Brad Smith joined Kimbel Mechanical Systems of Springdale 17 years ago as the company’s fourth employee and has since served in a variety of executive positions, including COO and CEO. This past year, Smith bought the company from Rob Kimbel.
Smith, 45, was a finalist for the Arkansas Business Executive of the Year award in 2016. Kimbel does plumbing, electrical and HVAC installations in residential buildings in 22 states. Company revenue has grown an average of 22 percent a year for the past four years, reaching $76 million in 2016. Kimbel has more than 200 full-time employees and uses another 200-plus contractors.
Kimbel Mechanical Systems won the 2016 Arkansas Business of the Year for companies with 76-300 employees.
What has changed at Kimbel since it was named an Arkansas Business of the Year? What’s likely to change in the next 12 months?
Kimbel Mechanical has continued to grow. We have entered new markets, taken on new types of projects and hired additional staff. In 2016 we promoted approximately 60 people on our team into new roles. That kind of growth and momentum are always exciting. 2017 looks to be very similar to 2016 for us. We have a strong backlog of work for the upcoming 12 months and are evaluating other potential new markets. We are especially focusing on growing our Electrical and HVAC Divisions outside of the northwest Arkansas area.
Has Kimbel’s robust growth caused any growing pains?
One large challenge has been assimilating new employees into our culture and values. They bring their old work habits and culture into our company, and that is sometimes not a good fit. It’s a challenge to make sure everyone’s values align with our own core values of quality, work ethic, honesty, teamwork, learning and stewardship. We have learned several hard lessons when entrusting work to new employees who have not been properly vetted. Our vision is to be a highly trusted, values-driven, compelling force in the construction industry. In order to achieve that, we have to make sure that everyone buys in 100 percent.
What do you look for when you interview a prospective employee?
Our rule of thumb has been to first hire character, second culture and last skills. Skills can be taught, but who you are will not change. I once read an article in Harvard Business Review that said “the best hires are those you can envision going on a long trip with and enjoying it.” We have used that as a criterion for about 15 years, and it has proven to be good advice. If you can see yourself enjoying hanging out with that person, he or she is probably a good candidate to consider. I try to remind our team that we don’t hire resumes, we hire people.
If you could change one thing in your company overnight, what would it be?
If I could change one thing overnight, it would be to have a new facility for our corporate offices. We are very thankful for our growth, but that has also created a problem for space. We have people stacked all over our offices, and we have turned all our conference rooms into office space. We are looking for a new location to accommodate our current and future needs.
What are the biggest challenges facing Kimbel Mechanical?
Hiring skilled, licensed laborers is one of the biggest challenges we face. In our industry, there are laws that strictly govern tradesmen ratios, which determine the number of licensed employees required on a job site. These laws differ from state to state and trade to trade, so there’s a significant amount of complexity involved in how we field and allocate our manpower.