Special to CONTRACTOR

HOUSTON — Two days after Christmas, Joe Ivey found himself out of a job. Ivey, the chief executive officer of Encompass Services Corp., was fired as the floundering company reorganized under bankruptcy protection.

It must have hurt since Encompass was Ivey’s baby. Ivey had taken Ivey Mechanical, Kosciusko, Miss., and a handful of other large mechanicals and turned them into Group Maintenance America Corp. GroupMAC then merged with electrical and janitorial consolidator Building One Services and turned the new company into Encompass with Ivey as CEO.

If it stung, Ivey’s not saying. “I really don’t know if I want to get into that now,” he said. “I think I’m just trying to quietly move into the sunset. I have not done a lot of public self-examination about it.”

Ivey said he’s happy that Encompass is selling the commercial mechanical contractors back to their original owners or to their managers.

“I am glad that the businesses will be able to get back into the hands of people who can keep them moving forward for the employees of the businesses, because they are good businesses. The branch operations, by and large, were good businesses.”

In 20:20 hindsight, Encompass had too much debt to handle the downturn in the commercial construction market, he noted. Capital spending that funds commercial construction dried up to a degree that Ivey (and many others) never would have imagined.

“A lot of other businesses and industries misgauged how low the commercial building cycle would go,” he said.

The other residential consolidators, such as Service Experts, have failed. So is a residentially focused Encompass a good idea?

“Whether it’s commercial or residential is in and of itself not a bad idea, but it has to be done with an appropriate capital structure,” Ivey said.

Ivey is still located in Houston and he plans to stay there. He has no desire to go back to Mississippi where his grandfather founded Ivey Mechanical in 1947. Ivey’s President Larry Carroll has been with the company for more than 30 years and he’s doing a great job, Ivey said, and if he returned to Kosciusko he’d just be in the way.

Ivey started with the family firm back in the 1970s. While he’s taken classes toward an MBA, he didn’t complete the degree, but he said he grew into the business and found he had a knack for it. He and Carroll had bought the firm from other family members in 1990. Ivey has a bachelor’s degree in theology from Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn.

“A little bit of what I’ve been doing over the last three months is decompress,” he said. He had been going at a six- to seven-day-a-week pace at work for 10 years and his life had gotten out of kilter.

He has been taking care of family business and, “generally trying to get the balance back in my life,” he said. “By nature I’m a person who works hard, so balance for me doesn’t mean I don’t work hard, but it’s keeping family life and, in my case, my spiritual life in their proper relative relationship.”

He and his wife Melinda decided they would take a period of time to get their lives back in kilter and then decide what to do. The Ivey’s have three children, ages 22, 18 and 11, and they play a big role in what the family will do and where they do it. One is in college in Texas another in college in Tennessee.

A few people have called him for advice on running a mechanical contracting firm and Ivey said he was happy to help, but for now running a contracting firm on a day-to-day basis is not what he wants to do. “That’s not to say things won’t change,” he noted.

The decompression time may be coming to an end - Ivey is feeling the first twinges of wanting to get rolling. He said that if he had to make a decision now, he would probably do something in a non-profit or that had nothing to do with business, such as teaching or church work.

“I had always said that I wanted to be in a position to do that in five or six years, and I would be able to do that now,” he said.