Looking back: A “shaky” start meets with strong resolve

Norman S. Wright Company would have been over in its first year if San Francisco’s legendary 1906 earthquake and fires had the final say.

But founder Norman Scott Wright, son of Scottish immigrants and a born optimist, wasn’t going to let the disaster, and his resulting financial ruin, get him down. He re-built the fledgling business—focused primarily on equipment for the offshore marine industry—and until his death in 1947, guided it to become the most trusted and enduring distributor of commercial heating, air conditioning and ventilation equipment (HVAC) in the country.

Our president, Rich Leao, explains that the ingredients of our success are clear: “great people, hard work and a tireless commitment to getting it right for our customers.”

“Now,” he adds, “our goal is to keep it up, so we can earn their business for another 100 years."

Philosophy: Total customer satisfaction is job one

When Norman S. Wright Jr. joined his father’s business in 1934, the company’s formula for success was well-established: handpick the best team, choose product lines selectively and then make customer satisfaction the top priority.

It meant following through on every sale to ensure the right equipment was delivered at the right time and installed to the customer’s complete satisfaction. This simple approach proved itself again and again—amidst the changing fortunes of equipment manufacturers and the country as a whole—over ten decades. 

Adapt and thrive: New markets, a world at war, a post-war world

The company rode out the Great Depression by diversifying their products constantly, focusing on the marine and naval industry throughout World War I and II, and shrewdly uncovering new opportunities in the market—sometimes in the nick of time.

In 1948, shortly after his father’s death, Norm Jr. hired Jack Kniveton, a recent graduate of U.C. Berkeley. The two shared a great instinct for new trends and, before just about anyone else on the West Coast, spotted the next big thing in engineering: air conditioning.

Though only one building in the whole state of California had installed a system by 1945, Norm Jr. and Jack trusted their hunch. As the technology grew in the 1950s and 1960s the two turned their company into the largest distributor of heating, ventilating and air conditioning equipment in the western United States—opening offices throughout California, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Arizona, New Mexico, Idaho and Texas.

Who we’ve become:  New faces for innovative new directions

The oil shock of the 1970’s impacted HVAC equipment greatly, challenging manufactures to design significantly more energy efficient products. It was no longer enough to bring comfort; energy consumption was essential too. Against this backdrop, Rich Leao—today’s president—joined the company in 1973.

Norm Jr. sold the business to Jack in 1976 as the company was consolidated in California, Nevada and Hawaii—the three fastest growing new business sources. Branches in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas banded together to become Norman S. Wright Company Southwest, an organization under separate ownership, based in Phoenix, and still in operation today.

Meanwhile, Norman S. Wright Company thrived. Rich became a partner in 1984 and in 1985 Bob Beyer, formerly of American Air Filter, and Sal Giglio, formerly of York Corporation, joined the team. The two became Rich’s partners upon Jack’s retirement in 1996.

Together, Rich, Sal and Bob have continued raising the bar for the entire manufacture’s representative industry, while pioneering new directions in energy efficient, “green” HVAC solutions from around the world. By incorporating selective equipment lines from U.S., European and Japanese manufacturers, the team has developed a product portfolio of unmatched scope, variety and quality.

Today: Honesty and responsiveness never go out of style

Specializing exclusively in HVAC products and services, Norman S. Wright Company today employs 170 people in our sales offices in San Francisco, Santa Clara (Silicon Valley), Sacramento, Fresno, Chico, Santa Rosa (Napa Valley), Stockton, Pismo Beach, Honolulu, Reno, Las Vegas and Guam. In addition, 55 people work in our more recently acquired branches: Norman S. Wright-Southern California, Mechanical Products Intermountain in Salt Lake City and Norman S. Wright-Duckworth Environmental.

But as the team grows and new trends and products emerge, the core values do not change. As Jack said in 1986, during his 38th year of running the business, “We’ve maintained the same general business practices that were started so long ago: We operate with integrity, honesty and responsiveness to our customers’ needs.”

And perhaps that’s why the Norman S. Wright Company is thriving today, 100 years after its inception.

In fact, we’re proud to note that San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom named March 11 “Norman S. Wright Company Day” in San Francisco, in honor of our 100th birthday (in 2006) and our enduring commitment and contributions to the Bay Area.

Best regards,

Norman S. Wright Company