all about change.
Wallace Lee was a strong proponent of the HVAC contractor being the lead in new construction projects. He was an engineer who felt that the traditional plan/spec delivery method wasn't the only or even the best way to manage projects. He was an outspoken proponent of diversification. He was a smart businessman who understood the need for marketing and promotion. He was strong willed. He could be soft soken, but had a laugh that could fill the room. He was a prankster and a gentlemen.
And he knew I was intimidated. I was absolutely convinced he wouldn't even talk to me, but he did. He sat me down and gave me his 60-minute sermon on what the HVAC industry is and what it could be. He encouraged me to become a part of the industry -- not to report on it, but be a member of it. He, along with my publisher at the time, convinced me to join a trade association (which I did) and learn directly from contractors what this industry was all about (which I did).
Through him and other contractors like Bob Owens of the Owens Companies (Minneapolis, MN) and Tony Shaker of BALCO (Boston, MA) I learned about the power of image in the marketplace and the need to put customer needs first. I learned about why having strategic plans were the fulcrum to every econtractor's success and the importance of taking care of employees and allowing them to have their own lives.
Like I said, Wallace Lee was intimidating to me at that time.
It was no surprise to me when the Air Conditioning Contractors of America made Wallace Lee its national president. It was no surprise to me that through his support of the Design/Build delivery method, of HVAC mechanicals becoming primary on construction jobs, of contractors working to become more professional than they were, led to massive changes in this industry and helped to propel contractors into much stronger positions in the marketplace.
I'm very comfortable in saying that Wallace Lee helped shape my view of the HVAC Industry and was a mentor to me in so many things.
His passing is a tremendous loss to his family, to this industry, and to me personally.
Rest in peace, Wallace.