Fellinger: I am a bit obsessed with The Truly Human Leadership podcast, which discusses how introducing the practice of caring into a business culture can be transformative. By treating the people in our business like family we can better celebrate our successes and focus on our development.
(Editors note: The producers of this podcast series, Barry-Wehmiller, “define success by the way we touch the lives of others. …When organizations care enough to show their people that who they are and what they do matter, they unlock the only business idea with truly unlimited potential. On this podcast, you’ll hear a lot of talk about culture, about leadership, about vision.”)
Each podcast in the series serves as a reminder to work with our team to foster a family culture. We are a family business and will celebrate our 100th year in 2025, but we’ve grown a lot in the past 10 years and now operate out of eight facilities, including facilities in Ohio, Georgia, and Texas, and three plants in Mexico. It’s easier to create that family culture when you’re small and in one facility. But as we grow, implementing that culture and creating that family-like feeling in the other locations can be a challenge. So, while we have a sound culture in all of our facilities, it always can improve.
One takeaway from listening to the podcasts is to have a meaningful mission statement, one that employees can understand and live by. About 3 yr. ago we went through a 6-mo. process to collectively establish a vision for the company; we’d never really done that before. Our focus turned to answering the question: Why would someone want to work at Morrison Products vs. another company down the street. We came up with:
Improve life through superior air-moving solutions.
We’ve worked hard the last couple of years to ensure that this mantra guides all of our decisions. For example, as we’re reviewing company benefits or figuring out where to invest in the company, we ensure that we make decisions based on the mission statement, while at the same time making the company a fun and safe place to work.
Q: What is the biggest challenge that you face as a company leader?
Fellinger: Establishing the long-term priorities for the business and ensuring that we have enough resources dedicated to accomplishing those priorities. I’ve been at the company for 17 yr. and president and CEO for the last 4 yr., and since I became president, our priorities have changed significantly to meet the big changes coming in our industry in 2023. That’s when all-new residential central air-conditioning and air-source heat-pump systems sold in the United States will be required to meet new minimum energy-efficiency standards, so we’ve been very focused on changing directions from a product standpoint. We’re engineering a different-style fan that requires us to retool many of our facilities. It’s a big investment, and we also anticipate further regulations that haven’t yet been finalized.
Q: What are two or three of the most important things that you look for in a mid-level manager?
Fellinger: We hire for intelligence, energy and ethics—a mantra that my uncle, who previously ran the business, instilled in all of us. As long as our managers have those three basic characteristics, we can train anyone to do their jobs. Yes, there are still some unique skill sets required for each management role, but those three characteristics serve as a baseline to ensure long-term success at Morrison Products.
Q: What are two things that you believe your company is doing well? What's one thing that you wish you could change?
Fellinger: I’m proud of our level of customer service, and our consistent financial stability. I’m working on changing the way that we engage employees so that everyone understands their essential and positive contribution to their own success and to the success of the business.
Like most companies in our industry, we survey our customers on several performance measurables—on-time delivery, engineering support, account-management support, etc. Our customer service sets us apart. We strive to be flexible and responsive, and to invest in our facilities to ensure that we can meet the needs of our customers.
Over time the level of participation in our
customer-satisfaction surveys has fallen, so lately our focus has been on
conducting the surveys via in-person interviews. Pre-pandemic, we asked our
account managers to interview their contacts during site visits and complete
the survey together. We make sure to ask
them for sincere and honest feedback so that we can make the necessary improvements,
and this approach has been very successful.
Q: How do you encourage and motivate your management team?
Fellinger: Everyone on our management team came into their positions with a high level of self-motivation. My job, then, is to help steer that motivation into those activities that most efficiently help us attain our strategic goals. I start by asking a lot of questions, and then ensure that we work as a team to prioritize our long list of business opportunities.
One key opportunity, as noted earlier, is product development to respond to the coming regulatory changes. A huge part of our strategic plan is to ensure that these new products are ready to go when our customers need them. A second priority is integration of our business units. We recently acquired a company that also has a very long history supplying the HVAC industry, but its focus has been on manufacturing commercial fans, while we’ve historically produced residential fans. We’ve been working to integrate the new business unit to ensure that we’re implementing best practices throughout the company.
Q: Can you provide an example of a solid management decision that you made during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how it helped to address a major pandemic-related challenge?
Fellinger: I’m proud of the level of communication that we provided to employees in the early days of the pandemic. With eight locations in two countries and with two native languages, consistent communication can pose a challenge.
In the early days of the pandemic, we made sure that our employees understood the value that they and the company were providing to society. HVAC is essential to people’s lives, but even moreso as air quality took on a growing level of importance. During that time when so many people were unnerved by what was happening around the world, we explained to our employees how our HVAC equipment was helping the medical community mitigate the effects of COVID-19, by ensuring clean air in makeshift medical facilities, for example.
Our focus on presenting facts to the employees and exercising
flexibility in our manufacturing during the pandemic has made us a better
company. Our frequent communications
during those uncertain times also allowed us to highlight many of our customers
in the HVAC industry and help employees see the value in the products they make
Q: I assume that it can be “lonely at the top” for you at times. How do you relax, release your stress and rise above the endless list of problems that you have to deal with each day?
Fellinger: I don’t ever find myself lonely, as I have three teenage boys at home. But, everyone feels stress at times, and if you are at all into puzzles I highly recommend the subscription service Completing the Puzzle (and shout out to my sister-in-law for finding it for me!).