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Eric Stromquist Goes All In – A Life in Building Controls

During Controls-Con 2023 Scott Cochrane hosted his Legends Series panel, offering deeper insight into these legends, we are excited to share the interviews he conducted with his legends through a series of articles right here at

Legends Series by Scott Cochrane:

Legends are made by their actions and the effect they have on their environment.  The BAS industry has Legends, people who have brought our industry to new places and strive to make it a better place for all of us to work within.  During Controls-Con 2023 I had the great privilege to interview and document a few of my legends stories and am excited to share them with all of you through a series of articles right here at   

Eric Stromquist grew up to be a musician and then got sucked into the BAS business.  As a young BAS sales rep, Eric loved the business, but the creative performer in Eric couldn’t be stopped.  An artist stuck in the BAS Controls universe, all of us distributors knew he had a greater purpose and he sure proved us right.  Soon after I met Eric he started ControlTrends, a BAS platform that has educated and collaborated with thousands of BAS zealots for many years.  One of the most pervasive sources for interviews, educational content, and social media sources dedicated to the BAS community.   He has brought fresh life to a dry industry that really needed it, leading into the CONTROL TREND AWARDS SHOW, the largest gathering of BAS industry leaders I have ever been a part of.   Eric Stromquist has brought together the BAS industry in a way no one has ever seen, so enjoy Eric’s interview as we dive into the man, the myth, the LEGEND…


Well Eric, to begin telling your story we really have to start with your dad and how he got into the business.


My dad was born in Sweden, he was the youngest of a fairly large family. His dad, my grandfather, was a farmer, and kind of an innovator. He bought a bunch of farm equipment on credit, then he died suddenly. So, one of my dad’s earliest memories was watching all their stuff being auctioned off, and the split up of his family. His brothers and sisters went to live with other relatives, but because he was the youngest, he got to stay with his mom.

Now, my dad always loved the sea, so at the age of 15, with his mom’s consent, he joined the Swedish Merchant Marines. He was sailing around the world. That was his life. That’s what he wanted to do.

He did this for a couple years, until, around the time he was 18, he contracted yellow fever. He remembered the members of the crew saying something to the effect of “just make him comfortable, he’s going to die,” so it kind of pissed them off when he eventually recovered.

This was right around the time that the American convoys ships were taking supplies to England right before we were officially in the war. So, he got the opportunity to work on an American convoy ship and spent all of World War II going back and forth with the Navy.

About the middle of the war, while he was on leave in Boston, there was some executive from Westinghouse buying a bunch of drinks at a bar. The guy passed out business cards at the end of the night telling them to look him up at the end of the war if they’re looking for a job.

My dad kept that card, and about two to three years later my dad met up with him. And now keep in mind, my dad didn’t have a high school education, he had gone off to sea. So, when the guy hired him, my dad was taking engineering classes at night, and continued to well, and eventually got transferred to Atlanta.

After five or six years within this company he knew if you got transferred back to the larger cities like Boston, or Chicago, you’re on your way up. But if they sent you to Milwaukee or Kansas City, it was a dead end. So, this one day his boss calls him in and says “Great news, you’re getting a promotion! You get to either go to Milwaukee or Kansas City. Think about it over lunch and let me know where you want to go.” But dad knew this was not good news.

So, he leaves for lunch, he’s in this elevator in downtown Atlanta, and he starts overhearing this conversation between these two guys. One of the guys is a man name Gene Clary, who later ends up being my dad’s best man, but at this time they had never met. Gene had a company called Clary and Associates, and this factory guy is trying to convince him to take on his product line.

They get to the bottom floor and Gene declines and leaves, but my dad taps the guy on the shoulder, tells him he’s familiar with his product line and that he would be a great rep for him. They go and sign a contract over lunch to make my dad an official sales rep.

He goes back to his office and leaves his job, but now he has no money and around $1,000 in parking tickets. So, he’s listening to the radio and there’s a guy named Bennett Brown advertising how he helps individuals achieve their dreams. My dad finds out where this guy’s office is and will not leave until he gets to see him.

Finally, after a day-and-a-half of returning to this office building, my dad finally gets to see this guy and simply tells his story, “I’m just a poor immigrant from Sweden who fought in the war for this great country, I’m an American citizen who is willing to work to have the American dream. I heard your ad and you sir are the only one that can make my dream come true. I have a company, but I need money to grow.” This guy got a kick out of my dad, sent him off to somebody else, and they loaned him the money, and that’s how the business got started.


