From boxing champ to contracting champ
Jimmy Hiller started with nothing, or perhaps even less than nothing, and grew his company to over $100 million in sales. Here's his remarkable story.
The Early Years
Jimmy Hiller was born into the classic American family in 1965 rural Nashville, Tennessee. He was raised by a kind, nurturing mother and a father who taught him how to be a man, from what it takes to be Golden Glove champion to the grit and the determination necessary to build a strong work ethic, raise a family and make a living. Knowing his parents were there for him and loved him unconditionally was a major advantage in his life.
As a young boy, Jimmy played every sport from baseball to hockey. By the age of 12, he picked up his first set of gloves and started writing the boxing chapter of his life. A real winner since the beginning, he won gold at the district Junior Olympics, which advanced him to the regionals where he took gold once again. After winning the bronze medal at nationals, Jimmy and his father knew this was the start of something big.
Boxing With Broadway
After his father introduced former National Champion and the best coach in Nashville, Donnie Broadway, into his life as his personal trainer, Jimmy was in for some hard work. His endless training and unflinching determination along with Broadway’s coaching, led Jimmy to take the Mid State Golden Glove Championship twice and even further, to win the Southern Golden Glove Championship not once, but twice. Jimmy had in him the heart and soul of a fighter, a real winning champion.
In 1982, Jimmy’s life took a turn, and he wrote the last pages of his boxing chapter. As he entered his junior year in high school, he began experimenting with alcohol and drinking became integrated into his activities. School was no longer a focus. He was burnt out from all the changes taking place.
Young Love and Fatherhood
Not soon thereafter, Jimmy fell in love for the first time. He became a father his senior year in high school with the birth of his first child, his daughter Christina. When he held her in his arms, the world disappeared and nothing else mattered. That year for Christmas, Jimmy proposed marriage to his girlfriend. He understood the difference between right and wrong and that was a direct result of the strong foundation of his upbringing.
Upon graduation from high school in 1984, Jimmy knew he was faced with a monumental responsibility, which was to raise and support his wife and baby. Jimmy was thrown into the “real world” and he went to work full time as a gas station attendant. At the time, he was living with his parents and his girlfriend was living with the baby at her parents’ house. Jimmy wanted to build a stronger relationship with his daughter by spending the weekends with her, which caused huge problems with his girlfriend’s family as they weren’t married yet. This resulted in his fiancé and Christi moving into his parents’ house to be with him.
Within a few months of this arrangement, they set a date to get married, December 31, 1984. Once the date was set, Jimmy’s father started pressing him about how he was going to support a family and what he was going to do with his life.
The truth was that Jimmy was only 18 years old and he did not have a clue.
Jimmy’s father had a good friend named Mr. Knoch who had been a plumber all his life and was, at the time, a plumbing inspector. Together, Jimmy’s father and Mr. Knoch came up with a plan for Jimmy to learn the trade. In December 1984, Mr. Knoch helped Jimmy land a job with a local plumbing contractor. He started as a plumber’s helper, working on apartments being built at the time in Nashville. He was put on a crew with a few remarkably experienced plumbers (he lightheartedly referred to them as “the old-timers”) who were in their early 60s. They taught Jimmy the tricks of the trade and how to get the job done right as their goal was to see a talented, young 18-year-old boy succeed.
Jimmy was a champion both in the ring and out of the ring. He quickly earned the reputation of being a tremendously hard worker. Everyone in the company knew if they needed any help, all they had to do was ask him. He was committed to getting the job done, whether that meant working late nights or even weekends. Through his father’s guidance and the sound advice of Mr. Knoch, Jimmy started working on becoming a licensed plumber. At the time, you were required to work three years as an apprentice plumber before you could even take your journeyman plumber’s test!
Financial Dire Straits
While Jimmy was establishing his plumbing career, his wife began attending beauty school and his mother watched Christi. Within a short period of time, Jimmy’s wife got pregnant again and their son Jimmy was born in the winter of 1986. They decided it was time to move out of his parent’s house and into their own apartment as they needed the extra space for their growing family. Things became difficult financially, since Jimmy was now responsible for a small pickup truck payment, a car payment and rent. He started working as much overtime as he could to bring in more money. He was only making $7 an hour and his wife was only earning enough to cover the childcare. These financial dire straits would only worsen.
Unfortunately for Jimmy and his family, it wasn’t long before they fell behind in all their payments. The car was repossessed and they were down to one vehicle, which made it extremely challenging to accommodate a family of four with separate work places. They leaned on his wife’s family to help buy them a new car. They struggled along but the financial pit only grew deeper. Being so far behind in the rent, Jimmy and his wife made the rash decision to move into a smaller place, and run from their problems instead of face the facts.
