Ray Isaac is reluctant to say how young he was when he started working for his father, James Isaac, at Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning. That’s just the way things go in multi-generational family business.
We’ll just say that his official employment at the company where he’s now president and CEO began when he got his work papers at age 14, which is 39 years ago. The company that his grandfather started in 1945 had less than two dozen employees when young Ray Isaac started working there in 1980. Now it has nearly 400 employees, with almost all of that growth happening organically, he said.
Though three-quarters of the growth came during Ray’s time at the helm of Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning, he doesn’t credit a single person or factor for it. He just notes that virtually none of it came through acquisition. Isaac Heating became the leader in home energy audits in the years when the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency was offering incentives to make improvements in energy efficiency.
“Our people really took it and ran with it,” said Isaac, 53, still deflecting credit for the way the company has grown.
“It’s all the pushes on the flywheel. (Starting with) that first push by my grandfather in 1945 to go into business for himself,” Isaac said. The other pushes came from many other people working together, from many Isaacs to even more people who aren’t Isaacs but who work for the company.
Some of the pushes came during the 34 or so years when Ray’s father, James T. Isaac, was the president and CEO. He was named Business Person of the Year in 1995 by the Small Business Council. (Son Ray won the same award in 2012.) The elder Isaac is now retired at 82, but is still a member of the company’s board and available for consultations, his son said.
“Dad was kind of thrust into the position of president,” at the age of 30, Ray Isaac said, when his own father, company founder George T. Isaac, died unexpectedly from complications of heart surgery in 1967. Jim Isaac got help from his mother, Phyllis, who had worked for the company, too.
In fact, many members of the immediate and extended families of the owners work or have worked at the company.
Ray’s twin brother, Michael, and brothers Ken and David all work at Isaac in different capacities. Their sister, Jacqueline, is an owner. Their late mother, Shirley, worked in the bookkeeping part of the business.
“We treat Isaac like it’s General Electric,” Ray Isaac said. “We run it like it’s a public company. You can have ownership shares but that doesn’t mean you have leadership responsibilities or even work there.” That attitude apparently was handed down from generation to generation, with older Isaacs impressing upon younger generations that the family name bears responsibility more than privilege.
“My brothers are owners, and they exercise that title when we’re at the board meetings,” Ray Isaac said.
The company also stresses training and company culture so that service employees can feel confident in the field, grow and represent Isaac well.
“Our leadership team is all home-grown individuals who started as assistants,” Ray Isaac said. In the training program, the company stresses seven values that all begin with E.
“We provide the first four E’s,” he said, referring to engage, educate, empower and enable. “The employee provides the next three”: execute, enjoy and evolve.
The philosophy seems to have worked, as Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning frequently makes the Rochester Top 100 list for fastest-growing companies, and in 2015 it also earned a Best Workplaces to Work for in New York designation from the Society for Human Resource Management.