What were some of the products that he started with and what were the early days like for him?


He was a rep selling hydraulic heaters, radiator valves, radiators, boilers, etc. He was doing well, he eventually hired Lewis Cook. Honeywell had an office up the street, and they started setting distributors up and my dad was one of the first. As time evolved, we went from being reps to being wholesale distributors. 


How did you eventually enter the business?


So, me on the other hand, I was like a real jock in high school, I was into football, soccer and track. Then I saw this movie about Jimi Hendrix. I walked into the movie, saw half of it and walked out. I quit every single sport, got a job at McDonald’s two days later, and within four months I bought a Fender Stratocaster and was learning how to play Purple Haze.

When I went off to college, I’m in my early 20’s, I had the hair, I had the clothes, I had this band in Macon, Georgia called the Macon City Blues Breakers, that was my deal. I never went to class, it’s a wonder I got out of college. I was going to be the next Jimi, I thought I was Jimi Hendrix. You know, people would say what’s your name, I’d say my name is Jimi. That’s how I am, when I dive into things, I don’t go halfway, I go all the way.

Then during my senior year, I met this girl, fell in love, and decided I wanted to get married. And you know, start thinking, well, I can’t do music and be married. Okay, it’s time to become a citizen.

Now I’d work every summer in my dad’s office, in the warehouse and stuff like that. I talked to my dad and he invites me to come into business with him, but I told him I didn’t want to come into his business right away, because nobody was going to respect me then. So, he got me a job working for one of his customers who was a big boiler service contractor. I worked for him for about 12 months as a main lead tech, carrying his bag around and learning under him. Then I worked in the Honeywell service department for about six months.

So, I spent about a year-and-a-half with tech stuff, eventually finally joining my dad. I started in the business like everybody else, work in the warehouse, to the counter, to inside sales, but I was chomping at the bit to get an Outside Sales. That’s what I wanted to do.

Finally, after about two years I got my opportunity in Outside Sales, and that was my life for the next 12-13 years. I would get up Monday morning at the crack of dawn, go hit the road, be back Friday night. Again, when I dive into things, I don’t go halfway, I go all the way.  I really got good at sales. I loved it!


What were some products you really killed it with?


We were really big in redistribution, selling to other wholesalers, right? We didn’t do anything with building automation controls, I mean, nothing at all. I remember one day the Johnson Controls guy came in one day and they wanted us to take their product line on, which included the first Metasys System. The deal was that if you took the Metasys System on they give you an extra 10% on all product lines.

So, I went to Lewis Cook, the president at the time, and told him that we really need to take on this product line. He asked me what it was, and I really didn’t know, but the fact that if we take it on we’ll have a 10% advantage over our biggest competitor. I knew we had to do this!

And Lewis, being the smart guy he was, looked at me and says, “Okay, cool. You’re our DDC specialists now.” I’m thinking to myself, well, this will last about six months or whatever. And so, one day they call from the counter, and they say there’s a guy down here who wants to talk about DDC controls. So now I’m like, “oohhh crap, here it comes.”

I walk down to the counter, and there’s this guy who says he wants to talk to me about Metasys. I ask him his name, he says Ted. I say, “Ted I don’t know anything about Metasys,” and he says, “It’s okay. I’ll teach you.”

So, Ted became my mentor, he was a customer, but he taught me about DDC controls. He was kind of this brilliant guy. So, I learned about DDC controls through Ted, and from there it became this huge part of our business.


You mention Ted as a mentor, are there any other influences that stand out that you credit from helping guide your career?


For the most part, I think that people in this industry are absolutely incredible individuals. One of the things early on was that people were willing to share. From the very beginning, whether it was Skip Milton from Honeywell that took me under his wing and taught me about products and how to sell their products, to guys like John Donahue, Pat Marcella, Scott Cross, Rick Jones, there were just some really great people.

So, one of the commonalities in this industry is most people are really willing to help you. Ken Sinclair being one as well. I’ve also learned a lot by watching what you’ve done, you and Brian Turner, you guys came up a little bit after me, but I’ve been impressed by the things that you guys have done in terms of innovation.

