Contracting Business 2007 Woman of the Year


Company Leader, Community Star

Narissa Rampey manages a superb HVACR company, and provides insight and leadership to community, civic, school, and business development programs. 
By Terry McIver, senior editor

Air Assurance had better find room for a large trophy case after the company moves into its new facility this fall. They're going to need one, unless Narissa Rampey takes some time off. 

Narissa Rampey, co-owner and vice president of Air Assurance, Broken Arrow, OK, has made a habit of winning awards and accolades for her contributions to the HVACR industry and to her community, and now, there’s one more for the mantle: 

Contracting Business 2007 Woman of the Year.
Rampey and her husband, Air Assurance President Mike Rampey, started the company out of their garage 25 years ago. In the days prior to opening the business, Narissa held down jobs in insurance and real estate, as Mike completed his HVAC studies at Tulsa Technology College and Oklahoma State University.

Throughout Narissa and Mike's married and professional life, Narissa has experienced an exhilarating ride, as a wife, mother, business owner and manger, and community leader. And, with what seems to be endless energy and enthusiasm, Rampey provides insight and leadership to a wide variety of ongoing community, civic, school, and business development activities. Why she has never run for mayor is anybody’s guess.

Born Communicator, Creative Force 
Rampey’s talent for communications empower her to interact and influence people, share ideas, and provide sparks of creativity and innovation to every project she either leads or supports, in the community, or in managing the Air Assurance business.

“Narissa is indeed the creative side of this business,” says Mike. “She helps us maintain a vision of our future, and her forward-thinking keeps us going. I would say her creativity is her biggest asset, and she also has a passion for building the local workforce, growing the community, and being a part of it all.

“She likes to say she ‘birthed’ our company. Taking a bold leap of faith, and with hard work and determination, she helped me start this business from scratch. Luck, determination, and a great deal of work took the company from just the two of us, to the multi-million dollar company it is today.”

“Mike and I didn’t have any business background, but like many mom and pop shops, we learned it on our own,” Rampey says. “Sometimes that’s the best training you can have.”

As an HVACR company, Air Assurance provides comprehensive heating, air conditioning, refrigeration, and indoor air quality (IAQ) services to customers throughout the Broken Arrow/Tulsa area. Its business mix is 56% residential, 44% commercial. Approximate sales volume is $ 6 million.

As an HVACR industry leader, Air Assurance shines brightly, as an example of a superbly-run company that treats its customers like royalty, and makes work fun and challenging for its 40 employees, which includes 14 service technicians and nine installation technicians.

Other industry observers have taken notice. In 2004, Air Assurance received the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) National Award for Excellence in Residential Contracting, for companies with revenues of more than $1 million.

Building Business and the Workforce 
Narissa Rampey represents the best that any successful company leader can offer to a community, as shown by her involvement in the Broken Arrow Chamber of Commerce, the Workforce Investment Board, city business trade show committees, job fairs, United Way campaigns, and the PTA. Broken Arrow, with a population of around 100,000, is a community on the march. It's now the fourth-largest city in the state, and community leaders are doing all they can to keep the city moving forward. That includes relying on the advice of successful business leaders such as Narissa Rampey.

In May of this year, Rampey was named the Tulsa Area Business Leader of the Year, for her community service, and insight on a variety of initiatives, from strategic planning to improving business services; and, she was honored by the Workforce Oklahoma Employment and Training Association for her work to improve the workforce climate in the state.

Other recent awards include the Oklahoma Teacher’s Public Relations Association Award for her work in a Partners in Education program.

Community Involvement the Best Way to Give Back 
Rampey views her community involvement as a natural extension of being a member of a community, a group of people striving for the common good.

“Being a member of the community means we have to get involved in the community,” Rampey says. “Public involvement is pretty natural for us, just by being a business leader. I don’t think I can live in a community and not be involved. I don’t think it’s fair. We’re a giving company, and I think anytime you’re a giver rather than a getter, you make more of a difference in people’s lives. That’s always been our philosophy.”

“Narissa is a superb person and a great citizen,” says Mickey Thompson, president and CEO of the Broken Arrow Area Chamber and Economic Development Corporation.

“She's really engaged in the community, in workforce development issues at the state level, and here at home,” Thompson says.

“As a businesswoman, she runs her business with the same passion she has for the community. She commands respect when she speaks, and people regard her, and her opinions with interest. She practices what she preaches, and is a very competent leader. All of us who have experienced her involvement are better off for having here there.” 

A Company that Loves Change
“My first love is marketing. That’s my passion, and what I really love about the business,” Rampey says. It was she who named the company, and developed some of the marketing strategies that have helped the company grow, and which guide its success today.

