Colley Elevator’s Craig Zomchek brings passion and enthusiasm to his new role as NAEC president.
Avid cyclist, expert poker player, punk-rock record producer and second-generation elevator man. Craig Zomchek, president of Colley Elevator Co. of Bensenville, Illinois, and new president of the National Association of Elevator Contractors (NAEC), has been all of these things. He tells ELEVATOR WORLD he learns valuable lessons from each phase of his life and career, starting with his parents and grandparents, who provided him with “all the opportunities anyone could ask for” growing up in the Chicago suburb of La Grange Park, Illinois. “My mother guided my brother and me to be very successful adults,” Zomchek says. “Without great parents and grandparents, I would not be where I am today.”
Where Zomchek is today is in Elmhurst, Illinois, where he lives with his wife, Erin, a music teacher and a cellist with the DuPage Symphony Orchestra in Naperville, Illinois, and their two-year-old daughter, Mara. Any spare time Zomchek has he often spends with them, but he also finds time to go cycling, volunteer at a local hospital with mental-health patients and play poker.
He shares that he won US$1,300 in a poker tournament in Atlantic City during the 2017 NAEC Convention. “I only had to sit at the table for nearly eight hours!” he jokes. Although Zomchek is young, he has already led a very interesting life. He shares:
“What many do not know is I was in the record-producing business for about 10 years. I traveled the country with bands, put out records and promoted concerts. Based on my own integrity and ethics, I turned down putting out a record for a band that went on to sell 7.5 million records.”
Does Zomchek regret passing on the opportunity to have made a modest fortune? Not for one second, he says, stressing the decision was guided by his moral compass, which later led him to exit the record industry altogether.
Zomchek takes lessons learned in the record industry about honesty and integrity and applies them to running Colley, where he began working in 1996. His father, Ray Zomchek, started at Colley in the early 1960s and worked his way up to partner and, eventually, became sole owner. When Craig Zomchek went to work there, he made deliveries, shoveled “hundreds of pounds of mud” from cylinder holes, fabricated components, swept floors and cleaned cars — “basically everything expected of an owner’s son.”
Today, Craig Zomchek is majority shareholder, with two other partners owning the remainder. His father still comes in and continues to contribute at Colley, which has approximately 30 employees.
Zomchek moved to the office side of Colley in 2000, while he was attending DePaul University, from which he earned a BS in Marketing and Management. Motivated by his initial college experience, Zomchek entered DePaul’s MBA program and earned a degree with a dual concentration in Marketing and Strategy, Execution and Valuation.
At this point, he says, he realized he needed to complement his academic training with technical knowledge. So, he enrolled in DeVry University’s electrical engineering and Coyne College’s electrical construction programs. He also attended continuing-education courses on electricity and electrical code.
Along the way, Zomchek modernized Colley’s promotional materials and brought technology into the office and field. He became junior partner in 2007, and was named president in 2012. In this role, Zomchek says his job is to make other people better at theirs. “I think of myself as the backstop; no balls can go past,” he says.
“I am not kidding when I say I thought the City of Chicago elevator inspectors were celebrities in my universe.”
For a few years, Zomchek thought of his work as “just a job.” But, as he became more involved, the job became a passion. He recalls:
“I began challenging myself to achieve perfection with every task I took on. I am fully aware it is not realistic to have perfect results for every task, but, if you do not try, you will never succeed. Failure can be a great teacher for an open-minded, motivated student.”
Zomchek says he has learned something from nearly every person with whom he has worked, and had a few great mentors along the way, including his father and the recently retired Dennis Jedd, who taught him much of what he knows about the industry.
Zomchek loves being involved in NAEC, observing its continuing-education and networking opportunities have great value. He comes away from every NAEC event he attends a better-equipped elevator professional, he says. Zomchek illustrates how NAEC networking helped solve a problem Colley had been working on for more than week:
“We were having an issue with a first-generation GAL Galaxy controller, and I was sitting through my first board meeting and met Steve Husband from GAL Canada. I told him my situation. He said, ‘Come see me on the convention floor, and I’ll introduce you to a guy.’ I met the guy and he told me what to do. I texted my coworker back home, and the problem was solved in 20 min.”
For someone who has worked with actual rock stars, Zomchek says the people who leave him starstruck may come as a surprise. “I am not kidding when I say I thought the City of Chicago elevator inspectors were celebrities in my universe,” he says. His first encounter with these “celebrities” occurred during an inspection Zomchek went on at a historic building in the iconic Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago. That was when he first came to admire inspectors, consultants, suppliers and other industry people. “They had the knowledge, experience and expertise I wanted,” he says. “I still feel the same. Now, the people I look up to have become my peers and friends.
“The elevator industry isn’t as glamorous as working at Google. We need to show people that this is an incredible trade that is very rewarding.”
As NAEC president, Zomchek is working to spread the word about the association’s educational offerings, such as the Vertical Transportation Management Program (VTMP). Tailored for people who are new to the industry or transitioning from field to office, the VTMP condenses what Zomchek learned “during hundreds of hours on the phone and on jobsites” into a thorough-yet-simple series of courses. “The quicker you learn the industry, the quicker you will become a productive member of a company,” he observes.
Like Zomchek, young people entering the industry today will face everyday challenges such as working around proprietary equipment and bringing old elevators up to date. They will likely struggle with staffing, as Zomchek observes replenishing a retirement-age labor force with bright young people is an industrywide challenge. He says:
“With the increasing technology aspect of our jobs, we need to have a group that can not only lift heavy things and build, but use cognition to remedy problems at a higher level. Our industry is moving fast; time management and technical ability and knowledge are making it more challenging to do a good job. The elevator industry isn’t as glamorous as working at Google. We need to show people that this is an incredible trade that is very rewarding.”
Zomchek says other industrywide challenges are:
- The trend toward maximizing short-term financial gain. This, he says, sacrifices quality and long-term success. Multinational firms are changing the way elevators are maintained, with “as-needed” going from once a month to once every quarter or less. “This is a dangerous trend,” he says. “From an economic perspective, once the dollars and labor hours disappear by changing the market’s expectations of services, they may never reappear.”
- Safety, particularly for elevator-maintenance workers.
- Equipment lifecycle. “The ever-increasing pace of technology has obsolescence built in, which makes it hard to do right by our customers,” Zomchek says.
Despite its challenges, the elevator industry is a great place to be, Zomchek says, a place that is, in its own way, as glamorous as Google. “I love waking up every day and going to work, because every day is a new challenge,” he says. “We solve the seemingly impossible. We build and battle machines every day.”