A road warrior's influence lives on

By April Hall

The fact that Michael Boccacino all but refused to work out of a traditional office space has informed his successors' approach to the family business. Boccacino Heating and Cooling is moving into the third generation, and the whole family knows the importance of going on the road to meet with customers.

Boccacino's daughter Karen Falbo is CEO of the now-woman-owned business in Rochester, N.Y. She established the office in 1987 when her dad and her husband, Tom Falbo, requested her help with administrative duties.

Boccacino rarely set foot in that office; he preferred to do business from his El Camino. He delivered paperwork to the office via a pulley set up outside the building, Karen says.

Boccacino created a system for working from his vehicle shortly after he founded the business in 1952. When he got a new El Camino, he would remove the passenger seat and install an elaborate system of sheet-metal shelves and cubbyholes for paperwork and other office supplies. He drove El Caminos from the model's inception in 1957 and lamented the discontinuance of the line in 1987. He eventually had to change over to a traditional pickup truck. Karen says he had one of the first mobile phones—a big brick—through which he made calls with the help of an operator.

Tom, now president of the company, worked his way up, starting when he and Karen were engaged.

"We went out to a nice dinner in Churchville and the next thing I know, I'm in the heating and air business," Tom says with a laugh. He makes it sound nearly accidental, but the details reveal a plan.

At the time, Michael Boccacino was 50 years old. "He didn't have plans on retiring, but he wanted to plan for the future, " Karen says. Neither his son, also named Michael, nor the husband of his other daughter, Michele, was interested. Tom, who had an associate's degree in business, was deciding whether to start a career or continue with school.

Tom says he and his soon-to-be-father-in-law discussed how they would work together before he joined the business. "We made a pact going in that when I needed a butt-kicking, he would just let me have it, and when he had one coming, it was mutual. He said, 'Not a problem, Tom.' " Tom says that conversation demonstrated to him that, "OK, this guy means it.'" Michael Boccacino retired in 2008.

Over the years, Tom says, the company has expanded from the new construction market to the post-market and system upgrades.

Tom and Karen's son T.J. Falbo, who had worked in commercial lease financing, returned to his hometown four years ago to give the family business a try. He's been helping his parents use technology to accomplish tasks such as ordering supplies and marketing the business.

"I'm thankful for them because they've been accepting of what I have to offer," T.J. says. "Everything I've suggested has been listened to, if not accepted."

"I call myself a dinosaur," Tom says. "I'm not a computer guy, and I don't want to be. T.J. brought a lot to the table which I couldn't, really."

Regardless of his expertise behind a computer, T.J. is learning the business by getting his hands dirty. He spends the morning out in the field and the afternoon in the office, he says. His brother-in-law, Bart Brundage, is also on board, handling energy auditing and the home energy specialists division.

When Boccacino died last year, attendees "packed the place" at Browncroft Community Church, Tom says. Karen encouraged employees with company trucks, 17 out of 30 total staff, to drive those instead of their personal vehicles in the funeral procession.

"A company is a family," Tom says. "We have father-and-son teams, mother-and-son teams. We treat them like extended family, and they treat us that way. It's so easy; it just happens."

Copyright 2017 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact bwenger@familybusinessmagazine.com.

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May/June 2017

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