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Our Featured Partner — Harris Companies

What It Takes to Win

“It's not magic,” Todd Thiele says.  “There's no secret to our success,” he continues.  “It just takes a lot of hard work.”

He would know. 

As Vice President of Controls for the Harris Companies, Todd has been a driving force behind the companies foray into the controls arena. 

Harris Controls -

Founded in 1948 by Charles Harris, Harris Plumbing & Heating has grown from its modest beginnings into one of the largest mechanical contractors in the United States.  Harris maintains operations in nine U.S locations and one Canadian location. 

As the Controls division leader, Todd Thiele is responsible for business and technical operations of this business unit.  The controls team is an independent profit center within the Harris Companies.  Todd is responsible for such things as business planning and development, sales training, finding new markets, and setting the direction and objectives for his controls teams. 

The headquarters for Harris Controls is in St. Paul, Minnesota.  But the company also operates a distinct controls unit in Salt Lake City, UT and is now starting up a new unit in Washington D.C.   Wasatch Controls in Salt Lake was acquired about 4 years ago and is now hitting their stride as a fully integrated member of the Harris family.  Capital City Controls is the name of the new controls business unit in the U.S. capital. 

Given the strength of the mechanical contracting arm of Harris, you might suspect that the Controls division simply has to follow the mechanical divisions around to get work.  Not so. 

“The vast majority of our controls-related work comes to us directly from our customers and not as part of a mechanical project being performed by Harris,” Todd says.  “We have fostered customer relationships for over 15 years and they make an active choice to use us for their control-related needs.”

That work has taken Harris Controls to geographically dispersed locations. 

“We have performed controls projects in nearly two dozen states and Canadian provinces, says Todd.  “If we are not licensed to perform the install in a particular area we'll sub-contract through local sources or use whoever the owner prefers.  However, we do all the project engineering and manage the other technical aspects such as startup and commissioning.”

“The bottom line,” Todd concludes, “is that we'll travel to wherever our customers want us.  We're there to please the owner.”

Harris, as an overall company, is committed to turnkey solutions, with innovation and responsiveness.  The work of Harris Controls also mirrors this direction. 

Todd Thiele inspects a production process at KMC headquarters during the  
In Touch 2012 dealer conference.  KMC's Deb Pederson feeds the wave-flow solder machine.

Todd Thiele inspects a production process at KMC headquarters during the  
In Touch 2012 dealer conference.  KMC's Deb Pederson feeds the wave-flow solder machine.


“We're not the juggernaut in the Harris family,” Todd explains.  “We're a small part of a big company.  But we have equal importance with other groups and an equal responsibility to seek profitable work.  We seek projects that have challenging or high-tech environments such as hospitals, museums, clean rooms, or biologics.” 


Todd continues his explanation: “The controls business, as a whole, is being commoditized.  That leads to everyone buying on price.  And that's not our market. The challenging projects are more compelling to us because they enable us to add greater value.  And that keeps the commoditization dogs at bay,” he says with a grin. 

Beyond the hard work and strategic market focus, Todd notes one other factor that has led to success in the Controls business of Harris. 

“We've got a great team with hard-working and talented people,” he says.  “That has enabled us to grow.”

“That growth,” he continues, “is an outcropping of team diversity.  We don't look for a given type of individual such as CS (computer science) majors to do programming or EEs (electrical engineers) to do engineering.  We seek and we have diverse backgrounds on our controls team.  You know,” he continues, “this is what made America great.  And I have similar thoughts about our controls team: we are a melting pot.  We treasure diversity and try to foster it.” 

Winning teams of diverse members don't just happen however.  That's where Todd's style of quiet leadership contributes.   “Our guys work very hard,” he says.  “And I find it personally rewarding to create opportunities for them to grow and in seeing them seize these opportunities.”

Harris after hours--a shot of Harris headquarters in  
St. Paul, Minnesota.

Harris after hours--a shot of Harris headquarters in  
St. Paul, Minnesota.

Each year, corporate objectives for sales growth and margins help drive the overall team direction.  Todd then expands these goals into more specific quarterly challenges, with compensation-related tie-in for specific team members.  He also sets aside dedicated dollars for training every year to keep his team current. 

Beyond these team leadership responsibilities Todd is responsible for overall strategic direction for Harris' controls business.  He considers emerging technologies that may have an impact on their business.  He helps open new markets and qualifies external resources that might assist in project implementation.  And he manages the external partnerships that can help Harris Controls reach their stated goals. 

One other characteristic helps define what it takes to win for Harris Controls.  You see it in any routine interactions with them.  It is integrity.  “We've been asked many times how we can do business the way we do in this cut-throat world of contracting,” Todd concludes.  “To put it simply, we treat customers the way we would want to be treated.  It works for us.”

It certainly does.

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