They would come home from work and the lights would be off, then the water or the gas. They never consistently had a phone. He had let his vehicle insurance lapse because he couldn’t afford to pay the bill. When Ford discovered it they took out their own insurance on the truck. Then the news came that child number three was on the way. At this time, Jimmy changed jobs in an effort to make a more sizable income to cover the expenses. The problem was that at his new job he wasn’t allowed to work any overtime, so even though his wage increased to $10 per hour, he couldn’t make up for the difference. There just was no getting ahead.
One dark night when Jimmy’s wife was eight months pregnant, Jimmy hit rock bottom. After a night of drinking, he woke up in the hospital confused and unsure of how he got there, with a broken leg and a crushing feeling of the ultimate low. He had crashed into a tree the night before and totaled his truck, and he needed help.
Jimmy was offered six weeks off of work while his leg healed. When it was time to go back to work, the company no longer had a position for Jimmy, so once again he turned to Mr. Knoch, who lined him up with yet another job. Ford taking out insurance turned out to be a blessing… they replaced his totaled truck.
Jimmy was always among the hardest workers on the team, but his personal life was in shambles. Eventually Ford repossessed the truck, so he and his wife were both struggling and trying to make it work with three young children and one car. Out of desperation Jimmy down-traded his wife’s car for an older car and $1,000 cash. With the cash he purchased an old 1977 Ford pickup truck.
His wife loaned the truck to their landlord’s son and he damaged the motor. With no money to repair it, they were back down to one car.
Overtime and Stress Overload
Jimmy started working nights and weekends for his previous boss to bring in some extra money. His boss’s business was struggling financially, so instead of a paycheck he paid Jimmy with a 1969 Ford pickup truck. With financial troubles mounding in front of them, they were kicked out of their apartment. They moved to the other side of town and Jimmy started drinking more and spending time away from the family. He wasn’t able to be the father he had wanted to be. The fighter within him stopped fighting.
Jimmy and his wife were having a rough time handling all the stress in their lives and arguments and yelling became their norm. She finally filed for divorce, took the kids and moved back home to her parents. Jimmy moved into a small, two-bedroom duplex with one of his friends, which helped relieve a little bit of the financial pressure since he now had a roommate and the rent was only $350 a month.
Jimmy was young and didn’t know what to do, and his drinking was becoming a bigger problem, so he turned to his father once again for help. He found Jimmy a good attorney to help get him through the divorce. At the first meeting, the talks began on how to resolve his problematic drinking. As a result, Jimmy promised he would seek counseling and do as recommended by the counselor. At the first meeting with her, she recommended outpatient treatment. She gave Jimmy a list of things to do to prepare for the meeting with her the following week.
Jimmy did not follow through. Her only choice was to recommend he visit an inpatient treatment facility and go through an alcohol rehabilitation program.
The Light at the End of the Tunnel
On August 26, 1989, Jimmy entered Cumberland Heights treatment facility for the fight of his life. Through blood, sweat and tears, he achieved sobriety. And he has been sober ever since.
Jimmy earned his master plumber’s license and decided it was time to venture out on his own. He was at a good place in his life. He was sober and he did not require a large amount of income, so he did not have a lot of risk. He opened the doors of Hiller Plumbing in January of 1990.
With the help from his father, Jimmy was able to buy a 1988 Toyota pickup truck and Hiller Plumbing was officially in business. He believed that he could at least match his current income by going out on his own. He started out driving around three or four days a week knocking on contractors’ doors and visiting subdivisions trying to find work. He could typically find enough to fill up his weekend availability whenever he didn’t have his children.
Then Jimmy met Michelle. They met through a mutual friend who had recommended they get together as she was struggling with a drinking problem and needed help. Earlier that week, Jimmy had bought a $60 toilet for a job and the weather forecast was calling for rain. There was no way he was going to leave it out in bad weather, so he moved it into his den. When Jimmy invited Michelle in to talk, there the old porcelain throne sat, and it has gone down in their history as the day she should have ran! They became deeply close friends over the course of a year and started spending a lot of time together. In 1991 they began officially dating.
Jimmy’s life mainly consisted of work and the activities his children were involved in, and Michelle was becoming a bigger part of it every day. He wanted sole custody, but he could never convince his ex-wife to allow it. In the fall of 1992, his ex-wife signed his son up for football and his daughters for cheerleading for the same team. She informed Jimmy that he could go to the games but that he was “not allowed” to go to the practices. He decided right then and there that he would absolutely be present at every single practice and game. As a result, she basically turned all the sports activities over to him. Even though the league was on the other side of town from his duplex, he took the kids to every game and practice. The kids were his life and Michelle loved being a part of it. She came along with them whenever she could and it meant more to Jimmy then she would ever know.
Jimmy, The Romantic
On Christmas Day of 1993, Jimmy handed Michelle a box. Inside there was a diamond engagement ring with a picture of the kids and a note asking, “Will you marry our daddy?” A year later, they tied the knot!
