WHEN TO WEAR A SUIT AND TIE – PART 2
By Ron Pestone
Behaving and dressing like a winner gives confidence and for someone to sign you they need all the confidence in you they can get. When I started in business I refused to wear anything but my work boots and jeans. In fact I got married in boots and jeans and for me they were part of my identity. I knew how to put pipe in and put together mechanical systems, what else could anybody want in a contractor. In my heart of hearts I felt if they needed a penguin to make themselves feel comfortable let them go to the zoo. So I fought it.
All I ever thought about was the work. Sign em up, push them out and make a profit. Along the way many things changed. Bar graphs were replaced by CPM schedules. Primavera scheduling experts were bought in. Timberline moved into accounting. A Certified public accountant was bought in to produce certified statements for my bonding and banking. I started spending serious time with my insurance man and attorney. And all the time my company grew and grew. It was getting tougher and tougher to close a deal with a new client in my work boots and jeans. Some of the guys I sat with had white shirts so white and crisp they looked like they would crack if touched.
A young successful Manhattan attorney who specialized in construction law I had gotten to know casually made the suggestion that I might want to consider putting a suit and tie on when I was doing business. I got a little agitated, which I am know to do and barked, “Give me one good reason why.” And he barked back, “Because it gives you an advantage. You are now on an even playing field.”
We had a long discussion about it over drinks in some watering hole in Manhattan. He in his three piece suit and gold pocket watch and chain and me in my work boots and jeans.
What I got out of it all is that no matter what you do for a living there is a uniform for it. You wear the uniform and you belong without it you’re an outsider who has to fight your way in. And after the fight if you are convincing and lucky you might end up in the same place as if you had walked in with the uniform.
Policemen, firemen, judges, politicians. Professors, football players, cheerleaders and yes contractors all have uniforms. The list is endless. There are definitely dos and don’ts for each uniform.
You ever see a judge in shorts and a tee shirt on the bench? Or a football player in a tutu? You get the picture. Do yourself a favor and suit up to win. Because there is nothing like winning. As the commercial says, “It’s priceless”.
So when do you suit up? You suit up when you take your tool belt off. When you go to a clients office or to anybodys office you are doing business with. At industry functions, when meeting your attorney, accountant, banker or insurance broker, in short all the time. You need to suit up early and stay suited up because now you are a businessman.
Now there are all kinds of variations in the suiting up. When I visit the job I leave my jacket in the car, roll up my sleeves and walk the job with my project manager and foremen. This is not the cook’s tour, I want to see everything. The good as well as the bad. I always carry in my car a pair of work boots if it the site looks muddy I make the quick change.
In the office I keep the tie on until after hours. If I am out to close I dress to close.
All this can bring on some startling revelations some of which happen so gradually you never feel them. You’re just you and your just going about your business. Then one day its like getting hit with a sledge hammer. I know it happened to me.
Years had passed since I had put on my first business suit and I was starting to grey, which I always considered better than going bald. After I parked my car in one of those garages in Manhattan you need to sign mortgage papers in order to pay I started walking toward my scheduled meeting. Then I caught a reflection of myself in a store front window. There I was in a blue pin stripped suit, brief case and shinned winged tip shoes. To make matters even worse I knew under that jacket was a pair of snazzy suspenders and a power tie all resting on a starched white shirt. I just couldn’t stop starring. How the hell was that me? In that moment the only thing I recognized was the face, my face. Where did the guy with the work boots and jeans go?
I went through the motions of the meeting but I couldn’t get the image out of my head. Now this happened way before cell phones so I had to wait until I reached my office to make the call. At that time Manhattan had a pay phone on every corner whose only purpose was to keep the thieves employed. They just never worked, they took your money, and that was about it.
When I hit the office I closed my door, took off my jacket and plopped in my chair and half dazed called my wife.
As soon as she heard my voice she asked, “What’s the matter?”
I was speechless.
Concerned she continued, “Are you alright?”
Struggling, I moaned, “Hon, I was in Manhattan today on the way to a meeting and caught a glimpse of myself in one of those high end store windows and god almighty I looked like a little businessman on his way to a meeting. A god damn penguin. I just couldn’t believe it, me a frigging penguin. How could I not have noticed?”
She laughed and laughed and finally said, “What do you want for dinner tonight, big shot.”