The Official Publication
of the Mason Contractors
Association of America
Contractor Tip of the Month
Hard Times Build Character and Develop Survival Skills
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all we had to do to build a successful business is work hard? While I do believe that the harder you work, the luckier you will get, every business and its people will encounter plenty of hard times along the way. Although it doesn’t feel like it at the time, those challenges are all part of the game of business and exactly what the doctor ordered to build the character and survival skills you need to survive long term.
Have you ever had an employee come to work for your company with the idea that, because you have been in business so long, you are flush with cash, and your company just sails along through beautiful waters? Then, once he finds out how tough you have to dig every day to survive, he wonders what he got himself into. Some just can’t endure the rough times and will run like scared rabbits for the door! Luckily, others stay, even in the hardest of times. I guess some people don’t believe there are actual day-to-day struggles a business faces that may cause it to fail. Well, these people are living in a different world than the one that my companies compete in! In my world, I need and look for survivors.
We brought in a CFO who left a really good job to join our team in 2008. Wow, was timing bad for him! As soon as he arrived, the bottom dropped out of the construction market, which every company I own was centered around. With his understanding of numbers, I am sure he could see that we were bleeding like a pig with his throat cut. I often worried that he may throw up his hands, say “uncle,” and leave, because this guy had not had a chance to experience any good times with us.
During his first three years, we had to make tremendous changes and cuts, some I never thought I would do, but it was all about mere survival. During that time, he never wavered though, worked even harder to prove to the financial people that our company would survive when others in our industry weren’t, and I’m sure he lost some sleep (but probably not as much as I did). Things are a little better now, but not without the help of him and the rest of the management team who stood by my side. If I would not have experienced it firsthand, I would never believe the character this has built into my CFO and the managers who dug in their heels and stayed the course with me. And, the best part of all, I believe they are now equipped with survival skills.
The only way a football team has a winning season is through tremendous pain during training and daily workouts. For great employees, managers and owners, these painful daily workouts are no different than athletes. They are just more mental than physical effort to get through the painful times. In either case, those that work the hardest, and can endure the most pain, will obtain character and survival skills it takes to develop a winning team.
When you put it all together, it makes sense that most businesses don’t survive long term. According to the Small Business Administration, only one-third of family-owned businesses survive the transition from the first to the second generation. If you happen to survive that phase, according to the Family Firm Institute, only 12 percent of family-owned businesses stay viable into the third generation, and only 3 percent are alive at the fourth-generation level and beyond. I believe a large part of these slim success rates is due to the successors not having to endure the hard times that Dad or Grandpa did. Therefore, due to the blood, sweat and tears already shed, along with the equity already being in place, when hard times come, the successors don’t know what to do as they didn’t personally have to work through the lean years to learn true survival skills.
So, remember this, your business needs those who believe in you, regardless of how hard times get. If they don’t want to deal with the hard times that are present daily or sure to be coming, then you are alone. You just don’t know it yet. Search within your organization (and outside it, if they are not within) to find not only the best qualified people to help you succeed, but those that believe in you regardless of how hard things seem during those daily workouts. These people will build character and develop the survival skills it takes for a company to survive long term.