I think the lesson I learned through this is that the industry is always changing, and to be successful, you have to always be looking for what’s working. In other words, if you hold on to the way you think it should be, versus the way it actually is, it’s going to cost you. When I say that, you need to look for people that have been around longer, but also younger people that are coming along. I mean, for me, looking at what you and Brian Turner, and some of the younger folks were doing had a huge influence on how I perceive what we need to do with our business.


I think a lot of your success has been due to how open you are to new ideas. I don’t think anybody is scared to come to you with a new idea. It’s been a lot of fun to watch what you’re doing with ControlTrends. Where did the initial, very first idea for that come from?


It began with overhearing different people asking the same questions about where part numbers were on products and repeating other general questions, and I wondered why there weren’t videos for these frequently asked questions.

Then the other thing that was sort of the bane of my time was these sales reps wanting to come and show me product demos. After hearing the same demos and the same questions, over and over again, I finally bought a camera. I figured, at the very least I don’t have to gather a bunch of guys to come watch the live presentations. Some sales reps were reluctant to have their demos recorded, and I made a note of that, if you want to get rid of sales reps just tell them you want to do a video. Many of them won’t come if you ask them to do a video, so I can kill two birds with one stone.

So now I’ve started getting these videos and then I go to my tech guy and ask him what to do with them, and he tells me I have to put them up on a website or YouTube. I got that going and people started watching these videos, and they started going to ControlTrends. I said okay, well this is kind of cool because this kind of provides a service. So, creating and posting these videos is really where ControlTrends got started.

Then, as I was looking into how to appear on search engines. I was told that I needed to start a blog that included these keywords to drive traffic.  The problem was I hated writing, so I recruited a friend of mine from the industry who was an aspiring writer to write the blogs. He was concerned at first to do it because of his position in the business, he didn’t want his name connected to the articles. So, I had the idea to make him an alias as Clint Eastwood and we called the column, “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.” So that’s how the blog took off.


How did the ControlTrends Awards come about then?


Well, one day I’m thinking about all the really incredible people we have in our industry, you know, somebody just retired, and I’m thinking, “Man, this sucks, this guy is just going to get a gold watch and everybody’s going to forget about him.” The more I thought about that, the more people were retiring, and I’m thinking that nobody’s being remembered in this industry. So, I call my writer and I say, let’s do a ControlTrends Awards. I thought I would use these green screens that I had, I would impose Hollywood people over them, we’ll pretend to be in front of a big audience, and it was just going to be this hokey thing. And then this guy who worked for us said, “I bet people would sponsor that, people would want to go to that.” So, you know, we talked to some people like Mark Petock, and some other people, and that’s how the ControlTrends Awards got started, but initially it was just going to start in our warehouse.


We’ve definitely missed the ControlTrends Awards since the pandemic interruptions, but you’re back now, so what does the future look like for you?


When the pandemic hit everybody was just getting zoomed to death. I think one of the things our audience trusts is that we do not waste their attention. So, we stepped away for a couple of years, just because there was nothing new to say. We always provided a great platform for people to introduce new products or concepts or ideas.  We still wanted to have the technical information because we were always good at that. But what tended to be missing in our industry was really valuable content for the sales and marketing people which make up a huge part of our industry.

Moving forward with ControlTrends, I have plans to branch out to focus more on sales and marketing topics, things like leadership for example. I’ve got a podcast series coming up on leadership, we’re going to cover things like how to bring groups of people together. How do you lead? What tips can you give our audience in team building? We already spoke with Joe Tanner from Brody, asking him advice on how to compete in sales today. So those sorts of things are what I’m covering now.

Another change to the podcast and site is that for the first time we are trying to monetize in order to set people up to get maximum exposure. I think it’s going to be great for people that want to advertise. Part of the mission for ControlTrends is going to be to create content that attracts people that are not in our industry, into our industry.


That sounds really exciting, we’ll definitely be looking forward to the future of ControlTrends and ControlTalk Now. Eric, you’ve definitely seen it all in your career, that’s why you’re a legend in the industry. As a legend, what’s life like now as you bask in your legend’s status?


When I was first starting out, and had a young family, unfortunately I was on the road all the time and missed a lot of time with my oldest daughter. Now, with Rob Allen running things really well, that gives my brother and I a chance to step back from the day-to-day responsibilities of the business and frees me up to spend more time with my family now. I have a lot more time to spend with my two youngest children, Evelyn and Axel. Being able to run ControlsTrends online, I’m at home more, so when my kids get up in the morning I put them on the bus, when they get home, I get them off the bus. So, life is very good for me right now.