Longtime NARSA member Pat O’Connor was inducted into the Cooling Systems Hall of Fame during the 2023 Spring Conference in Rochester, New York on Friday, April 28. The Hall of Fame is considered the highest distinction within NARSA/IDEA.
“One of the ways we determine who deserves induction into the Hall of Fame is not only based on the amount of time served as a volunteer and supporter of the organization, but we also consider the impact of the contributions this person has made which changed the course of the future for our industry and our organization,” said Mark Taylor, NARSAIDEA’s Executive Director. “Pat O’Connor received this honor for his commitment to the cooling systems industry as well as his volunteer work in NARSA for more than 30 years.”
During the award ceremony, several people spoke about their relationships with O’Connor including Larry LeProvost of Johnson Manufacturing, Aaron Morrow of Johnson Manufacturing, Frank Finger of Finger’s Radiator Hospital, NARSA/IDEA President Bryan Braswell, and NARSA/IDEA Executive Director Mark Taylor.
In response to receiving this recognition, O’Connor said, “It’s amazing. When it all comes down to one point of this long journey, it’s very rewarding to have all these friends talk about me. We go back 30 years.”
O’Connor’s career started in the accounting department at General Motors in Buffalo, New York before he got a job as a District Sales Manager for the Sun Oil company. “I didn’t really like that part of business, so then I actually became a Sunoco dealer, and I did that from about 1967 to 1980.”
Around 1980, there were gasoline supply issues in the United States. “We had people lined up for gas, and as a retail gas guy, that didn’t really bode well for me,” said O’Connor. Sun Oil eventually left the Buffalo market, so O’Connor got a job as a District Sales Manager with the TRW Auto Parts division for a few years. Then, he worked at Fedders briefly for about a year. “I was a midwestern sales manager for Fedders,” said O’Connor. “Unfortunately, they had very terrible products, so I left. Fedders Radiators weren’t great, even the paint didn’t dry on them.”
After Fedders, O’Connor went on to work for Detroit Radiator and then eventually landed a position of VP Sales at FEDCO, becoming an industry leader in the heater core market from 1993 to 2002. From 2002 to 2007, O’Connor worked as an independent sales representative and consultant. Those years had a number of challenges with different businesses changing hands, but O’Connor was able to stay afloat thanks to his connections.
“You have to remember all of the years that I spent with FEDCO and with NARSA, I had a pretty good reputation in the industry,” said O’Connor. “People knew me. I was able to secure 7 new major distribution customers for FEDCO.
Then in 2007, he joined Johnson Manufacturing Co., when Johnson acquired S.A. Day, a major manufacturer of flux in Buffalo, New York. After joining Johnson, he was able to add several International customers without ever leaving the country. “I said I was going to work 5 years for them, but it’s been 17 years now,” O’Connor laughed.
Frank Finger of Finger’s Radiator Hospital always enjoyed working with Pat O’Connor. “He was very good at business. He was extremely honest, and his word was solid. If he told you something, you could take it right to the bank, because it was the truth.”
Finger recalled once going to a trade show when O’Connor was working for FEDCO. “As I walked past him, Pat walked out from behind his booth. He didn’t say a word, but he handed me a new heater FEDCO had developed. It was gorgeous. I mean, it was beautiful. He didn’t say a word, but he knew he had me hooked right there and then. He knew I understood manufacturing, and when I was looking at this heater, I could see all the quality that was built into it. And he knew my customers would gobble them up. That’s when he made me the offer to build these units, and that’s when we started doing business together. And we did millions of dollars doing business with him. That was all based on Pat.”
Aaron Morrow met O’Connor in 2012 after Johnson Manufacturing moved Morrow from production to Sales and Manager. At that time, O’Connor was Vice President on the NARSA Board of Directors. “Pat introduced me to a number of NARSA members at the HD Conference event held at Maas Radiator and helped me get my bearings at the 2013 NARSA AAPEX show,” said Morrow. “Pat used his time with me to make sure I knew the history of the organization, how the board had evolved, and what the present day issues were. He then made the recommendation that I serve on the board, making way for me to become Secretary, then VP, President, and Chairman. I’ve now served nearly a decade on the board and have been a part of some amazing conferences, including the NARSA International Tour. None of that would have happened without the mentorship and generosity of Pat O’Connor.”
Among his accomplishments, O’Connor was instrumental in creating NARSA’s Member Appreciation Reception, which is held annually during the same week as the AAPEX show. In the beginning, it was called “Buffalo Night.” The idea was to connect manufacturers with customers within NARSA, and it became so popular that it is now an annual tradition. O’Connor was also an owner/driver in Inboard Hydroplane Racing for 37 years, winning National Championships in 1974 and 1982 and setting three competition World Records in the 1980s.
O’Connor also paved the way to allow manufacturers to sit on the NARSA/IDEA Board of Directors as a full voting member, which allows the organization to have input from all parts of the cooling systems and diesel emissions industry.
As a longtime NARSA board member and past president, O’Connor has probably been to more than 100 NARSA events over the years. “The meetings are so important, because people come together and share ideas and network,” said O’Connor. “More importantly, they form these friendships that last forever. I worked with probably 15 past presidents, most of which I could call up and pop in for a visit. I spent 5 days with George Farner in Florida, Chuck Braswell in North Carolina. They’re all great times and great relationships.”
“Pat is one of the most selfless people I know,” said Morrow. “He has spent more than 4 decades volunteering his time and talents to make NARSA better. He always looked at things with his NARSA hat on. He has recruited a number of new member companies to the association and has mentored so many people over the years. He did all of this in a modest and humble way. He is so well respected across the industry and by everyone he has worked with, for, or done business with.”
“My career has been a parallel path between the company I work with and NARSA, and it’s been very fortunate for NARSA,” said O’Connor. “Every company I worked with, got involved and supported NARSA.“
When it comes down to it, Pat O’Connor believes good relationships are the basis of NARSA’s success, as well as his own success. “The way you make the most out of your membership is you got to get out there and see other members and form those relationships,” said O’Connor. “It’s about being able to pick up the phone and ask, ‘Hey I got this problem. Have you seen this before?’ You get a lot of answers that way. But you have to be active and involved. Otherwise, it just goes by. You make a trip, absorb a little bit, and you go home. But if you’re involved and you’re basically meeting with friends, you’re coming away with so much more.”
This editorial was originally published in the May/June 2023 issue of The Cooling Journal.