“I’ve been telling people for a long time that you can run your company without being there when you use ServiceTitan,” Tom Howard, owner of Lee’s Air and now VP of Customer Experience at ServiceTitan is ready to put this statement to the test.
After growing Lee’s Air from 5 million in sales up to its current 18 million, Tom was ready for a new experience, and graciously accepted ServiceTitan’s offer to be VP of Customer Experience in January 2020. His path from HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) professional to business owner to c-level executive isn’t that straightforward, though, as he’ll tell you himself.
A Surprising Start in HVAC
“I started working when I was 15 years old. A guy came to my house to fix my refrigerator, and he gave me a job.”
Tom started out sweeping floors, and doing basically whatever he could to be useful. He began to save up money from the time he was in highschool and gradually grew his technical skills. Though Tom never pictured a career in HVAC - his ambition and sense of adventure wouldn’t allow him to do the same thing for too long - it was an industry he couldn’t stay away from.
Moving Around the World
Like many young people eager to see the world, Tom took an opportunity to move across the world to Hungary. He was a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints, known for their ambitious global impact, and the idea of living somewhere far away was beyond exciting. So, despite the exasperation of his parents, he was on his way to live abroad. He lived there for two years, learned the Hungarian language and spent all the money he had. At the end of it, he had to head home, and figure out what he was going to do in life.
A Brief Stint with Homelessness
After moving back to the U.S., he was broke, and with no sympathy from his parents as they didn’t want him to go to Hungary in the first place, he started living with his friends and then he ended up living in his car. Knowing that he needed to save money as soon as possible to get himself out of this situation, Tom tapped into a skillset he already had. What he describes as a low point in his life, he turned back to HVAC, and got another job - this time at a small company called Lee’s Air.
From Employee to Owner of Lee’s Air
A Full Scholarship and a Job in Finance
The job at Lee’s Air provided him a little more stability, and he was able to move in with a friend, and apply to college. Because his academics were so strong, he got a full scholarship to Brigham and Young University for their degree program in Finance, telling the owner of Lee’s that he was going to college so that he “would never have to do air conditioning again.”
Through Tom’s college experience, he got engaged, and graduated. He was a little surprised at his salary prospects upon graduating, though, “Somehow, getting my degree meant taking a paycut.” In his job in Air Conditioning, Tom was making 160% of the average wage of students with a bachelor’s degree at the time - making the move out of HVAC seem a little less enticing.
Nonetheless, eager to move up in the world, he took a finance job. “It was all paperwork. I hated it.” Tom was determined, though, to use his degree, so he took a job at his father-in-law’s law office. Unsurprisingly, that was even more paperwork.
Through the course of the next few years, Tom and his wife moved around the United States, where they ended up eventually in Alaska - which his wife hated because it was freezing cold.
Called Back to California
Tired of the cold and in search of a new job, he got a call from that air conditioning company in Fresno, saying “hey, we need a general manager.”
Leaping at the opportunity to move back to a warmer climate (mostly at the behest of his wife), Tom took the job - a perfect fit given his new background in business and prior experience at Lee’s Air.
“I came back to Lee’s and took the job at Lee’s as General Manager. The owner wanted to give the company to his daughter, but she never worked there and didn’t want the company. He offered to sell it to me - to carry the note. No upfront costs, just a monthly amount - with 1.8 million dollars in sales.”
It was an amazing offer, and Tom accepted.
From Customer to Employee at ServiceTitan
Bringing ServiceTitan to Lee’s Air
Tom’s first year at Lee’s Air was a true test of his business skills. He brought the company up to 3 million dollars in sales from 1.8 million, and after a couple years, decided to onboard ServiceTitan.
“When I started using ServiceTitan and made the decision to move over, I was about $3 million in Sales. The next year I went to 5 million, then the next year I went to 9.4 million, then 11.5 million, 12.2, 15, and now 17.6.”
This rapid and sustained growth allowed him to buy out the former owner, and continue to lead the company on his own. After onboarding ServiceTitan, however, he found that he had a lot more spare time on his hands - “It really allowed me to grow my company without having to constantly micromanage my company all the time. Having ST is like having a back office staff that are not human - that don’t require worker’s comp and health insurance and liability and sick days.”
Becoming VP of Customer Experience
Tom’s move to VP of Customer Experience earlier this year made perfect sense - after all, he’s used ServiceTitan for several years now, and can personally speak to how much it has changed the way his company operates.
Not only does he have insider knowledge of the product itself, he also has a deep understanding of what customers of ServiceTitan might be experiencing - “I’ve been there,” Tom empathizes, “I’m working with a customer today - a company that’s about 5 million in sales, and I remember what it was like to be there, and what it takes to get to the next level. So it’s really neat to be able to help out and help them grow.”
And when we ask Tom what he thinks about ServiceTitan now that he’s working here, his loyalty doesn’t falter, “It runs on its own. It’s a fantastic product and I couldn’t run my company today like I do without ServiceTitan.”
Tom’s path is far from ordinary, and he definitely couldn’t have predicted he’d be where he is today. That being said, he gives a lot of credit to the HVAC industry itself for where he’s ended up - HVAC is an industry where it’s easy to see the direct outputs of your hard work.
ServiceTitan is lucky to have a professional with such an amazing backstory and direct experience in the industry.
Tom Howard is owner of Lee’s Air and VP of Customer Experience at ServiceTitan. He brings over 20 years experience in HVAC, a strong business background, and years of experience with the ServiceTitan product to the role. When he’s not at work, you can find him reading or doing carpentry.