How CG came to be

Common Ground’s Tumultuous Beginning

Fall, 2001: I’d made it to the “top” as a VP/Lancaster branch manager and B2B PR expert for Bethlehem, PA-based SWB&R, an advertising agency. Throughout my 18-month position with the firm – following 12 years at Godfrey, closer to home – I was off-kilter, uncomfortable with my fit in their culture.

In early September, 2001, our CEO called to say, “John, things aren’t looking very good. We haven’t supported your new business efforts sufficiently, and PHCC [Plumbing, Heating and Cooling Contractors Association] just told us they don’t need you at their national convention. I’ll come down on Tuesday, the 11th, to discuss this with you.”

CEO Dan Wells pulled into our lot as the second jet plowed into the World Trade Center’s second tower. He’d come with my pink slip and severance package.

Todd Walter, Dan Wells and I watched it all unfold on TV as the towers fell. Soon, the Pentagon took a punch in the solar plexus and Flight 93 ended in a rural Pennsylvania field. I recall sitting in a chair, discussing the loss of my job while watching – over and over, and over again – images of the jihadist’s attack here on home turf.

Reeling from that news, at home and without a job, I learned the next day that client Norma Kahn, PHCC’s marketing manager, lost her life in the jet that dove into the Pentagon. She was en route to the convention in Reno. Was my ticketed seat, as expected, next to hers? I’ll never know. I don’t want to know. I can only thank God that they chose to fold the program and didn’t need me there.

For two worrisome weeks, I’d been looking for a job. It was exhausting and stressful. I filed for unemployment compensation and received one check for $275. A week later, one more.

Then, on September 30 – today, 13 years ago – I received a call from Mike Chiles, CEO of Springfield, MO-based Watts Radiant. We’d met at an ASHRAE show a few years earlier and immediately liked each other. We spoke about my role at the show for other firms at the big convention. Mike was one of the hundreds of folks I left voicemail and email messages for, scouting for a new position.

Out of the blue that morning – or was it? – Mike called to say, “John, Watts Radiant needs what you do.”

The company without a name – weeks later to be “Common Ground,” took flight. Tragedy, sadness and prayerful thanksgiving all wrapped up in one, a time to remember.

Today, son Dan and daughter Rachel also excel at this business of HVAC trade PR. Over the years, Watts Radiant grew into a terrific relationship with Watts. Today we also serve the fine folks there and at Laars, Bradford White, Modine, Fujitsu and Taco. How can I not be thankful for the mystery and the amazing grace of God’s goodness in our lives?

Our prayers remain with those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001, those who selflessly ran to their rescue, the survivors, and the many families who lost loved ones at the hand of crazed terrorists.

– by John Vastyan, September 30, 2014