Michelle moved into the place Jimmy was renting, a 1,100 square foot house with a fenced backyard. The house had a garage that served as his office and they had a few work trucks parked in the backyard. This certainly was not her dream home. She had sacrificed her nice condo where she was living with her sister in one of the best neighborhoods in Nashville to be with Jimmy and the kids and needless to say, it was a bit cramped.
After Michelle moved in, she actually bought the house. The bank did not want Jimmy’s name on the loan. They told her it would do more harm than good. She was not thrilled to be a first-time homeowner of her far from perfect home.
The year 1999 brought about some major changes for Jimmy. His youngest daughter started getting into a lot of trouble at school and his ex-wife needed a hand. Jimmy stepped up again and at this time in his life, was able to finally get custody of Jimmy and Megan, his two youngest children. (Christi did not want to move back in with her “strict” dad, so Jimmy appeased her.) In the fall his kids began private school, so with no bus transportation Michelle took over as their driver while Jimmy went to work. For increased flexibility in her schedule, Michelle left her 15-year career as a legal secretary and joined the Hiller Plumbing team. As the office manager she took over all of the administrative and financial responsibilities while Jimmy focused on building the business. A tremendous amount of pressure was relieved when Michelle joined the team because Jimmy finally had someone he could trust with the office and the financials.
Although he had Michelle’s help with the internal affairs of his business, Jimmy was struggling externally with new construction. The contractors he was working with did not have the money for his paycheck. He would do the work and they would avoid him at all costs so they didn’t have to compensate him. Essentially, he was the bank, supplying all the parts and labor and waiting 30, 60, 90 days and sometimes longer for his payment.
Invitation: How to Make Money, NOT LOSSES
At this point, Jimmy was willing to do just about anything to turn his life around. He craved success in his business and he wanted to be happy; he didn’t want to be bogged down by this unbelievable stress and constant financial burden. Then, something unbelievable happened. In 1999, he received an invitation to attend a seminar, and the very topic was “how to run a contracting business that makes money, NOT LOSSES.” Jimmy put his life and business on hold and drove five hours to hear a speech by a man named Terry Nicholson. Terry’s speech was chocked full of enthusiasm for the contracting business. Jimmy had never seen anyone speak so energetically, so hopeful for the future, with so much knowledge. Terry had all the answers Jimmy needed.
Terry talked about a way to make more money. He talked about a way to make the phone ring. He talked about a way to grow the business (if Jimmy wanted.) He also talked about how Jimmy could enjoy his business. He could have the freedom he always wanted but never dreamed possible as a business owner. From that point forth, Jimmy had reignited hope that his business could turn around and become more profitable. He realized he was lacking the knowledge he needed to make Hiller Plumbing a success. He had the technical knowledge, and he was great with his customers, but he was lacking in the business department.
He started putting the principles that he learned at the presentation to task. His proactive decision to shape his future by taking positive action to develop the business side of his company was what would become the smartest decision he ever made.
Next, Jimmy added a residential plumbing service side to the business, and things were looking up. He was approached about starting a heating and air conditioning company and he agreed, so in 2003, Hiller Plumbing officially became Hiller Plumbing, Heating, & Cooling. This was also the same year that Jimmy and Michelle had their own bundle of joy, a little girl named Kailee. Michelle brought Kailee to work with her every day until Kailee was almost a year old. Having Kailee with her the first year was abundantly important to Michelle and was a great benefit of working for the company. Eventually as Kailee grew older and more mobile, they had to start her in daycare so Michelle could focus on her work.
The construction side of the business started to take its toll on Jimmy, as he found himself fighting suppliers and contractors every day. So finally in the fall of 2005, Jimmy decided to cut the construction side of the business and focus on residential service. But since he had recently acquired a large facility for construction and he no longer needed it, he found himself in a mess. He was afraid of bankruptcy, knowing that he had made the decision to walk away from 4 million dollars in revenue. Now he was stuck with a huge building, an even bigger mortgage and he was overcome with fear and worry. The family side of the business continued to grow as well, as his daughter Megan came to work for him.
Success in Business 101
Wait, what was Jimmy thinking?! He had just fired all of his general contractors, taken on a new employee, and he was officially scared sugarless! He needed to use his final lifeline. Then Jimmy heard about a general manager’s class being held in Tampa, Florida, in December 2005, by Terry Nicholson and Jim Abrams. He made his game day decision and scraped together the gas money to attend. And was he ever glad he did. At the class, he heard a powerful speech by the legendary contractor, Jim Abrams. He had heard of him before but never realized how deeply accomplished the man was. The HVAC industry as it existed, was the way it was because of Jim’s powerful influence. He had a wealth of knowledge in every facet of the industry from manufacturing, contracting, distribution, affinity groups and so much more. This leading industry innovator’s speech was filled with the knowledge Jimmy needed to transform his small company into an extraordinary, profit making machine. What a relief!
