If you are one of the fortunate ones to have had the opportunity to work in the building industry throughout your career, you probably don’t think you can or will leave a legacy for others to benefit from being in this business. After all, presidents of countries leave their legacy, as well as all those high-profile celebrities in the entertainment and sports industries who routinely strive to leave their legacies (sometimes this is probably not a good thing). On a more positive and less self-serving note, we have all those philanthropists who have given of their time and wealth to help others and in turn have quietly left their legacy for people to remember.

Surely engineers, contractors, manufacturer’s representatives, technicians, and maintenance personnel don’t fit into the philanthropist category — or do we? First and foremost, legends-to-be in the building industry will work from the time they leave high school or college until they come to a point in their life when they want to retire or their health dictates that they retire. Many will probably unwittingly leave a legacy, if only to a select few they had mentored at some point in time.

Just think about it. From a business point of view, if you invest your time wisely over those years, you will have hopefully enjoyed job satisfaction along the way and achieved the status of being recognized as a good employee and/or employer. Don’t you think that over the course of all those years, you would like to leave some sort of legacy? No one sets out to get up every workday and simply go through the motions of doing their job, but many will go to work saying, “I just work to live.” If you do the math, that equates to getting out of bed approximately 11,250 times and putting in more than 90,000 hours in one’s career.

If an individual doesn’t go through life setting professional goals and instead simply gets up every morning to go to work and do their job, then you could say these unfortunate individuals truly do work to live, but I’d like to think they are in the minority. My first boss/mentor, Ed Shooshanian, once told me that to be good in the HVAC industry, all you had to be is 80% good. To differentiate yourself, and place your head above the crowd, you had to do more than what everyone else was doing. I believe that if an individual continuously exceeds expectations, then they will inevitably leave their mark on the HVAC business, and so they will leave a legacy (although maybe not to the status of a Rockefeller or Gates). 

Still, it is worth noting that our business has thrived from individuals silently leaving a legacy, with individuals like Harvey Brickman and others who invested endless engineering and project management hours doing their job while continuously contributing to ASHRAE. There are also those individuals who achieved similar legacy stature from the equipment manufacturer side of the HVAC business and the construction side of the industries. The act of doing this to give without receiving, I believe, is more common than one may think and not “the exception rather than the rule.”

No one sets out to be a philanthropist, nor does someone in our business set out to leave a legacy.  The simple act of giving back without expecting anything in return is the cornerstone to building one’s legacy, and I believe this is so important to the continued success of our industry. We need lots and lots of legacies left behind so that others can benefit from the wealth of kind acts, mentoring, idealism, trust, and energy we all can pass on to others.

What I’m striving to do in this column this month is to raise readers’ awareness that through their own work effort and mentoring, others will be able to gain without the giver having a self-serving motive. At the end of one’s career, it would be nice to know that you contributed to the building industry, as well as influenced at least one co-worker, business acquaintance, or client. Heck, it would even be nice to know you influenced one of your competitors in a positive way, because when your competitor says you were a positive influence to the HVAC industry, then you truly have left a legacy! So, in closing, I would be very interested in receiving an email listing your top five people in the HVAC industry that are and/or have left their legacy with you.