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Matt Olson is a Group President at Astra Service Partners, Orion's heavy mechanical services vertical. Having started his journey at Orion with Jackson Mechanical Service, Orion’s first partner company, Matt now oversees several Astra partners across the U.S.

How did you first start at Jackson?

I worked in the trades here in Oklahoma for ten years prior to joining Jackson, and I always heard about Larry Beatty. Larry was the guru in heavy mechanical. He came from Johnson Controls and started his own business with Jackson. I knew of his reputation and his hunger for growth, so I really admired him.

I don’t know what made me do this, but I was in the area one day, and I decided to pull into his office and talk to him. I just walked in through the back door of Larry’s building, and we really hit it off. I hadsome project management experience and sales estimating experience, and once we started talking about what he wanted, he said I was the guy he’d been looking for.

At my previous company, I ran service from when I was an apprentice all the way up until I made lead service tech. Then I went into projects and became a superintendent, which gave me an appetite for selling.

At Jackson, I found out Larry and I shared similar goals. That’s what made me drive towards wanting to become a project manager. I had always been working in the field, and I got to this point in my life where I wanted to manage people. I wanted to use my brain instead of my back.

 

What was different about Jackson compared to your prior workplaces?

Larry always treated everybody with the utmost respect. He was great to his people. Before Jackson, Larry had been a chiller technician, so he knew what it was like out in the field. He was very involved – always the first one in and the last one to leave as the owner of the company – and I held that in such high regard. He’s an example of true leadership at its finest. I knew I wanted to build something with him.

So I took over running projects, and we just started blowing it up; I was able to bring in some key accounts, and we just kept growing. I became Larry’s operations manager and his righthand man. He took the time to sit down with me and teach me everything I could. He drove me to do the best I could at my career. I loved every second of it.

 

Given your relationship with Jackson’s founder, how did you feel when you first heard about the partnership with Orion?

I was absolutely shocked, to be honest. I was scared. I thought, Larry, what are you doing? We’re doing amazing! But at the same time, I knew he wanted to retire. And he was very consistent about wanting to find the right company. He reassured us he wasn’t going to sell to just anybody, that he was looking for a place that was going to take care of the team he built. And he told me he wanted me to take over Jackson once Orion came onboard.

To me, Orion was this very highly educated team coming in, and comparing myself to that expertise made me feel a lack of confidence. But it was a challenge I was willing to take on.

And when I first had meetings with Will (Orion Co-CEO), Isaiah (Orion Co-CEO) and Max (Orion Investing Principal) – that all really changed the way I thought about Orion. They told me what their plan was, how they operate, and I just knew it was true. It felt right; it didn’t feel like a sales pitch.

They know it takes people to run a business, and that if you treat your people right, then they’re going to do well. Those first conversations were where everything changed for me. I realized this wasn’t going to be scary. This was going to be fun. I saw that Jackson was going to be able to accelerate as fast as we possibly wanted. I’ve never looked back since.

 

What changed in those initial months of Orion’s partnership with Jackson?

Orion asked me, "What are your ideas? Where would you like to grow? If you had all the time, money, and experience you wanted, where would you go next?"

I said I wanted to get us into plumbing. I wanted to go to Tulsa. And before I knew it, I was hiring plumbers, and we were moving into Tulsa. It was an aggressive start, and I guess that’s what I loved most about it: they asked for my ideas and my opinions, and then they let me run with it.

That’s when I knew things were on an uphill track, not an uphill battle. We just put our foot to the pedal and floored it. Over the past three years, we’ve just been constantly moving forward. We’ve hired technicians, increased our back-office staff, and I’ve had support from Orion since the get-go.

Once Casey Botts (Astra Group CEO) came on board, he really helped me look at the big picture and ask how we can continue our growth. I was running 90 miles an hour just looking forward, almost like I had blinders on. Casey was able to ask, "What do we need to support this?" And often the answer would be that we need another back-office person, another AR person to collect all the work orders we were doing, and so on. I’m very impatient, so I’ll go five miles before realizing I just went in the wrong direction. With Casey, we focused on moving five miles forward.

 

How did Orion empower you as a president?

