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Gazette Premium Content HVAC Solutions founder to retire, but company to live on

RICH LADEN Updated: March 25, 2013 at 12:00 am

Jim Steward has been part of the local heating, ventilating and air conditioning industry since Jimmy Carter was president.

Now, Steward, whose old JD Steward Air Conditioning Inc. made him one of the better-known names locally in residential and commercial construction and repair, is positioning himself for retirement.

But Steward’s latest company, HVAC Solutions in Colorado Springs, isn’t going away; it’s continuing under the ownership of two longtime company executives, who say the business is poised for growth as the economy rebounds.

HVAC vice president Tim Donegan, who joined the business in 2008, is the company’s new president; Maureen Moran, who first worked with Steward nearly  a quarter-century ago at his original business, is chief operating officer and chief financial officer. Both are now 50-50 owners of HVAC.

Steward, meanwhile, will serve as HVAC vice president. He’ll work a reduced schedule while staying involved in the company’s commercial and residential projects until he retires when he turns 75 in five years.

“I still need a place to go during the day sometimes,” Steward joked.

“I still think I bring some value to the company and I enjoy the work,” he added. “I enjoy being in business. I just don’t want to be put out to pasture yet.”

Steward’s original company began in 1979 as a “little one-man shop,” selling furnaces, designing mechanical systems and installing them, he said. The business grew rapidly  and eventually had more than 100 employees.

In 1998, Steward and a partner, who was ill, sold the business to a national consolidation company at a time when many industry members were merging. After the sale, Steward stayed on as manager.

But the new owner, which itself merged with another large company, went bankrupt a few years later, Steward said.

Finding himself unemployed and not ready to retire, Steward launched HVAC Solutions in 2003. Like his original company, HVAC Solutions enjoyed success; after first-year sales of $1.2 million, the company was doing $5 million to $6 million in sales a few years later, he said.

Like other companies, HVAC’s business slowed after the local and national economies fell into recession six years ago. At one point, the company was down to 30 employees, Donegan said; some staffers’ work schedules temporarily were cut to four days a week, Moran added.

However, HVAC is seeing the economy turn around. Profit margins have improved and fewer companies from Denver are competing against local businesses for work in El Paso County, Donegan said.

HVAC now employs 43 people, he said, and is working on several major heating, ventilating and air conditioning projects, including the Bass Pro Shops being built on the city’s far north side, the Charis Bible College in Woodland Park, the federal Department of Veterans Affairs’ medical clinic in northwest Colorado Springs and a second Veterans Affairs’project in Pueblo.

About 80 percent of HVAC’s business is focused on commercial work as the company pursues government, education, health care, office and retail projects, among others, Donegan said.
Although homebuilding has rebounded the past few years, HVAC’s residential work is limited to installation of new systems in custom homes and switching out systems in existing homes, Moran said.

Steward said he began planning his exit strategy a few years ago.

Moran, who started with Steward’s first company 24 years ago by doing part-time financial work out of her house, joined HVAC in 2003 and ran the financial and service side of the business. She became part owner in 2006 and eventually had a 49 percent stake in the company.

Donegan, whose career in engineering and construction dates to 1979, joined HVAC in 2008 as a business partner and minority owner.

Steward said Donegan brings a big-picture focus to the business — pursuing larger jobs than the ones Steward has pursued. Moran, meanwhile, tackles the financial side of the business.

“I couldn’t be happier how the plan has worked,” Steward said of the ownership transition.

Contact Rich Laden: 636-0228 Twitter @richladen
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