Define, Nurture Company Culture

by lbanyay@solagroup.com

Title: President

Year Founded: 1989

Number of Team Members: 11

Industry involvement (memberships, including Remodelers Advantage; designations; certifications, etc.): Remodelers Advantage, NARI, Certified Remodeler, Certified Aging in Place Specialist

 

What would be your ideal project to complete?  

My ideal project is one where we are retained by a homeowner to address a significant challenge with the current function, flow and aesthetics of their home and provided the unfettered freedom to explore myriad options to provide the best result. Nothing provides me greater satisfaction than to see our team transform a home and create a raving fan, with limited involvement from me. I have a harder time getting excited about jobs where we are asked to implement a pre-determined solution. Fortunately, the majority of our projects fit in the former category as opposed to the latter. As a result, I get to complete my ideal project many times each year!

 

What is the best advice you’ve received in your career?

Unless you actively define and nurture the culture of your company, the employees will do it for you and, ultimately, you may end up with a company where you no longer want to work. (This came out of an RA conference many years ago focused on company culture.)

 

When and why did you join Remodelers Advantage?

We joined Remodelers Advantage 20 years ago as part of a company goal of achieving rapid, but profitable growth. We have stayed because the information and insights we receive from both RA and the companies in our peer group continue to provide great benefit.

 

What has been the most important lesson you’ve taken away from your peers at Remodelers Advantage?

The single biggest limitation on the company’s success is my own “head trash.” Whatever reason I have for why something another company is doing successfully in their market will not work in mine, I am wrong. Indeed, some of the most dramatic, positive changes in my company are a direct result of simply trying something I learned from another RA member and finding out that it works.   

 

If you could change one thing about the remodeling industry, what would it be?

The proverbial “free estimate.” Architects and designers get paid for their creativity. Engineers get paid for their technical knowledge. Yet, contractors are asked to provide their expertise for free and most are doing it.  Even companies that advertise themselves as design-build firms are putting together preliminary designs and estimates for free. I am unable to think of another profession that provides as much information free-of-charge as we do in this industry. Perhaps this is why the remodeling industry has a horrible reputation for professionalism. If companies aren’t acting like professionals at the start of a project, is it realistic to expect them to start acting like professionals thereafter?

 

How has your business changed since weathering the economic downturn?  

We have become much more efficient – applying the lessons learned during the economic downturn, when profitability meant continually reinventing the company to handle smaller jobs, longer sales cycles, stiffer competition, and general uncertainty. Even as business has picked up, we have focused on maintaining a streamlined organization. More administrative functions are being outsourced, a lot of attention continues to be directed at cost control, and we are limiting company growth despite the favorable environment.  Finally, we have changed the sales process to adjust to a more reluctant buyer.

 

If you could have a 30-minute conversation with any business leader in the country — to pick their brain for business ideas, who would it be?

Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh. While I like to think that we provide a much better experience to our clients than any of our competitors as a direct result of our company culture, Mr Hsieh has taken the concept of company culture and customer satisfaction to a whole new level in a very large, commodity based business.

 

As you were growing up, what did you want to be?

From a very young age, I wanted to be a pilot. My fascination with flight drew me to study Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering in college and, as a member of Air Force ROTC, I actually got picked for pilot training – subject to a qualifying physical. Unfortunately, my eyesight was already less than 20/20, so I lost the slot and joined the officer corps as a weapons test engineer. In this position, I worked with pilots every day, but never fulfilled the dream of being one.

 

What is your most treasured possession?

While I enjoy material possessions, my most treasured possession is vacation time with my family. Despite my best efforts, I still have difficulty letting go at the end of a work day. However, let me have an extended vacation with the family and I can let it all go.

 

What motivates you every day?

The interaction with my team and our clients. I have great employees, trades and clients that I get to work with every day. To the extent that the challenges, issues and tasks I deal with every day require me to interact with this fine group of people, I couldn’t ask for anything more.

 

Right now, what is your focus as a remodeler — more growth or steady revenue at greater profitability? Please explain.

Steady revenue at greater profitability. After being put in the position of having to make significant staff reductions as a result of the economic downturn just to continue operating in the black, I’m not anxious to return to growth mode. It is happening naturally with larger average project sizes, but we are using current staffing to perform the work and improve profitability.

 

 

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