Rampey says Air Assurance’s marketing is successful in part because the company is willing to change and adapt to market forces.

“As we’ve grown, our marketing has had to grow with us,” Rampey says. “I love change, and I thrive on doing something different. For me, a new marketing program, or developing our Internet site, is innovative, new, and different. It’s where things are at now.”

Workforce Issues ‘Frightening’ 
Rampey believes the need for employees is the most critical issue facing the HVACR industry, and is an issue that ranks well ahead of merely communicating SEER ratings to customers, or even the need to improve marketing.

“HVACR is a supply-and-demand industry,” Rampey says, “and I don’t care if you’re a manufacturer, a raw materials or component supplier, a distributor, a dealer, or the consumer who buys the equipment. They’re all affected by the person who is in direct contact with the consumer: the technician.

“If we don’t have that special, consistent touch with the consumer due to a lack of a technician workforce, it breaks the supply-and-demand chain for everyone else.”

Rampey believes the HVACR industry’s employment problem lies in its failure to consistently promote itself as a trade that provides a bright future for job seekers, employs well-trained and educated technicians, and provides good wages.

And while the Air Assurances of the world do promote their technicians’ qualifications or NATE certifications to their local audiences, she says the industry as a whole still has lots of work to do.

For starters, Rampey believes all professional trades should start talking to children in middle school ages about career choices.

“We have to show parents and children the career choices that will be open to them later in life. By the time they reach 11th or 12th grade, most of them have formed their opinions about what they’re going to do. Let’s go back to the middle school, and educate parents about the money an HVAC technician can make, and what they can learn.”

Testing for Aptitude
Internally, to better guarantee career success for beginning workers, Rampey has initiated a detailed process of testing and qualification, beginning with an ACT WorkKeys assessment, which determines the capabilities of people who are preparing to enter the workforce.

“The WorkKeys test helps you determine if the person has the aptitude for that profession,” Rampey explains. “People who aren't qualified are often thrown into the trades and other professions. If we qualify the people we put into the trades, we can make sure they’re a good fit.”

Externally, to improve Broken Arrow’s widespread workforce development, Rampey chairs the Broken Arrow Chamber of Commerce Workforce Committee, and was appointed to the Tulsa Workforce Investment Board. Her work on the regional level got noticed, and she was appointed to the Governor’s Council Workforce. The common theme in all committee sessions is growing the employee pool.

“Three years ago, I called a committee meeting for Workforce, and three people showed up,” Rampey recalls. “This year, 35 people attended, from 35 businesses. Staffing is a critical issue.”

Rampey was recently appointed to the Broken Arrow Economic Development Authority, and will make recommendations regarding economic development strategies for the city, to meet businesses’ demands for workers.

One plan is to develop “career training templates” that describe the training children must take to prepare themselves for a career in health care, HVAC, law, teaching, and so forth. 
“Several of my children’s friends were pushed to go to college by peer pressure,” Rampey recalls.

“One young man was good at sales, and was appointed manager of a shoe store as a teenager. Then, he was pushed into college, and never succeeded. He finally got back into sales and is phenomenally successful.

“So, it’s not best for everyone to go to college or to trade school, but we need to identify the people who are right for the various fields. Identify their strengths, find their interests, and build on those. Don’t put everyone on the same road, and we’ll be more successful at creating a workforce.”

Finding the Best
Air Assurance attracts qualified technicians by standing on its core values, and by being the kind of company people want to work for. With Narissa Rampey as the face and voice of the company, that’s an easy sell for any job seeker.

“I want people to love their jobs,” Rampey says. “If you don’t provide for your employees, or if you have stagnation in your company, they’re going to change careers. You must continue to provide employees with new information, excitement, new ideas, new innovations, new knowledge, continual training, and other ways to boost their self-esteem. They’re the number one customer.”

Under Rampey's leadership, Air Assurance became the first HVAC company in the U.S. to have 100% of its technician workforce achieve certification through North American Technician’s Excellence (NATE). At that time, the company employed 14 technicians. Today, the company’s service and installation technician force stands at 23.

Air Assurance provides weekly training that covers a variety of technical service topics, soft skills, sales, and safety, which has always been a key element of the company culture. 
“We try to never lose sight of the fact that our internal customers are cared for, and are growing in their careers,” Rampey says.

Congratulations to Narissa Rampey, the Contracting Business 2007 Woman of the Year.

Narissa will address the annual meeting of Women in HVACR during HVAC Comfortech 2007, Sept. 26-29, St. Louis, MO.

Reprinted with permission from Contracting Business.