Plumbing & Mechanical recently sat down with Nexstar Network President and CEO Jack Tester to discuss how Nexstar plans to help its member contractors achieve their goals in 2017 and beyond.
PM: What is your industry background, and how you did you return to your role at Nexstar Network?
JT: I started my career working with the Minnesota PHCC. It was there that I met Frank Blau, who asked me to help him start Contractors 2000 (now called Nexstar Network). I was the first employee and led the organization until I departed in late 1998.
Then, I went to work in a senior leadership role with Rescue Rooter which had just been purchased by Servicemaster. Shortly thereafter, we purchased American Residential Services, and I had a variety of leadership roles there until I left in 2006 and returned to Nexstar Network as a business coach. When the former CEO of Nexstar, Greg Niemi, retired in 2011, the board of directors asked me to return as the President and CEO.
PM: What value does Nexstar has for its contractor members?
JT: We help them grow profitably. That is our only focus and we track it each month. We have seen huge gains in our members’ growth rate and profitability over the last six years.
PM: What are some of the ways Nexstar is helping its contractor members?
JT: I’ll name just three. First, we have 20 full-time coaches that work one-on-one with our membership. These aren’t consultants or subs—they are full-time employees of Nexstar. They are amazing.
Second, we hold close to 100 training events annually around North America for every function in the business, from owner to new installer. More than 4,300 Nexstar member employees attended a live training event last year.
Third, we have a robust online training system where all business systems are cataloged and online learning takes place. You don’t have to get on a plane to get amazing training as a Nexstar member.
PM: What is Nexstar’s No. 1 priority right now?
JT: Our members’ primary growth constraint is finding and training enough good frontline talent to support our growth. We are focused on branding Nexstar members as the destination employers they truly are as well as recruiting new talent to this industry and then having training curriculum to put them in a truck doing good work. When we get this done, and it will be soon, our members will be growing even faster than they are now.
PM: What are some of your other goals for the organization and its members?
JT: It is always about leadership and helping create a leadership pipeline in our members’ companies. We are working hard to bring more leadership training to all levels of management in our member companies — both in person and online. We are doubling down in this important area.
We will continue our outreach through a separate, but affiliated, entity called the Nexstar Legacy Foundation (www.explorethetrades.org and www.troopstotrades.org). This foundation is dedicated to recruiting an engaged workforce for our industry ― not just for Nexstar. The Foundation plans to give away $115,000 in scholarships this year and amplify our online initiative to reach young people who are considering a hands-on career.
PM: What are some of the industry or small-business issues Nexstar is currently following?
JT: Most business challenges are self-inflicted, so we continue to help our owners understand what they need to improve that is within their control. Predictably, these include leadership issues, skills training, business system improvements, and financial literacy. We continue to stay focused on business fundamentals and will not look to others outside the industry for help or blame.
PM: What has been your biggest challenge as Nexstar president and CEO?
JT: I have been at this for more than 25 years, and it is so easy to rest on your success. Nexstar has grown and accomplished so much more than anyone expected. My personal challenge is to keep growing as a leader and not start to coast or take it easy. We have a young, vital staff and membership, and my biggest challenge is to just keep up! I am not joking.
PM: Nexstar is involved in recruiting, training, coaching, benchmarking, and more ― what initiatives interest you the most, and where will Nexstar be concentrating its efforts for the next year or so?
JT: I love the fact that we don’t get bored with the fundamentals of business here at Nexstar. So, our core activities of business system development, training, coaching and buying group functions still interest me greatly.
But there are some new areas for Nexstar around technical skills development and recruiting in underserved parts of our community both for front line workers and new owners — that is very exciting to me. There’s no way I can get bored with all the good opportunities we have.
PM: What is Nexstar doing to help shrink the skills gap and draw fresh faces to the trades?
JT: Great question. Nexstar is developing technical training curriculum for plumbing, HVAC and electrical with a focus on service/replacement. This will accelerate the onboarding of new people to the industry into our member shops. This will be a real game charger for our members. We also fully support the efforts of the Nexstar Legacy Foundation to help promote the amazing opportunities in this industry.
Finally, we will continue to help make our members destination employers. Word is getting out. This industry and Nexstar member companies are the places to be if you want a career of growth opportunities. That is attracting people from outside this industry. I am thrilled at the talent level our members are now recruiting into this industry.
PM: If you could give one piece of free advice to your contractor members, what would it be?
JT: Your first concern should be to become personally extraordinary as a leader in your business. Go to training, push yourself, and know that your company will only become great if you are a great leader. Certainly help others in your company become proficient, but it all starts with the owners. Be extraordinary.
The great thing about this industry is there is no real benefit to scale or size. I believe with all my heart that a well-run local business can out-compete anyone. It is really up to the owner(s) to want success. The knowledge through a group like Nexstar is there. The opportunity is available to everyone. This opportunity is what continues to amaze me about our industry.