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The Power of Relationships

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Leader of family business and outgoing NAEC President John Sweeney plans to stay involved.

John Sweeney, president of Jersey Elevator Co., is passing the National Association of Elevator Contractors (NAEC) president torch as his term winds to a close, but he has every intention of staying close to the organization that has helped guide his professional and personal growth. NAEC and the Associated Builders and Contractors are the only industry organizations with which Sweeney stays heavily involved, as he says he relies on them for the resources and relationships they provide.

Besides himself, Sweeney says he typically brings two supervisors to NAEC’s annual and spring meetings, and that such events are extremely helpful in keeping the company current with industry issues and technology trends, and, most importantly, forming and strengthening business relationships.

Besides his father, whom he describes as his most important mentor, Sweeney lists among those who have influenced him a pair of professionals he knows through NAEC: Rick Kennedy of Kencor Elevator Systems of West Chester, Pennsylvania, and Jackie Mortman of J.M. Associates\Burnham + Co., a division of HUB International Northeast Ltd., of Fort Lee, New Jersey. Of Kennedy, a past NAEC president, he says:

“He gave me some invaluable advice regarding navigating some very tricky labor-relations issues. Although we’re sometimes competitors, he’s always been willing to share some pointers when he thought they would help.”

Mortman, Sweeney says:

“played a major role in getting me involved in the NAEC, not only as a member but as a board member. She’s the consummate professional and a goodwill ambassador for the NAEC. She knows so many people through her business and is always introducing people who she thinks will benefit from knowing each other — all of this, while providing an extremely valuable service to so many of us.”

It was Sweeney’s father from whom he learned the most about the elevator industry. He started acclimating himself to the business when he was a young teenager growing up in Aberdeen Township on the Jersey Shore, where Jersey Elevator (at the time, Sales, Service and Repair Elevator) was based. About his father, Sweeney says:

“I watched him run his own company and do all aspects of the work himself. From doing the bills at the kitchen table to selling jobs to pulling generators to troubleshooting and repairing, I just figured everyone could do those things. As I got older and worked with other people, I came to realize what a special talent he was.”

Like his father, Sweeney is well rounded. Since graduating with a BS in Business Economics from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in 1985, he has worked as a mechanic, sales representative, general manager and president of the family business. He started out low on the totem pole, though. He recalls:

“My job was to walk behind [my father], carry his tools, keep quiet and do whatever he asked. I spent a lot of time keeping people off the elevators while he worked on them, as well as cleaning machine rooms and pits.”

Sweeney was impressed, however, by all the hard work that went into the business and how it ultimately paid off. So, when his dad called him at Rutgers in the early 1980s to give him the first opportunity to buy the company, Sweeney said yes.

Originally from Philadelphia, Sweeney now makes the Jersey Shore his home. He and his wife of 25 years, Andrea, have two children, Valerie, a recent graduate of West Chester University of Pennsylvania, and Evan, a sophomore at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. John and Andrea Sweeney enjoy traveling, as well as cruising in their boat on the nearby Manasquan River and Barnegat Bay or simply strolling the boardwalk. They live in Wall Township, one of America’s first beach-resort towns. Their last vacation blended business and pleasure: while at Interlift 2013 in Augsburg, Germany, they visited Italy’s Amalfi Coast, as well as London. Sweeney elaborates: “We went on this vacation with some wonderful people we met through the NAEC known affectionately as our EB friends (only they will know what that means).”

One thing Sweeney said he would change about the elevator industry is the nature of maintenance contracts. He is afraid quality suffers as people strive to trim costs. He elaborates:

“When a maintenance contract works like an insurance policy, as they typically do, the only way to make money is to not spend money. With economic pressure to keep prices down while expenses rise, something eventually has to suffer. Ultimately, I’m afraid, it’s the quality of service we’re able to provide and, consequently, the safety of the general public. I hate to think that we’ll have to treat our customers the way health insurers are treating us.”

The near future of the industry, Sweeney believes, holds more of the same: slim profit margins and intense competition. Relationships such as those he has formed through the NAEC promise to help Jersey Elevator weather any storms, he said. During the coming years, his plan is to win enough jobs to keep his people employed and to keep pace with ever-changing human-resource and safety-requirement issues. “Generally speaking, the goal is to continue to provide exceptional service to our customers, while providing our employees with a quality employment package,” he said.

Besides a place to meet friends and business associates, the NAEC has been as a career catalyst for Sweeney. Serving as president of the NAEC and on its board has kept the couple busy, but they were heavily involved in their children’s sports programs for many years. Sweeney says he has no intention of retiring anytime soon: “Who can afford that?” he asks.

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