Part Three – Ron Pestone
You only need two more people to make the nuecleus of a good small contracting firm. A chief engineer and a head field supervisor.
In mechanical and electrical contracting one of the most important individuals you can hire is the layout engineer. An individual who can deliver to the field a dimensioned installation drawing that has consolidated and simplified the installation. That has found the shortest and cleverest routes for the work and has eliminated as many of the hits as humanly possible. With so much of the thinking and planning of the installation already done the foreman now has the tools in his hands to do what he does best, run the installation and push it in as fast as possible. With the right drawings in his hands a foreman can really increase production and save costly mistakes. In today’s world I am of the opinion that any engineer you hire should be well versed in BIM. It makes coordination so much simpler and safer. You can change anything in split seconds on the computer screen trying over and over to get the most profitable installation in for your company and at the same time cooperating with the other trades so everybody profits including the owner who gets a clean plan and spec job installed. In years to come BIM will be the only way large installations will be done. I have been involved in BIM jobs and once you get over your fear of it you will become a true decuple of if. It really is a great aid.
Do not forget your engineer at bonus time, you will never be sorry. Spend some time with him, look over the plans he is working on and discuss various options you see. Too often engineers are taken for granted and the only time they come to light is when a problem arises in the installation they have drawn. But remember this, when that job comes in on or under the estimated hours your layout engineer is a big part of that. Like any other person you hire look for the individual who can run his own estimating department for the company if you are successful.
In my opinion you now come to the most important individual you hire after you hang up your tool belt, the foreman. The foreman is the individual charged with making your labor come in on or under the estimated hours. He is your field general and in the field his word is law. I can write for days about foremen and in the future will devote whole posts about them and their importance. Foremen make the difference. Without good foremen no company can survive. In all the years I have been involved in the business, no matter how busy I was or what I was involved with, when a foreman called I took the call and if that meant a whole room full of people had to sit and wait until I finished the call, so be it. Never forget it all happens out in the field. You can protect the money in the office but it’s in the field where it’s made. I cannot say enough about these guys, if you do not love them and what they do you should find another line of work.
The first foreman you hire is extremely important. He must be knowledgeable in the trade, able to handle men, sure of himself, not afraid to mix it up if he has to and above all else totally loyal to you and the company. It is essential that he has long ago given up membership in the boys club. He is a leader, not one of the boys. Big step for anyone who has grown up in the field. Some never make it.
You need to find someone that has the ability to eventually become your superintendent. You might not get him as your first foreman hire but by the time you have hired your third foreman you need to have found the one who can step into the superintendent shoes. If you feel you might have made a mistake in any of your hires let them go and put another guy in his place. Mediocre foremen only get worse so cut your losses and let him go.
In my opinion any foreman or superintendent who brings in a successful job is well worth the bonus you give him at the end of the year. That is as long as they understand the bonus was given strictly on the basis of how the job or jobs finished. It’s called sharing the profits and it is a g good thing to do. History has taught us that in the end pigs get slaughtered.
With this group you can produce multiple jobs at the same time as long as you perform the duties of the project manager on each of the jobs. I think it is a major mistake made by small companies that start growing when the principal of the firm starts putting on project managers before he has set the tone by his own actions on what he expects of a project manager. With the principal of the firm acting as the project manager he is deeply involved in every job he is handling. Everyone working for him knows what he expects. They all experience his knowledge and style first hand.
When he has everything running to his standards and the work load increases he is then ready and only then ready to hire his first project manager. Like the foreman I will dedicate future posts to this key position. Project managers are the business arm of the company. They make sure the foreman has everything he needs in tools, material and equipment to efficiently install the installation. That all his foremen’s questions have been answered concerning the installation. He has daily contact with of owner or the owner’s representatives on his jobs and makes sure everything runs smoothly. He writes the RFI’s and change orders and makes sure only approved materials and equipment are delivered to the site when it needed. He pitches in when estimating or purchasing needs it and he is not afraid to lug some of the stuff the foreman needs to the job himself. Above all else he projects a positive and capable image of himself and the company to all he comes in contact with. If he is not totally loyal you do not need him.
It is my strong suggestion that any project manager you hire in the early days spend some serious time tagging along with you watching how you handle your jobs. He needs to know what is expected of him at all times. When you give him his own job to manage, he is to report to you who will now be acting as the project executive. Every major decision he makes you need to be aware of and you need to continually instruct and monitor him until he knows in his bones what in your eyes makes a good project manager. Anyone that cannot live up to the standards you have set for yourself and your project managers you need to get rid of. Some people just do not have it in them to become good project managers and you need to do yourself and him a favor explaining to him he needs to find a different line of work. Like all your other key people look for a project manager who can eventually become your project executive and if you are really successful your vice president of project management. Also like all your other key people do not forget about him at bonus time. Good project managers make a major difference and he is a major component in any successful job. Bonuses go a long way in keeping a team running at top capacity. In the end it is really an inexpensive method of guaranteeing your company’s success.
Now you have your nucleus of your company. You can add and subdivide into as many slots and positions as you want as you grow but as I see it this is the foundation of any good subcontracting firm. Remember as you go, hire slowly and smart. When you have your nucleus start writing down what and how each position is performed and what is expected and the responsibilities are. In the end this will be the basis of your company’s operating manual. And in the end if you become big enough to need an operating manual you have really made it.