SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS — When Michael R. Cables takes over as president of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America at the group’s annual convention here in mid-March, he’ll be a little bit different from other MCAA presidents.

Many MCAA presidents hail from family-run or privately held contracting firms. Cables, on the other hand, is executive vice president, labor relations, for mechanical giant and semiconductor/biopharmaceutical specialist Kinetic Systems Inc., Fremont, Calif.

In his role at Kinetics, Cables is currently responsible for preconstruction activities including estimating, labor relations, safety and QA/QC. He has worked in a variety of capacities at Kinetics over the past 29 years, including running domestic operations, labor relations, preconstruction, safety, and quality assurance and control. Kinetics is the world’s leading provider of high purity process and mechanical solutions to the electronics, biopharmaceutical, and solar industries, as well as full mechanical services for data center and general industries. The company’s Durham, N.C., location hosted the highly successful 2010 MCAA Pre-Fabrication Seminar.

As for Cables himself, he got his start in the mechanical contracting industry as an apprentice in Tucson, Ariz., before moving in 1984 to Kinetics as an estimator. He was promoted through the ranks over the years to his current position and along the way, has also been involved in Kinetics operations in Mexico, Costa Rica, Brazil and Puerto Rico.

Despite his busy schedule, Cables was good enough to take time to answer questions from CONTRACTOR magazine.

CONTRACTOR magazine: How did you get into the industry? What was your first job?

Michael Cables: I got my start in the industry as an apprentice in Tucson, Ariz., before moving to Kinetics as an estimator in 1984.

CM: What led you to enter the apprenticeship program in Tucson?

MC: The thing that led me to an apprenticeship in Tucson was my desire to obtain a career as a skilled tradesman. The belief at the time was that if a person had a trade, he or she would always be able to obtain and maintain employment. I think that’s still true today.

CM: What did your first boss teach you?

MC: My first boss was a fellow named George Chambers. He taught me that quality workmanship would make a positive difference in my career. In George’s mind there was no substitute for craftsmanship, and he was right.

CM: Kinetics is a horse of a different color. In addition to being gigantic, it’s in a specialty niche market, right?

MC: That’s right. Kinetics is the world’s leading provider of high purity process and mechanical solutions to the electronics, biopharmaceutical and solar industries, as well as full mechanical services for data centers and general industries.

CM: How did you end up with a semiconductor specialist company?

MC: In 1984 the Business Manager of my Local Union was a fellow named Howard Shaw. Howard knew a contractor named Bill Bianco who was looking for an estimator. Howard recommended I pursue this opportunity, which I did. Bill hired me and 29 years later I’m still at Kinetics.

CM: How do you think your experience with Kinetics is the same as and different from the experience of other mechanical contractors in MCAA?

MC: Kinetics may be in a niche market but the keys to our success are the same as with any MCAA member — an intense focus on the customer; expertise at project and financial management; early adoption of new technologies; a respectful and proactive relationship with labor. The beauty of MCAA is that it provides its members with the education and tools they need in all these areas to be successful.

CM: How does your firm’s work break out between the construction and the aftermarket sides? Do semiconductor customers retrofit their plants often or do they just build new?

MC: In addition to performing piping installations on new construction projects, Kinetics performs retrofit projects and what we call “ongoing campus projects.” The majority of our customers provide us with opportunities in all of these areas. Owners who build new facilities very often continue to utilize those existing facilities by regularly upgrading them.

CM: What do you most enjoy about your job?

MC: Each day is different than the day before, and no day turns out like I expected it to be.

CM: You’ve filled many different roles over the years at Kinetics. How did that occur? 

MC: I’ve just always gone where Kinetics needed me the most. I’ve worked in a variety of capacities over the past 29 years, including running foreign and domestic operations, and I now handle pre-construction activities including estimating, labor relations, safety and QA/QC. When someone asks me for career advice I always tell them that being flexible is important, as is recognizing what is in the company’s best interests when being asked to take on different roles.

CM: What’s the one task you would rather never do again?

MC: Having to deal with an injury suffered by one of the workers I am responsible for. At Kinetics we have grown to believe that “Safety is Cultural” within our company. My biggest hope is that we will have done an adequate job with respect to training and preparation so that we will not have anyone injured performing work on our projects. I do not like dealing with incidents and injuries that could have been avoided!

CM: How important is green or sustainable construction? What are you hearing back from your customers about saving energy and water?

MC: Sustainable, or green construction, lost some of its attractiveness to some owners in the recent downturn, but I would say that all owners remain extremely interested in making their facilities as energy efficient as possible.

CM: After all your years in the business, what is the most important thing that you have learned? 

MC: Focus on the customer! I’m talking about everyone in your company, from the CEO to the estimator to the project manager to the journeyperson in the field. After all, the owner is the only one who can make that all important hire-or-fire decision as it relates to your company.

CM: What do you want your kids to know about this business?

MC: That it provided their father with a rewarding career and it allowed him to provide them with a good life.

CM: What are you hearing from MCAA members as being the biggest problem for contractors nationwide?

MC: Remaining competitive with the open shop.

CM: As a trade association, what is MCAA’s greatest challenge? 

MC: Providing its members with the tools to remain competitive, especially with the open shop. I hope to aid our members in meeting that challenge by continuing our joint strategic planning efforts with our labor partners at the [United Association] and to jointly address those issues that negatively affect our ability to compete in the marketplace.

CM: How important is political action to MCAA?

MC: Incredibly important, and more important now than ever before. For example, in the coming year I intend for MCAA to remain at the center of efforts to ensure congressional passage of much-needed multiemployer pension plan reform legislation.

CM: If you could accomplish just one goal this year as president for either the association or its members, what would it be?

MC: To continue to provide our members with the industry’s best educational resources and programs.

CM: If there's anything that I haven't asked about that you want to address, please do.

MC: Just that it’s so important that for contractors to get involved in their local and national association. I believe the importance of doing so, and the benefits to be realized from doing so, are greater now than ever before!