Getting Ready For the New Millennium – 1999
Well it is now 1999 and the first 10 years went by very fast. I can’t believe we are in year 11, and we have actually made it this long in business. Starting a business from scratch is tough for anyone and as I thought in 1999 and still today, staying in business is a blessing every day. I am sure this is true for any business, but all I know is construction. Construction is one of those businesses that can suddenly go bad for many reasons. All it takes is for one bad sub-contractor to belly up on you or you have a bad estimate or poor project management or field staff. The owner may have taken too much risk or gotten out of their area of expertise and you will be out of business quickly. Even though my dream in 1999 was to have a long term successful business, I am also a realist about how easy it could all be over for me in business. All it takes is one bad job. I can admit now as an entrepreneur, you never stop thinking and questioning yourself about how to make your business better and become a leader. I am always thinking about the business, even on vacation, taking a break, being outdoors or supposedly relaxing, my mind always go back to the business. So if you want to be able to rest on vacation, in the evening, or weekends, don’t become an entrepreneur, because you really never rest your mind. I am always thinking about how to be better. Now in 1999 everyone was preparing for the new millennium, the year 2000.
People were really getting worried about the new millennium. Everyone thought the computers were going to crash because the software was not designed to switch to the year 2000. Everyone believed we were going to lose all of our documents, and of course the world was going to end. Everybody was spending money getting ready for Y2K or as some called it the millennium bug. Businesses were doing everything and spending plenty of money getting ready for the year 2000. The IT profession enjoyed the panic of 1999, and they made a lot of money preparing everyone’s computer systems.
By 1999, we had been awarded and completed single projects worth over $10,000,000 in value per project, and doing more projects between $5,000,000 and $10,000,000 in value. I always had a personal rule and this rule probably actually stunted my business growth. I would not bid on projects at a certain size until I really felt we could build it and build it well. We were probably ready 2 to 3 years earlier, before I would increase the size of the projects we would chase. I had a horrible fear of failure and being an embarrassment. I still don’t know the people I was worried about being an embarrassment to, but to me I just couldn’t fail. I understand making mistakes, but I just don’t like to fail. I don’t like losing, but that is different than failure to me. We lose 95% of the projects we chase, and that is part of the business, but to be a failure seems like something people point at you and say he failed, weird I know, but it is me. I probably had a fear of people saying, I knew he couldn’t do it. I don’t know why I feel this way, and I hate using being a sexual abuse survivor and the impact it had on my self-esteem as an excuse, because I believe I am still giving the abuser power over me, so it takes me longer to feel comfortable about taking risk and not looking at failure as something bad. I always tell people only two things can happen if you try, either you make or you don’t, but at least you tried. Trying and giving your best is what is important to me. I have to remind myself of that often when taking calculated risk. I realized also by 1999 how conservative I am as a business person. I watch every penny, triple check everything I do, and I don’t take much risk that I don’t really feel 90% sure we can have a positive outcome on the project. I have probably lost some great people over the years because of my ultra-conservatism to risk in business and I know some people have left because I require a person to have the desire and work ethics to be the best and not accept being average as ok. I know we could have had offices in other states and done very well, but my conservatism and probably some fear of failure held me back.
In 1999 we were still working hard to win new clients and being squeezed to always reduce cost by clients. One thing I learned after 1999 is the lowest bid from a subcontractor is not always the best qualified subcontractor and might not have the entire project scoped included in their price that they need, but on bid day you have to make quick decisions. An excellent subcontractor must have your commitment to safety, schedule and quality. As a general contractor I learned no one asked who designed the building or what subcontractors were on the projects when there is a problem on a project, they only remember the general contractor when there is a problem. The two things I still worry about on every project is coming out the ground correctly and no roof leaks. Unfortunately in 1999, we had a couple of projects where we had a really poor roofing sub and we spent a lot of money and reputation fixing the mess they left us. After 1999 I have been relentless on getting great roofing subs because they can make or break a job. Everything else can be great, but if a roof leaks, that is all everyone remembers. Also we learned that we had to do a better job educating the client on proper maintenance of their systems and roofs. We learned after 1999 to truly make sure the client understands and does the proper maintenance on their facility. A building is like anything else that requires service; if it isn’t serviced properly it will break or have problems that could have been easily prevented. Being a general contractor is a very tough business and requires thick skin and constant debriefing and using lessons learned to improve. The general contractor takes 100% risk for the entire building of the project. We are responsible for every subcontractor, vendor, and craftsperson and field staff. We have to manage, lead and deliver a great final product. The general contractor has to have someone that is on staff that understands every trade and stays up to speed on all of the building laws and changes in construction.
In 1999, I was still spending a lot of time on our job sites, learning more and watching the construction process. A lot of people underestimate how much I study and keep learning about the construction profession and people. I was quickly learning as our projects grew how much we had to keep improving our risk management and realize people will take your kindness for weakness and beat you if they can. That is still today one of the parts of business I dislike, how someone can smile in your face and say trust me, while constantly trying to figure out how to beat you. As the young folks say, trying to play you for stupid.
In 1999 we had completed the Philips Arena, a couple of big churches, a Performing Arts Center, a library, a school addition and we were doing more work out of town.
My family was growing up and Karla and I were beginning to get a little more time together after work and the kids. I had gone 6 years without panic attacks, but I still had my moments of believing I deserved my success, because my mindset was nothing good was going to ever happen to me because of my childhood trauma. One thing I have come to grips with in surviving my childhood trauma, and suffering from PTSD, and having panic attacks, and that is, I will always have to push myself through the fear of it all. I will always be thankful that even though the horror my childhood exist in my mind, I am blessed with a heart of joy that loves life, my family my profession and people. I love to laugh and make others laugh, and often people take that as a person that is not serious. Trust me; I am more serious about life and business than most people realize. I just choose to not let looking or acting serious consume me or remove my joy.
I hope you are enjoying the journey of my life and celebrating 25 years in business.
Take care and keep going for your dreams and don’t let your past stop you from enjoying life. Life is great so laugh each day. When you can, have that hardy laugh that makes your stomach hurt and tears come out of your eyes, and every time you think about it, you laugh again. Now that is laughter.
See you next week.
As a special little treat so you can laugh at me, when you are bored, watch the youtube video I put together of my wife and I travels for 2012. November 27, 2012 was our 30th wedding anniversary and we decided to celebrate all year and take trips at different times of the year around the country, and even a few islands. We had a blast. The first song is performed by my daughter from a musical she did in 2009, track 2 and 3 are by a young man that is our neighbor and working on his music career named William davenport and the last song I did in 2010 playing on garage band on my imac. I did the song without writing down any words and did it in one take. I said whatever came to my heart about my wife. I hope you enjoy the pictures and music. Track 4 is by a professional singer.