The HARDI member spotlight serves as a regular feature through which the association management highlights standout individuals in the HVACR industry and their companies.
Sarah Jilbert, HARDI’s newest Account Manager, sat down with Josh Kendzierski and Ben Thomas from Johnson Controls, Inc. to talk about how the HVACR industry helped them form a tight friendship and become emerging leaders.
Kendzierski and Thomas at the 2019 AHR Expo in Atlanta
Jilbert: How did you become friends?
Kendzierski: We actually attended the same university (Milwaukee School of Engineering), but we were a year apart and never had the chance to meet. It was not until we joined the same team at Johnson Controls that we became friends, so I have to credit the relationship building powers of HVAC/R here. Since then, we’ve been fortunate enough to move on to new roles on the same team to support our national wholesale distribution partners.
J: What do you guys do for fun outside of work?
K: I try to travel as much as I can year-round to experience what other places have to offer, especially if they offer good live music and national parks to visit. When I’m at home in Milwaukee, it really depends on the season. During our few months of summer, I like to like to get outdoors as much as possible to camp, play tennis, and enjoy the local festivals. During winter, I spend more time indoors cooking new recipes and catching up on movies, books, and TV series in-between occasional trips out of state that I take to keep cabin fever at bay.
Thomas: Traveling remains a large part of how I spend my free time. Just last weekend I was having some Texas barbeque in Dallas, and this weekend I’m looking forward to hiking in Denver. Otherwise concerts, taking classes, and trying new opportunities like skydiving are how I like to make sure I’m never too comfortable.
J: How did you each get started in the industry and at JCI?
K: I was initially working as a design engineer after I graduated college, and quickly realized that I wanted a change of scenery. Around the time of this realization, a friend that I knew from college shared some details of his experience with the Inside Sales Engineering program at JCI.
It's a sales development program that brings in engineers directly out of college to introduce them to various sides of the industry and prepare them for future roles.
I never expected to be a part of the HVAC/R industry, let alone in a sales role, but the chance to explore this new path excited me and I ended up applying and getting the job.
Having the opportunity to develop my business and sales skills in addition to my engineering background has been invaluable to both my professional and personal growth. After that first role, I’ve only become more captivated by the industry, and I’ve been enjoying it more and more the further that I go.
T: None of the internships or opportunities I had in college ever led me to believe I would be pursuing a career in the HVAC/R industry, but a meeting with an alumnus my senior year quickly convinced me of the opportunities and bold culture at Johnson Controls. Ironically, this is the same friend that brought Josh to the company as well.
The Sales Engineering development program initially began as a pathway into outside sales, but we have seen our peers take roles into application engineering, product management, etc.
J: What do you wish other generations knew about the younger demographic coming into the industry?
K: That we all want to learn and be developed in our careers. We find much more enjoyment in our daily jobs if we feel like we’re consistently growing and making an impact.
T: We all want the same thing, to deliver an excellent experience for the end user. I find myself constantly learning from the others around me. New leaders coming into the industry offer a new perspective with some different ideas, that help keep their respective companies at the leading edge. Listening is always key to different perspectives, and great communication from all sides has fortunately been my perspective in the industry.
J: Tell us about your experience at Emerging Leaders!
K: Overall, my first Emerging Leaders conference was a great experience. HARDI was able to bring in close to a hundred motivated individuals from the industry, all with a desire to network and develop their skills as a business leader. Being on the supplier side of the business, I looked at the conference as an opportunity to openly communicate with both veterans and other emerging leaders in order to learn how I can better help my distribution partners grow. I ended up coming out not only with a better understanding of the intricacies of managing a wholesale distribution company, but valuable lessons in self-development and relationship building that I can use in both my personal and professional life.
My favorite part of the conference was the morning of mentor-led round tables. The opportunity to sit down with an established business leader in our industry to have an open conversation is not something that is easy to come by.
I also can’t move on without mentioning how much fun I had with the networking scavenger hunt, dinner cruise, and inevitable drinks after dinner on the first full day of the conference. I would definitely join HARDI for the conference again next year, and I hope to see plenty familiar and new faces there!
T: The Emerging Leaders conference blew away my expectations. We got to hear from some great speakers that highlighted industry trends and what our future state looks like in the changing marketplace.
Meeting attendees from across the country in a variety of roles led to discussion that furthered my insight into the needs and opportunities a supplier like Johnson Controls can better serve.
The mentor round tables were my favorite part of the conference. To have access to executives of leading companies of our industry in small groups was an invaluable experience. Not just for the discussion we had in our time blocks, but also for the relationships it has built after the conference. The ability to attract high ranking executives in our industry to a conference speaks volumes to HARDI’s industry stature.
Joining HARDI again for next year’s conference is an easy choice, I look forward to seeing how the bar will be raised.
J: What advice do you have for people entering the industry?
K: Learn as much as you can from those who have dedicated years of their lives to learning the ins and outs of our industry, but don’t hesitate to push boundaries and suggest new things that may go against the industry status quo. Our industry has historically lagged behind others in many aspects, especially with our online resources in recent history, but this is changing quickly. People entering the industry with a fresh perspective have an opportunity to be a big part of this change.
T: My advice for people entering the industry is to be bold with their fresh perspective and be excited for what lays ahead. The work we do has an incredible impact on everyday lives, it’s an exciting privilege.
J: Hamburgers or Tacos?
K: Very tough choice, I don’t think you can fault someone for going with either option. I have to give the edge to tacos though, mainly because of the variety of filling options.
T: Burgers, I have some Milwaukee favorites if anyone needs a list!
Sarah had the privilege of meeting both Ben and Josh at HARDI's Emerging Leaders event this past July.
Channel Account Manager – Strategic Accounts
Controls & BAS Distribution, North America
Channel Accounts Manager – Strategic Accounts
Controls & BAS Distribution, North America