By Andy-Lee Fry
The Leaf Chronicle, July 9, 2012
Alana Ward, owner and president of Clarksville’s Baggett Heating & Cooling, has been named ContractingBusiness.com’s Woman of the Year.
“This is a lifetime goal for me,” Ward said. “The first time I saw the award I thought, I want to be that some day.” The honor is given annually by the HVAC industry publication to the year’s top woman in the field.
It’s not difficult to see why Ward has received the title this year. In an industry that doesn’t have a large contingency of female business owners, she has put her heart and soul into a business that 11 years ago, she knew relatively little about.
“In 2001 I graduated from (Middle Tennessee State University) with a political science degree and didn’t know what to do with the rest of my life,” she said. Her father, Alan Owen, then owner of the company on 825 Main St., had offered Ward an opportunity that would take her on a journey she couldn’t have expected.
“I joked that I got put in a place that I probably shouldn’t have gotten put in, and I was so young and naive that I didn’t know any better. But it worked out to be a really good thing, and I really do think that this was where I was supposed to end up,” Ward said.
For over a decade she worked her way through the business, training in industry qualifications, learning the sales and technical elements, even cleaning the office. By the time she had taken over the business completely in 2007, Ward had fully integrated herself in every aspect of her industry.
“If you don’t have the luxury – because I do think it’s a luxury – to work with every single part of your business, it makes it more difficult for you to be seen as the leader of your business,” Ward said. “If you don’t know what’s going on in your business, if you don’t care what’s going on in your business, then that’s going to be reflected in the product that you produce.”
Though Ward says she’s proud and amazed to be named Woman of the Year, she already has her sights set on the next achievement.
“Not to undermine winning the award, I never want to be discredited for being a woman so I don’t necessarily want to get attention just because I’m a woman,” she said. “So the next thing would be to get their Contractor of the Year award, regardless of gender.”
With the Woman of the Year award comes attention and scrutiny, both from the industry itself and from potential customers. Ward isn’t going to waste any time in utilizing that to further her lofty ambitions to change the public perception of the industry.
“This is a tough business, the work we undertake is scientific. The average air-conditioning guy in most people’s eyes is unfortunately not something they look up to. I’m on a personal mission to change that,” said Ward, adding that this starts with her company’s new policy on employment.
Baggett Heating & Cooling no longer takes on experienced technicians. They’ve opened their doors to accept the fresh, professional, and ambitious newcomers to the industry.
“Unfortunately, for most people, what they think they know about air conditioning is wrong. That’s not just consumers, that’s people in the industry, too. So the best thing for me is to get people who want to learn, who want to be professionals – we’re looking for special people all day, every day.
“Experience isn’t required, but being impressive is,” Ward said.
Being impressive is something that Ward has worked hard for in an industry that isn’t always accepting or supportive of not just its female contingency, but of anyone who wants to shake things up and make changes. She cites her committed staff and supportive family among those who keep her positive.
“There are two people without which I just could not do this job, and that’s my husband Chad, and my mentor, David Allen, who I talk to every single day,” said Ward, adding that being a business owner in the HVAC industry is often glorified, when it’s mostly hard, all-consuming work.
(Copyright 2012, The Leaf Chronicle, reprinted with permission. For more about Clarksville and Montgomery County, Tenn., please visit www.theleafchronicle.com).