Featured interview - Pat Miller

Pat Miller is owner and chair of Engineered Energy Solutions in Warren, New Jersey.

Pat Miller, Engineered Energy Solutions, Inc.

ADDEDThursday, April 15, 2021

  • Q
    What’s the best advice you could give your younger self just getting started?
    I grew up – I don’t want to say poor, but I certainly was – didn’t have a lot of money or my family didn’t have a lot of money. So, I pretty much took care of myself from the time I was 12 with paper routes and mowing lawns and all the other stuff. When it came time to go to college, I pretty much put myself through college with college loans and I was a co-op. 
    So, I was money-driven, and I probably still am money-driven. So that success to me was money, and it probably still is. I think if you want to be an integrator, I think an entrepreneur is certainly who you’ve got be. You got to want it, and you also must dedicate yourself to the job. It’s not an 8-to-5 job. It’s not a Monday through Friday job. It’s 24/7 through – you know, I think I spent 5 or 10 years trying to make this happen. 
    It also takes your family to understand what’s going on because it’s not an easy life because you’re in all different phases of the business. Not only technically but financially. I was very smart or lucky, I’m not sure which, to have a great accountant and a great lawyer.
    Those two professionals helped me make some great decisions that I wouldn’t have made as smart as I did. There’s lots of points where I’ve gone wrong. I had certainly done some stupid stuff. 
    The one thing I would say is that most of us grew out of partnerships. We’re hooked up with somebody else, and if I had to do it over again and I’ve talked to a number of my CSIA buddies. You need to have 51 percent from Day 1. You can’t have equal-equal, and it means you got to put more money in than the other guy when you start because that’s how it’s divided. 
    Two people can’t run the same show. So, you need to be that guy, and if you’re not that guy, you need to have the other guy be that guy. But you can’t have two captains. There would have to be one captain. So that’s my advice.
  • Q
    What makes EES optimistic about the future of the automaton control systems industry?
    Engineers change the world. Doctors and lawyers take care of problems and all the other stuff. But we change the world, and save the world, quite honestly. We get to change how things are made and make them better, more profitable, get rid of the waste. 
  • Q
    What kinds of trends and challenges are you seeing in industrial automation right now?
    The biggest issue I see is all this digital transformation that’s happening.
    I’m thinking about all of the information that we now can be getting from the environment or the temperature or the whatever and wow. If we only knew this before, we could have done that and prevented that or helped this. They’re talking about net zero in buildings and in the next 50 years. I’m not sure we can get there. But it takes big data to find out what really are the keys and what we need to concentrate in because you can spend a lot of money putting new windows in and have a leak. The more you know, the better you are just like everything else.
  • Q
    What advice would you give a prospective client researching system integrators?
    If I were the owner, I would certainly look to someone who has done what I’m looking for 
    I would look to an integrator that had done something like what I was looking for. That’s to start with. Then – and I use this in my approach also is I say to them, “We’ve done this before to a client like you and you need to talk to him or to her. Would you like to go visit a facility that we’ve already done this to?”
    Hopefully they say yes and call my client up and say, “I’m bringing Charlie over next week. Would you please show him your plant and show him what we’ve done for you?” and pretty much they will say yes.
    So, we take them there, and we get the hell out of the way. We let our existing clients sell to our new client. 
    That really helps us to differentiate ourselves from the rest of the club. We are in a niche business. Not too many people do what we do.
    We’re a turnkey type of control systems integrator. Then we take care of it for years, and we look at these buildings daily, and we get alarms on their equipment before they do or before they know that they have a problem. 
    Then there’s also the predictive maintenance part of this where you can tell what equipment is wearing down or what is deteriorating, and it needs to be replaced or repaired or cleaned or whatever.
    So, there’s a whole predictive thing that’s really coming along in the AI category that we’re developing and working for that to make sure that we’re on top of their equipment.
  • Q
    How much of your business is repeat and why do you think they return?
    Most of our business is repeat, and I think that is because the jobs that we have done and the confidence that we have built that – you know, nobody wants to start over with somebody new. So, if you’re comfortable with the vendor that you have, you pretty much stay with them unless something happens that you’re unhappy with them.
    I think we take great pains to make sure that our client wins and, even when we lose, we like to make sure the client wins. We’ve been into a number of places where we’ve lasted longer than the client has. 
  • Q
    What is unique about how you approach a project?
    I think the uniqueness is we go very slow and when we – it’s pretty much retrofit. So, we’re not doing new construction. So, we have a building that has an operating system, and as we go in and try to optimize and automate that equipment, we need to keep it running.
    So, it’s piecemeal. We do one little piece at a time – you don’t shut everything down one day and then they’re out of business for 3 months. We need to keep the operation going without them even knowing that we’re there.
    So, I would say that’s very unique. So, it’s not a start from scratch, although we have done a number of projects after we’ve proved our value to the client and they say, “Oh, we have a new building going on. We want you guys to be the control systems integrator.” Then we work in that direction. 
  • Q
    What are some challenges that you’re facing right now?
    The whole COVID thing is all new, and everybody is trying to figure out how to cope. You see a lot of empty buildings, and I’m not sure where all of this is going. We were about to purchase our own building. We had rented for 40 years and I said, “It’s about time we bought a building and had our own – paid our own rent to ourselves.”
    During that time, COVID hit, and we decided that we’re going to go 100 percent virtual. So that’s what we have done. We are no longer in a building. We have all our hardware and computers at our homes. We have meetings weekly. We have a business meeting with Zoom once a month, and we talk to each other.
    We’ve gone pretty much paperless. So, there are lots of challenges going on. I think we’ve seen some hiccups with that, but it’s working. I’m pretty excited about the fact that everybody could stay home and, of course, most of our employees are at either the job or need to go to the job. So, we have some issues with what tools and where the tools are and those types of things and when we’re ordering equipment, where does the equipment end up. You know, we’re working our way through it.
  • Q
    Why did you choose a career in control system integration?
    I pretty much stumbled into it. I graduated from college, and the first job I had was working with Pratt and Whitney in Florida to help us get to the moon and, because of my efforts, we probably got there one-eighth of a second faster than if I had never been there! 
    Then I was in the army where I kept the communists out of Oklahoma for 2 years. And after that, I decided to become a sales engineer for Trane Co. 
    And as part of that, I became very interested in energy. I was the only professional engineer in our group, and we decided to form an energy department. From that, grew Engineered Energy.