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Leadership
Business Observer Friday, Jul. 26, 2019 4 weeks ago

Executive learned business from ground up

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At Home-Tech, Pam Marino is leading a new generation of up-and-comers.
by: Andrew Warfield Lee-Collier Editor

Following a year of working in the Fort Myers office of air conditioning, plumbing, electrical and appliance repair company Home-Tech, Pam Marino found herself opening the Port Charlotte office of the company with Mike Marino, her then-husband.

Mike Marino's brother, Steve Marino, was the CEO back then, in 1990. The brothers both thought Pam Marino had leadership potential but lacked experience. She got that experience — and more — on the job. “That was 10 years before Google,” Marino says. “If I was to learn, I had to learn on my own. You couldn’t just Google it.”

It was also before she was accepted as the person in charge of a male-dominated industry. “Back then, phone calls were always to ‘the man in charge,’ so I told them I was the man in charge and made them talk to me," she says.

Pam Marino, after decades of promotions at Home-Tech, recently was named to another in-charge post: president of the employee-owned firm, which operates from Marco Island to Bradenton and has some 120 employees. Steve Marino remains CEO of the firm, with a niche in selling home appliance service repair contracts — an insurance policy against breakdowns. 

She credits those early, challenging years of opening the Charlotte County office as having a big impact on her leadership style and success. Another learning curve, she says, came in 2000, after a divorce left her running the Charlotte County operation on her own with two young sons.

“I was basically a single mother trying to run a business,” Marino says. “I always say you never know what you are made of until you are tested. I think many people would be surprised to find out what they are made of. I am very appreciative of those years because that gave me a good education on what it took to run a business.”

Pam Marino returned to the main office in Fort Myers in 2003 and continued to work her way up through the company; she started as an assistant service manager before becoming the service operations manager and then COO. The board of directors named her president in April.

"Pam knows the ins and outs of every department in this company and has helped this company grow through her hard work and dedication," Board Member and Training Manager Brian Schraufnagl says. "I couldn't think of anyone better suited for the role of president.”

“When you own it, you take better care of it. That is truly how it works. Everybody watches each other to make sure they are doing the right thing and they are taking care of the customers the right way.” Pam Marino, Home-Tech

Steve Marino converted the company, which was founded in 1981, to employee-owned in 1995. Unlike an employee stock ownership plan, employees aren’t awarded stock based on longevity but rather by merit as nominated by a supervisor and approved by the board. Shares are sold back to the company at retirement or at the time of their departure.

Pam Marino calls it the best move the company made.

“It impressed upon the employees that it is their company, and it us up to themselves for it to be successful,” Marino says. “It is the responsibility of ownership that is impressed upon everyone, and they have to earn their right to their stock. It isn’t just given.”

Employee owners naturally take more responsibility in the company, Marino says. “We always use the analogy of how often do you wash a rental car,” she says. “When you own it, you take better care of it. That is truly how it works. Everybody watches each other to make sure they are doing the right [thing], and they are taking care of the customers the right way.”

In a competitive yet fragmented field, Home-Tech's signature trucks of yellow and maroon are visible throughout Collier, Lee, Charlotte and Manatee counties. Although marketing strategies have evolved along with the available options, Marino says it remains rooted in relationship-building and word-of-mouth. And it’s worked. Although she declined to disclose revenues, Marino says Home-Tech has never failed to grow sales year-over-year. That growth, though, is largely dependent upon enticing field technicians in part with the ownership opportunity.

“We do our own training,” Marino says. “We have apprenticeship classes where we bring people in who may not know the first thing about air conditioning and appliances, and we train them and provide them with a future.”

Marino says the company is eyeing northward expansion into Pinellas County. To help fill the new jobs that would require, Home-Tech is building a 2,000-square-foot training facility.

“I do see us moving into new territories, but it’s important for it to be controlled growth,” she says. “It's easy to go up and buy some small companies, but you have to have controlled growth to truly be successful."

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