Opening Bell

Internal Focus, External Results

Vern Olson works to create trusting relationships at Bob’s Heating & Air Conditioning

By Rob Smith April 9, 2024

The culture at Bob’s Heating & Air Conditioning is about an “intentional focus on boosting morale.”

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2024 issue of Seattle magazine.

If it matters to Vern Olson, it matters to everyone else.

That’s a guiding mantra at Bob’s Heating & Air Conditioning, a third-generation, family-owned business based in Woodinville. Olson is president of the 364-employee company, which was founded in 1957.

“It starts at the top. If it’s important to you as the owner, it will become important to your team,” says Olson, who has served as president since 2007. “Be the example by leading your team the way you want others to lead their teams.”

The company has appeared on Seattle Business magazine’s list of Best Companies To Work For several times in the large employer category, and has also nabbed numerous industry awards for its organizational culture. The HVAC specialist has more than 300 trucks, and its employee mix includes sales representatives, service technicians, and installers. It serves customers throughout the Puget Sound region, and has partnerships with dozens of homebuilders.

Bob’s boasts the requisite perks, including an onsite espresso stand; an all-company party and barbecue at Wild Waves Theme & Water Park in Federal Way, complete with face painters and magicians for children; and numerous recognition programs including bonus checks, company events, and branded merchandise.

The cultural cornerstones, however, revolve around Olson’s inclusive, day-to-day management philosophy. As much as anything, “we tune in and assess our work culture by promoting a robust management presence to oversee all facets of our operation,” he notes.

He calls leadership behavior and mentality “crucial aspects” of company culture, adding that the management team “influences the rest of the company and their attitudes in a significant way.” Managers are required to adopt an opendoor policy and frequently work alongside those they supervise to improve collaboration and communication.

Almost every member of the management team has been promoted from within, and several individual family members also work together within the organization. A few employees have logged more than 40 years.

Bob’s eliminates potential “silos” by moving employees, when appropriate, to different divisions, a strategy Olson says “creates empathy and understanding.” Because of that familiarity, workers are also encouraged to bring concerns to any manager or company executive, not just their immediate supervisor.

That leads to another of Olson’s overarching philosophies: the need to focus on employee satisfaction the same way the company prioritizes customers. Olson calls it an “intentional focus for boosting morale.”

“As much as you externally market your company, it’s just as important to internally market your company,” he says. “Sell your company to your employees. I try to ensure that not only do customers want Bob’s, but our team members do, too.”

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