When I graduated from college I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to go in my career. The job market wasn’t great at the time and I had a difficult time finding a job.
One day I was reading the classified ads in the paper and I saw a job posting for a position as a construction laborer for a general contractor, located in the Western Suburbs of Chicago. I was pretty clueless when it came to construction, but I needed the work, so I applied and got the job.
This job wasn’t glorious at first. I pushed a broom, emptied garbage cans, and cleaned up construction sites. It was tough work.
Despite having little construction experience, in a few short years I eventually worked my way up to become head of the customer service team and project manager.
One thing that was interesting was we didn’t build regular houses…we built mansions.
Some of the homes we built had movie theaters, golf simulators, and 8 car garages. One house was 24,000 square feet and had a basketball court and rock climbing wall…in the basement!
Our clients were Presidents of large companies, CEO’s, and successful entrepreneurs. We built homes for people like the Founder of Tellabs, the Founder of WeatherTech, the owner of Lexus of Naperville (the most successful Lexus dealership in the country), and the former President of McDonalds.
While the houses we were building were extremely interesting, the most beneficial thing for me was that I was able to see how to run a business that produced a high end product.
Additionally, I was fortunate enough to get to know many of our clients on a personal level. I was able to see how they live their lives, meet with them one on one, and even see how they ran their businesses. This was a priceless learning experience for me.
I worked for this company for 8 years and I learned so many valuable things.
Here are the 10 things I learned while building mansions…
What I learned about business…
1. First Impressions are Important
First thing every morning at our shop we would wash our work van and company vehicles. We would Armor All the tires and dashboard, and vacuum out the vehicles as well. We did this EVERY day…even if it was raining or snowing. Why did we do this every day? Because you only get one shot at a first impression, so make sure it’s a good one.
Clients, or potential clients would see our vehicles around town and see that they were always spotless, even though we’re on a muddy construction site all day. This showed them we care about how we do things, and made a great first impression. I can’t tell you how many clients and potential clients complemented us on how clean we kept our vehicles.
2. Write Things Down
Often times we would have meetings with clients and there would be over 100 changes to the design. Things like moving outlets, walls, plumbing, changing paint colors, etc. There wasn’t any possible way I would have been able to remember everything that was discussed in those meetings unless I wrote things down.
I came up with a daily to do list system and kept an excel to do list for each job. It was the only way I could get things done and stay organized. To this day I use daily to do lists to stay focused, and to get things accomplished.
3. Do Things Right The First Time
The construction industry has a pretty bad reputation for contractors doing sub par work, just to get done, get paid, and move on to the next job. Unfortunately, many contractors do the bare minimum to get by, which is unacceptable in any line of work.
Whenever we had an issue on one of the job sites with one of the sub contractor’s work, I would always ask the sub contractor one question…“Is this what you would do at your house?”. Often times that was enough to have the issue resolved.
This taught me that if you are going to do anything, you might as well do it right the first time. It saves everyone time, effort, and of course money.
4. Customer Service is EVERYTHING
After we finished building a home for a client many of them would call us years later to fix things that had broken. We did everything for our clients from changing light bulbs, repainting rooms, house sitting while they were out of town, and even remodels. Whenever we would receive a call from one of our clients we would always respond immediately, even at night and on the weekends. Our superior level of customer service led to a trusting relationship, referrals, and future business.
5. Your Age Doesn’t Matter
I started working for the company when I was 21 years old, and didn’t have a clue about the business. However, by the time I was 24 I was running jobs and building these homes. The biggest struggle for me was supervising men who were as old as my father, which didn’t sit well with some of them. They didn’t want to be told what to do by a “kid”.
Whenever it seemed like there was going to be an issue I would discuss it with the worker directly. I would explain to them that I understand they have years of experience, and if they have a way to get things done more effectively and efficiently, I’m open to their ideas. Once I was able to establish a good relationship with them everything was fine. This experience showed me that age doesn’t matter.
You can run a business, start a company, or build a mansion at any age, you just have to effective at building relationships, communicating, developing trust, and establishing goals.
What I learned about successful people…
1. They Work Hard
I’ve often heard that successful or wealthy individuals were given everything they have. However, that’s far from the truth. From my experience of working with our clients I saw first hand how dedicated these individuals are. Often times they would be working at night and on the weekends. In fact, it was rare for me not to see them working.
Most of them started at the bottom and worked their way up in their companies. A perfect example is the former president of McDonalds. He started working at McDonalds in the mail room as a summer job, and then worked his way up to become president.
2. They Took Risks
I was fortunate to hear many of our client’s stories about how they started their businesses and there was one common theme…they all took risks. Most of our clients that started their own businesses took major risks in their life to start their business. Most of them started out in their garages and built their companies through hardwork and dedication.
3. They Hire Good People
One of the most impressive thing I learned from our clients was they hire amazing people to work for them. I met many people that worked for our clients, and I have to say I was always impressed by their employees. From assistants, designers, marketers, and C-level executives, the individuals they hire are top notch, which is a key to why their businesses are successful. They focused on putting key people around them to help their businesses thrive.
4. They Give Back
One of the most amazing things about our clients was how much they gave back. Their philanthropic efforts were second to none. They started non profit foundations, donated millions of dollars to other non profits, and gave millions to schools for buildings and research. It was unbelievable how much money they donated to make the world a better place.
5. They Are Just Like You and Me
Often times we think successful individuals are different then us, or better than us in some way. However, I found they are human…just like you and me. They have obstacles and challenges in their lives, personal struggles they have to overcome, family issues, feelings and emotions just like everyone else. We are all the same.
What was your first job after high school or college? What lessons did you learn from your job?