Case Studies

Mark Radtke – The Cincinnati Air Conditioning Co.

A cool customer at work and at play

You could say that Mark Radtke is one driven man when it comes to his professional and personal interests.

For the former, there’s The Cincinnati Air Conditioning Co., where he’s the third-generation owner and chief executive officer. On the latter, there’s the nonprofit Salty Dog Museum, which he co-founded and operates in nearby Shandon, Ohio, with longtime buddy and fellow antique auto fanatic Ron Miller.

While the two entities wouldn’t seem to complement each other, Radtke says each fulfills a different need.

“I need my outlets,” he tells Blueprint as another sultry summer proceeds in Southeast Ohio, one that wouldn’t seem to allow an HVAC boss much time for play.

To be sure, the museum can be visited by appointment only and on weekends, with most of Radtke’s time spent on his company, where the to-do list is packed with, among other Cincy projects, three assisted-living facilities, a specialty hotel and high-end apartment complex where units rent for $8,500 a month. Then there have been Radtke’s crews tackling big-ticket work in other parts of Ohio as well as in the company’s four other primary states—Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Indiana—and wherever else they’ve nurtured commercial and industrial clientele.

“We do travel for local customers if they’ve got interest in other states,” Radtke says. “We recently outfitted a Florida nursing home and have commercial customers in Connecticut and Austin, Texas.”

And it’s much more than standard air conditioning that this company provides. Since its 1938 founding by Arthur Radtke, The Cincinnati Air Conditioning Co., has expanded to where the current boss says it’s a go-to for AC, process piping, commercial refrigeration and heating—and one entrusted to handle some very unconventional projects and design-builds.

Down to a science

That’s included helping make sense of some sad news on the horse-racing front, what with an alarming spate of animals dying or being euthanized at Churchill Downs and other locales. According to a PBS documentary, more than 901 thoroughbreds died in 2022, including seven in the run-up to last year’s Kentucky Derby.

But at least there’s a facility at the University of Kentucky, the Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center, where researchers can probe horse deaths as well as those of other animals, including the largest specimens from zoos. Such a facility needs the same climate control as a morgue, and The Cincinnati Air Conditioning Co., which did the original cooling and piping, was called again a few years ago to provide new systems for a massive expansion.

“You need a very specialized system for this, as you do for any kind of biomedical or scientific research,” Radtke explains. “It’s tragic that so many horses are dying, but at least we’re able to help the university determine the causes.”

His company has also indirectly helped biosciences advancement through its servicing of multiple hospitals and research facilities. Its wholly-owned subsidiary, Thermolinear, specializes in the design and installation of customized heating, AC and refrigeration. As Radtke explains, the specialists in this unit can design an environmental room, control system or complete conditioning system to meet the most specialized need. Training and education are ongoing; he says the Thermolinear crews keep enhancing their skills, as does everyone at Cincy AC.

“Our employees feel heard and valued,” Radtke says. “That allows them to feel connected to their work, which results in more efficient and better installations.”

A legacy sustained

In some afterlife, Arthur Radtke surely would be proud, his grandson goes on to say. Persistency paid off, as that man endured two failures in the appliances industry, but that didn’t stop him from obsessing with the relatively new means for air conditioning. Arthur taking on a partner, William Hinsch, he founded The Cincinnati Air Conditioning Co. as a distributor of Carrier products.

“I don’t think my grandfather knew which end of a screwdriver was what,” the present-day boss says with a laugh. “But I liken him to (Ronald) Reagan. He surrounded himself with good people, specialists in their own areas.”

Carl Radtke, the second-generation boss, most certainly knew both ends of a screwdriver, he a graduate of the University of Cincinnati’s College of Engineering and learning his dad’s business literally from the ground up. On his watch, the company grew and grew, relocating a couple of times for larger space and expanding its clientele.

When Carl retired in 1994, the reins were passed to Mark, who’s sustained the legacy. All the better, he says, that the healthy company allows him some time, limited as it may be, to devote to the Salty Dog Museum and its collection of 56 vintage automobiles and fire trucks.

At the wheel

In some way, shape or form, Radtke says he’s had antique cars since he was 14, the first being a 1929 Model A that came in 25 baskets of parts. Though lacking any formal classes in restoration, he assembled that vehicle with help from his two brothers.

Not only did Radtke never outgrow this interest, he let it fester to where he and Miller assembled a race car that, with the help of a diminutive driver, set speed records at Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats in 2008, 2010 and 2012. After that last race, Miller suggested they open their own museum to display their then-40 vehicles.

So, they did, with assistance from a lawyer well-versed in nonprofits.

“We operate on the same model as most churches, but without a priest or minister,” Radtke says, explaining that $7 donations are welcome but not mandatory. “As a nonprofit, we’re exempt from taxes and can accept gifts in exchange for a tax deduction.”

It’s also too popular for Radtke to oversee on a part-time basis, hence the limited hours. But there’s something about being around those vehicles, some of which predate Radtke’s business, that make this extracurricular activity so rewarding in the intangible sense. And as long as The Cincinnati Air Conditioning Co. thrives, there are tangible rewards. Homelife seems very agreeable as well on the Indiana farm he shares with Cynthia Eddy, his wife of 40 years, and a few cats and dogs.

“She’s a retired scientist from Procter & Gamble, one of our clients,” Radtke says. “We’ve no kids but supplement our lives with hobbies. Hers is travel, and mine is antique cars.”

View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. VIII 2023 Edition here.

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