A conversation with DeeAnne Fahnestock

10/27/2013 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:19 AM

DeeAnne Fahnestock didn’t grow up dreaming of a career.

“I really didn’t think about one back then,” she said. “I don’t know that I had a plan.”

She was content as a homemaker with two children. Then her husband, George Fahnestock of Fahnestock Plumbing, HVAC & Electric, committed suicide in 2010.

“It was extremely difficult to get through that,” she said. “I used that time to try and heal myself and my kids and did my best, you know, to get up every day and keep things as normal as possible.”

George Fahnestock’s son, Eric, took over the company.

In the latter half of 2011, DeeAnne Fahnestock said that for various reasons she decided she was going to step in. Her former stepson left the company, and she took over. It was a huge change for her.

“I was always the shadow with George,” Fahnestock said. “I always stayed in the background, and I was fine with that.”

It wasn’t an easy time when she was suddenly in the forefront.

“The transition from George to Eric and then from Eric to me … just the whole process was very difficult for all of us,” Fahnestock said. “The economy was really bad in 2010, and George was the driving force of our business. … It was a very difficult time, I know, for Eric to have to fill George’s shoes.”

Today, the business has 85 employees. Though she has a general manager who runs day-to-day operations, Fahnestock also goes into work each day.

“We are doing better now than we have done for several years,” she said. “Part of it is the economy. Our new … construction has just gone crazy, and we’re very thankful for that. We’re moving forward. We’re making great strides in becoming a better, stronger company. … I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to the glory days of the early 2000s.”

Fahnestock starts each day with an hour of prayer.

“I get up every morning and ask God to help me through the day, and before I go to bed at night, I say, ‘Thank you,’ ” she said. “That means if I have a 7 o’clock, I get up at 4:30. … Things just seem to go better.”

How did you know where to begin when you took over the company?

My advisers were very helpful. … I had (three) very wise businessmen who were advising me at the time. Gary Austerman, who’s also my attorney. And a family friend, Kevin Mullen. … And Dave Sproul also. Those three guys were with me every step of the way since I lost George. … They’re still with me today. I’m not calling as frequently as I used to, but there for a while I called them every day to help me out. I really was not prepared to come into the company. I really didn’t see myself ever working within the company.

Did you and George use to talk business much?

Not too much. But I was around, you know. And I listened, and I was with him everywhere he went, and I guess I picked up what I needed to know through the years. I still reach back there and pull up those conversations. I just feel like I have an innate sense of how he would have done things or wanted things done.

What’s a typical day for you?

A typical day, I come in and talk to the employees, and I’ll write thank you notes to our customers. Sometimes toward the end of the week I’ll take a round of cookies to our builders. … I’ve learned to dispatch calls. The girls have trained me. … I’ve learned how to process invoices. I’ve walked new housing construction with our new housing supervisor. Where I feel like I might be needed, I work in those areas. I tried to even learn load calculations, but that was completely out of my brain capacity.

It’s hard to picture George ever delivering cookies.

It’s the woman’s touch. It works great. I’ve gotten very good response from doing that.

What have been your biggest hurdles at work?

Just learning. There are some days I feel like I’m drinking … from a fire hydrant. I’m just trying to soak up as much as I can. … I’ve got my arms around it now. I’m starting to understand the numbers. If I have a problem … I have learned to not be shy about asking for help.

Is the company doing better than when George died?

Yes. The economy has helped out a lot. I can’t attribute it to myself. I have to attribute it to the employees who have continued to work the hardest that they’ve ever done. I’m so grateful. … I attribute it to our loyal customers and our vendors and just our community as a whole. I just feel very much supported by this community, and I’m very grateful.

Do you envision a time when you can take less of a daily role at the business?

That will be the ultimate goal. When that will be, I’m not sure. I think I probably have a voice in suicide prevention. That’s something that I’ve dabbled with in thought and prayer. … I’ve joined Toastmasters to become a better speaker. And I’m taking some leadership classes at WSU.

What is it like doing all of this as a single parent?

Not just a single parent, but an only parent. It’s been a balancing act. It really has. At the time of George’s death, my son, it was a couple of weeks before he turned 17, and my daughter was 14. I had two years after George’s death to stay and pull us together. After I accepted the circumstances and surrendered them to God … things just fell into place for me. I feel like God has a reason for where I’m at, and I’m here to do his will.

Anything keep you up at night?

No. I am so totally tired when I get home.

What’s one thing few people know about you?

Bonnie Bing was my gym teacher seventh, eighth and ninth grade, and not only that, I played her in tennis one time, and I beat her.

Do you really want to put that in print and risk angering Bonnie?

No, I do not want Bonnie mad at me. … Strike that last comment.

You have a favorite inspiring book, right?

“Creating Magic” by Lee Cockerell. He is the CEO of the Disney World Resorts, and it’s just a very inspiring story about someone who’s pulled himself up from basically not much and has revamped and put a business strategy in place that obviously works for them.

Do you have a book in you?

I do, yeah. Definitely some day when the timing’s right.

What will it be about?

My journey.

Is it a positive story?

Absolutely. It’ll be an uplifting story. It will be a … story of faith.

How do you think George would feel about the job you’re doing?

Oh, my God. I feel his presence always. I think he’s very proud of how far I’ve come. And how far his kids have come. I’ve gone to his grave site before and poured my heart out. What do I do here? What am I supposed to do about this?

I just feel like God is with me and has carried me through this. He’s going to see me through if I’m willing. And I’m willing.

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