As soon as Orion came on, Larry started stepping back. He was there as my coach, but he really let me take over. And Orion listened to me, which increased my confidence as a young manager.

What changed the most for me was on the finance side. We never ran a P&L here. Larry and I would review the finances about once a year. We focused on what’s in the checking account, what’s in the savings account – and then if you touched the savings, why’d you do that?

So actually having to deep dive into the numbers was such an amazing change for me. It was something I’ve always wanted to learn, and I had the best of the best at Orion teaching me. Now I laugh about it because it comes as second nature to me. Becoming a president is really learning how to run a P&L and how to know not just what the numbers are but why they are what they are. It’s seeing what levers to pull to make sure we’re making the right strategic moves and knowing what drives the business.

 

How have you been able to learn from other partners across the Astra network?

This has probably been what has made me the most successful at Astra – the chance to build a network of other presidents I can talk to. I can get best-in-class playbooks from them and see if their strategies would work at Jackson. We’ve taken a little bit from everywhere: we’ve learned from operational processes at Calvert; GE worked with us to build our plumbing platform; BME’s been helping us work on our safety. It’s been a collaboration between everybody.

At Astra, we have a Presidents’ Roundtable where we all get introduced, but even before that, I would go meet other presidents. And I’ve been able to build some really great friendships and relationships. I love the teamwork we’ve got going on. We’ve just got such a great support network. Through these relationships, I also noticed how similar we all were. We’re all going through the same thing – getting techs, keeping techs, and keeping people happy.

 

How did your promotion to Astra Group President occur?

We were actually at a Presidents’ Roundtable in Chicago, and at a Putt Putt Shack for a mini golf event. Alberto (Astra CEO) and Casey just came up to me and said they wanted to see if I could help another company grow the way we did at Jackson. Growing up as a technician and then learning that you’ve done a good enough job to be invited onto the executive team made me feel like I did it. I made it.

The Astra team is built of the most amazing team members I’ve ever seen in my life. They are so passionate. We could be talking at midnight, and it’s about business. It’s all about, "Where do you want to go next?" I love that about them. They want to build something amazing and to create a legacy. That’s what excites me most about being on the Astra team. They want to look back in five to ten years from now and be able to say, "Look what we made."

We’ve created a difference in so many people’s lives. Internal promotions really change outcomes for people. I mean at Jackson, because of my own promotion, I was able to promote a new president, Scott Fuksa. He was a welder fitter for me when I was Larry’s project manager, and now he’s the president of Jackson. These are life-changing careers. A lot of us thought we would be technicians for our whole lives. That’s how you know Astra is truly People First: they’re looking from within to promote people, and if you have the care and the knowledge and the want, the opportunities are endless.

 

How has your focus shifted now that you manage several Astra companies?

As a group president, you’re more of a coach. You try to drive the right KPIs and work well with the company presidents. That was the biggest change for me: I can’t go deal with the problem. I have to take a step back and look at it from the coaching level based on what’s worked well for meat Jackson. And the companies I’m managing, they’re already awesome – but I want them to be number one.

 

What does your day-to-day look like now?

In the HVAC world, everything changes every day. I wish I could pinpoint something, but I guess that’s why I love my job: every day is a new challenge, with a new goal to hit. Something I do do every day is I look at my scorecard. I see what levers I need to hit, what KPIs I need to focus on, and what ten things I needs to make sure my presidents and I are doing so that we’re keeping the train on the tracks.

 

When do you feel proudest to be a part of the Astra team?

It hit me last week when I was at BME having one-on-ones with the team. Just being able to listen to their stories, to see their excitement, was amazing. They love that we’re building structure in these family-owned businesses. Before, at Jackson, we didn’t have structure. We didn’t process map anything. We just came in and went to work. Listening to everyone at BME made me realize we could implement operational changes that make life better and easier for a business that's already great.

I love working with teams and building a culture of trust so that we can ask, "What can we accomplish today? If we make this work, what’s the impact?" That’s what really hit me when I was meeting everyone: the importance of letting people know they’re not in this alone and that we’re here to support them. Being able to meet new people and to know we’re building something meaningful – that excites me more than anything.

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