With the guidance from his mentors, Jimmy came to understand again that he was truly great at the technical aspects of his job, but he knew and understood very little about the business side of the equation. He went to this two-week class out of desperation and he returned home with all the knowledge he needed to successfully operate his business on a daily basis (and into the future). What he had in his hands was so powerful, it would lead to his ultimate successes! He came out of this meeting with a fully developed Business Action Plan for the next 10 years.
Now he had a growth plan, developed with Terry and Jim, based on their guiding principles in small business management, to take his $8 Million company in 2006 to a $50 Million organization by the end of 2015. This may seem like an overzealous goal for someone who had just walked away from $4 Million in revenue, but it was 100% possible because he had Terry and Jim’s Roadmap. He had the plan in place, and he had the business knowledge necessary to execute these ambitious goals.
Dreams = Reality
Things were going extremely well for Jimmy after he had his Contractor’s Roadmap to Success in place. He had always dreamed of owning multiple locations and in 2006, his dream became a reality! He opened his second location in Clarksville, Tennessee. The next year, Jimmy decided to expand the business even further and he purchased a third location in Murfreesboro. Business was successful. He had spent his career searching for success and time and again he faced failure. Not until he applied Jim and Terry’s guiding principles did he turn his profits around. Hiller was finally out of the red! All the moves Jimmy started making at this point in his career started working out for the best.
Jimmy along with his son, Jimmy Jr. at their corporate headquarters in Nashville, TN
Jimmy Hiller was happy. Happy Hiller!
In 2007, Jimmy made a smart business move and hired an accountant to serve as company controller. This was a big move and it paid off exceedingly well. The controller provided much needed accounting and technical support and business dealings were getting easier.
Following his Roadmap to Success, the following year the Bowling Green, Kentucky location opened and later that year they opened in Knoxville, Tennessee. Jimmy’s son came to work for the company after graduating from college. All of the pieces of the puzzle seemed to be falling into place as he continually championed for his company and applied his newly found business knowledge.
A few years passed and there was not much change in the company structure, but Jimmy was running five branches with his service and installation managers alone, and he started feeling overwhelmed. He decided to concentrate on developing the management portion of the business and he hired a General Manager. In 2011, the Hiller team welcomed a GM to the operation, who, as it turned out, had also been mentored by Terry and Jim. With the principles for success already in his rule book, he was the perfect fit for Jimmy’s team.
Jimmy’s company was about to become one of the greatest service companies in the world.
Boy, did Success come FAST! A year later, keeping with his Success Roadmap, Jimmy opened new locations in Cookeville and Memphis, Tennessee. Two years later he opened Columbia, Tennessee!
Without the business education from Terry and Jim, Jimmy would still be a struggling contractor today. Thankfully, he found the key to his future and was able to build and carry out his personalized Roadmap to Success.
He achieved his 10-year goal, two years ahead of schedule and ever since, business has been continually growing year over year. Today, Hiller PHCE is one of, if not the largest independently owned residential service and replacement company in the world.
A Note from Jimmy “Happy” Hiller
There was a lot of heartache in my journey, but I feel overcome with blessings. I had the opportunity to find mentors who led me along my path to success in business. Terry and Jim helped me realize I needed more than just great technical know-how – I needed to be a great business person. They gave me the knowledge I needed to operate a very profitable company and to start living the life of my dreams.
I’m fortunate at this point to be able to continue helping customers, employees, and giving back to my community. Most importantly, my mentors gave me the opportunity to share what I know now and impact the lives of other contractors. Terry and Jim have taken years of knowledge in the contracting industry and created what is now known as PRAXIS S-10, the premier Success College for Contractors. Today, these guiding principles are available to contractors across all of North America and I’m personally counting on letting them in on all the secrets. I’m going to be sharing exactly how to implement PRAXIS S-10!
I want others to experience how rewarding the contracting business can be. You can achieve your dreams. If I could do it… You can do it!
PRAXIS S-10 will make you happy or my name’s not Jimmy “Happy” Hiller.
“You have my personal commitment that as a part of PRAXIS S-10, you will gain the advanced business knowledge you need to fast track your success and fuel your freedom.”
successful contractors are made, not born
“I’m living proof of that. When I met Jim Abrams, I was a struggling contractor with two employees. After applying his principals, I’m now a regional powerhouse with twelve locations. I believe in this system, because I’ve seen it work first hand. I am not the only business Jim has helped to grow, and I know I won’t be the last. I am proud to work alongside Jim now, bringing the same concepts and ideas to other businesses, and showing them how to apply them for success.
Jim is far more than a mentor, he’s a friend. Now he is allowing our team to bring his guiding principles to more contractors, and I know they will see fantastic success.”