A Personal Pursuit
Total Elevator Service reinforces old-school skills and service
A family tragedy, an innate mechanical aptitude and a lifelong interest in entrepreneurship are essential elements of Pat Esposito the man, the expert elevator mechanic and the Owner of Plainfield, Illinois-based Total Elevator Service.
Esposito was seemingly born into the elevator business. His mother was the office manager of U.S. Elevator Corporation (now part of ThyssenKrupp) in the 1970s. His oldest brother earned his elevator mechanic license by the time he was 20. Tragically, the young elevator mechanic died when he fell 10 stories in an elevator shaft at just 22 years old. Esposito would take up his brother’s professional mantle a few years later, earning his elevator certification and joining the local elevator constructor union. He worked for a Chicago-based elevator company for the next 34 years, working diligently to honor his brother’s death through excellence.
Esposito recalls those early days. “A mechanic told me once that if you want to be good at this industry, you have to do it all: assemble, install, maintain, repair and replace elevators and associated chairlifts, escalators and moving walkways. That’s what I set out to do,” he says.
Over the years, he spent considerable time, both paid and unpaid, learning the intricacies of elevators. “I’d work for free,” he says. “I’d go in on weekends and hang with the top mechanics while they worked so I could learn more.”
That dedication and commitment to knowledge expanded professional opportunities. After a decade with the company, he became the company’s troubleshooter.
A falling out with the owner of the company in 2013 would upend Esposito’s professional path—and resurrect his desire to open his own business. “Ironically, I was let go because he believed I was starting my own company, which at the time was not in my plans. Turns out, the clash would be the spark I needed to fulfill my dreams of business ownership,” he says.
Fire Doors to Elevator Cores
Esposito would spend some time gathering resources over the next year, including taking on bricklaying jobs and opening a company that installed and maintained rolling insulated fire doors.
In 2014, Esposito, along with his friend and partner, founded what was then known as Total Elevator Company, with the money saved from other pursuits. He bought a box truck and set up office in his kitchen for the first year. “I spent some time visiting previous customers to let them know that I opened my own company. Many of them signed on with maintenance contracts right away since I’d been their service technician for years prior, so we had a decent start to the business. And through word-of-mouth, we grew from there,” Esposito says.
About a year later, Esposito rented a small office in Naperville, Illinois, while keeping tools and parts in his garage.
As the company’s customer base grew, so did the need for more space and additional equipment. He bought the warehouse and office building on Clow Creek Road in Plainfield, along with his first forklift truck in 2016. By 2019, Esposito bought out his partner, becoming sole Owner, and changed the name to Total Elevator Service, providing services to commercial customers in Chicago and surrounding areas.
Beyond the Diagnostic Screen
From the motor and speed governor to the control and safety system, elevators can be complex mechanical systems. To become an elevator mechanic, individuals must complete a four-year apprenticeship that includes technical instruction in math, physics, electrical theory and electronics, and 2,000 hours of on-the-job training. The position requires physical strength to lift mechanical systems and an eye for detail and critical thinking.
Esposito recalls one of his earlier jobs at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. He and his team were contracted to improve the mechanical system on a new train line coming into the airport from the city and suburbs.
“The distance between the terminals added some logistical challenges, and cathodic protection was new at the time,” he says, alluding to a technique used to prevent corrosion and related damage to metal surfaces within an elevator shaft. “Our challenge was to combine the solid-state technology with old relay logic,” he adds. “It was all well worth the challenge, and separated the true elevator mechanics from the amateurs.”
It’s an ever-evolving system that has narrowed mechanic skill sets in recent years, a trend Esposito believes is detrimental to quality workmanship. He says, “It used to be that an apprentice was trained across all aspects of the business—two years in construction, two years in service, two years in maintenance, etc., on every type of elevator unit, proprietary and nonproprietary. That’s just not the case anymore—too many mechanics are specialized on one manufacturer’s piece of equipment, or are only able to read the computer diagnostic output. If there is a problem, they have to schedule another individual to resolve the problem. I expect more of my team.”
Esposito freely admits to having an old-school perspective on both the care of his customers and the training of his apprentices and mechanics. “Training never stops for me or my team. I’m still learning because the mechanics of these systems are continually changing,” he says. Three apprentices (selected from 90 applicants) are currently mentoring with him and his team this year.
His customer care emphasis is evident with his mechanics’ schedules. Where some elevator companies might have one mechanic maintain 200 units along a route, Esposito takes a more personal approach. “I try to have one mechanic responsible for no more than 100 units, so that the individual has time to properly evaluate, test, repair and maintain the units as needed,” he says. “Our goal is to minimize shutdown time and always pass biannual fire department inspections. And if there is a problem, our response time is typically within an hour.”
Over the last six years, Total Elevator Service has realized measured growth—an intentional restrained approach learned through experience. “A few years ago, we had 15-20 mechanics and almost 1,000 units and it got too hectic. I didn’t feel that we could provide the quality service that I demand,” Esposito explains.
Today, the company comprises only 12 people, with more than half working in the field as elevator apprentices and mechanics.
Recent projects include a 10-story modification in Evanston, Illinois, that required the replacement of two controllers and a 12-story modification that required the installation of two new motors. Esposito says, “Every job is unique; no two are quite the same on a mod. Somebody wants something different or job conditions call for different equipment—that’s what makes the job interesting and fun!”
The company also has a number of repair and maintenance contracts for school districts and libraries in the Chicago area.
Given Esposito’s history with his brother’s death, safety is an integral part of every discussion. “I know firsthand what it feels like to have someone not come home from work. I’m determined that will never happen with my team,” he states. He reinforces that commitment through action. He’s still very active in the field, handling troubleshooting calls and performing regular quality checks after a repair or maintenance. “I stay involved in our day-to-day work a lot to make sure we’re delivering the kind of service we’ve promised,” Esposito adds.
That mindset translates to his customers as well. He says, “If you ride one of our elevators, we will make sure it’s safe. I reinforce maintenance checks for every job.”