On-the-Job Training Program
Service With A Smile
Saunders Engine Company’s core services are to the workboat industry. The company, established in 1959 in Mobile, Alabama, built their core workboat business around the demand for dependable, prompt service required by commercial marine operators to their workboats. Saunders Engine also has an Industrial Engine Services division, which services commercial diesel engines powering cranes, generator sets, pump engines, rolling equipment and stand-by emergency engines.
Two other locations position Saunders ideally—Saunders Yachtworks in Orange Beach, Alabama, provides comprehensive mechanical and hull repair services to the high performance pleasure craft industry, while Saunders Yacht & EPG Services in Panama City, Florida, provides diesel engine repair service for the pleasure craft market, as well as service and installation of stand-by power generators.
Of 100 employees, over 60 are technical engineers, technicians, managers, parts representatives and repair crew, who are always on call to deliver their marine diesel expertise. That and Saunders’ famed 24-hour field service availability are what have made the company’s success, according to John Fitzgerald, Vice President. Of course, having a commitment to having a $3 million parts inventory with over 16,000 line items hasn’t hurt either because when a customer needs a part, they usually need it quick. That combination allowed Saunders to reach over $20 million in sales last year.
Fitzgerald’s father-in-law, Andrew Saunders, is the company’s owner and it was started by his wife’s grandfather back in 1959. Fitzgerald, born and raised in Arlington, Virginia, met his wife, Andolyn, a native of Mobile, while in graduate school at the University of Virginia, where he received his Masters in Education. He and his wife have five children together. Fitzgerald worked in education for over five years, teaching middle school math and then working as a middle school and high school assistant principal for the next six years, for schools of over 500 kids, with his last school administration position being Calloway-Smith Middle School in Mobile, Alabama.
Fitzgerald says his school administration background prepared him for his role as vice president because many of the business administration responsibilities are the same, such as budgeting, financial management, basic human resources, and the legal aspect of hiring and managing people, But says Fitzgerald, “What is really different and what I had to learn was business operations—the level of independence needed to make decisions in your own business, the risks you take, no bureaucracy—and I’ll be forever grateful to have that opportunity.”
Fitzgerald gets involved both personally and professionally in local educational programs that he wants to get involved with, like the vocational programs at Faulkner Vocational Center and Bishop State. He is on the steering committee of the Shaw High School new technical magnet school. Says Fitzgerald, “It feels good to have an impact, but it is also selfish—it’s good business, because that is where some of future my employees come from and I always have to be aware of that and contribute to that.”
“It is the ability of our highly competent, technically capable technicians to go into the field and deliver good outcomes for our customers, supported by the efficient operations and skilled personnel in our engine rebuild shop that sets Saunders Engine Company apart,“ says Fitzgerald and he is on the lookout to find people committed to that service ethic. “People say you can’t find good people any longer, but I don’t believe that. I do believe it is a little more challenging than it used to be, but I do believe they are out there”, says Fitzgerald.
“Mobile Works On-the-Job Training is a wonderful program that helps compensate me as a business for hiring and training, but it simply wouldn’t work for me if all the employees had to come directly from my job developer Belinda Thomason to me. She’s wonderful and works closely with me to screen candidates and match the background and qualities I need, but what I’ve been able to do is to find my candidates at other places—at trade and vocational schools, by running ads, other places—and send them to Belinda to see if they are qualified. If they qualified, and they’re the right person, then great, and I hire them. If they aren’t qualified and they’re the right person, I hire them anyway.”
Fitzgerald says, “The Mobile Works On-the-Job Training program recognizes the challenges and that while businesses do need some resources and monetary help in hiring and training, they are the best trainers of their own people. In an employment environment, hungry for trained and qualified people, I think it is very appropriate for the federal government to recognize that the employer is the best trainer of its own employees. The Mobile Works On-the-Job Training program provides the mechanism and the funding for a business to recover some of this training cost. I don’t understand why every business doesn’t do this.”
At Mobile Works, we understand why Saunders Engine is so successful with forward thinking people like John Fitzgerald at the helm. And we’re proud to be a part of that success.