Suite Talk: John Kitzie, CEO of HomeServe USA

January 18, 2020

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Last month, HomeServe USA, a home service repair provider, announced its acquisitions of HVAC provider Crawford Services of Grand Prairie, Texas, and Sunbelt Group’s ServLine business division, based in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The acquisitions culminated a 12-month spree that also included Ohio-based Geisel Heating in December 2018 and two Washington, D.C., metro area companies, CroppMetcalfe and FAB Electric in March and August, respectively.

John Kitzie, CEO of HomeServe USA, at the company’s Norwalk headquarters

John Kitzie, CEO of HomeServe USA, at the company’s Norwalk headquarters. Photo by Phil Hall

The past year also saw the Norwalk-headquartered company launch a corporate social responsibility-focused endeavor called the HomeServe Cares Foundation and teaming with television personality and author Mike Rowe, best known as the creator and host of the series “Dirty Jobs,” in an endeavor to call attention to the need for vocational training and home trades workers.

HomeServe USA is the North American arm of HomeServe PLC and has been operating in this country since 2003. In this edition of Suite Talk, Business Journal Senior Enterprise Editor Phil Hall speaks with the company’s CEO, John Kitzie, on its recent activities and near-future goals.

Your company has been on a shopping spree lately. What are the factors that you consider when seeking out an entity for acquisition?

“The first thing we do is define our geography with a regional hub or spoke model where we already have a lot of HomeServe customers. But in looking for companies, we want to make sure the culture and the reputation really fits with what we have here at HomeServe.

“We also look for companies that have been in the market for many years which is typical in the HVAC business — generational, family-owned businesses. We look for them to have a really good family culture and determine that they have a really good reputation in the marketplace.”

What is the HomeServe USA corporate culture?

“We have very engaged employees. We are on a real mission. We are solving that inconvenience and worry for the customer when they have these home emergencies. For employees, that feeling of being able to help customers in a real-time need in their lives is a great feeling. We’ve been empowering our employees and making sure we are supporting them with the right technologies to make sure they are really doing their jobs well.”

How many employees and offices do you currently have?

“Our corporate headquarters is in Norwalk. We moved up from Stamford in 2013. This is our 17th year in the U.S. We have over 240 employees here. We’ve grown significantly in Connecticut over the past decade.

“We also have an office in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh. And we have our customer excellence center down in Chattanooga, where we have 450 employees. We’re also in a number of operational and depots — especially for the HVAC companies — up in Boston, on Long Island, on Staten Island and in New York City. We have two in Dallas, two in Ohio, a number of them in the Washington, D.C., area.”

I noticed you are not on the West Coast. Is that on your 2020 agenda?

“We don’t have any offices on the West Coast at this point. For 2020, I believe we have a good strategy and I see us continuing to look for those strategic acquisitions, depending upon what comes up. I see us continuing to invest in technology and innovation, and I am always interested in how we can improve the customer experience — how we can improve that cycle of communication and notification for them — and bring value to not only our customers, but to our partners.

“Also, we’ve grown to having 750 utility and municipality partners, and we have an important exclusive arrangement with the National League of Cities that we’re able to service with our water and service line products.”

At the risk of sounding negative, what are the potential problems and challenges facing your company?

“There’s always going to be challenges in any business. A lot of times you don’t know what they are yet and you handle them as they come up. But, I’d say, we’re good at solving things and I believe that we’re growing at a double-digit rate year over year and I’m optimistic that we’ll continue doing that.”

How do you instill high-quality standards related to customer service?

“First, it goes to having engaged and empowered people. As you are calling in, whatever your problem is, someone is taking ownership of it and will solve your problem.

“We are continuing to invest in our tech network around the country — whether they are our own employees or contractors. With our contractors, we are doing a lot of research and homework to make sure we are identifying the best ones — background checks, a lot of vetting and we provide them with our technology.

“Our philosophy is that we’d rather have fewer contractors that we give more business to, so that we’re very important to them. We treat them with respect and, hopefully, we’re the most important company they do business with. We monitor every one of the jobs to make sure everything has gone right to the customer’s satisfaction. By constantly doing all of these things, we believe we’re able to provide a high and consistent quality of service.”

One of your goals involves putting a new emphasis on hiring veterans who are transitioning into civilian life. Why is that important to you?

“There is a real shortage in skilled trades and that shortage is growing. We’ve teamed up with Mike Rowe on some initiatives and one is how we bring more people into the trades, which is a terrific career and is very much needed in the country.

“For me, we believe there is a very good fit with veterans and trying to place veterans in getting jobs after their service.”

Where do you see your industry heading in 2020?

“If anything, it seems to get harder each year to get skilled trades. We are solving an important need for the consumer with someone who is reliable and they can trust.”