By Montrie Rucker Adams, APR
Many entrepreneurs understand that growing a business isn’t easy. Some choose to take classes, participate in seminars and read the latest popular book on the subject.
One of the best ways to gain knowledge and expand is to have a mentor. Business mentors can offer protégés what classes, seminars and books can’t…experience and a one-on-one relationship.
The Construction Employers Association (CEA), through its Contractor’s Assistance Association (CAA), has redefined and refined the Mentor-Protégé Program.
CEA’s past Chairman, Don Drier, remembers when the organization started the program – about five years ago. “When we hired Glen [Shumate], he was very instrumental in assisting us in our strategic planning efforts which focused on diversity and inclusion,” he said. “One component was the Mentor-Protégé Program. The construction business has always been a relationship business. The program is giving firms an opportunity in an industry which can take generations to break into. We’re hoping to shorten the time it may take to have a viable and growing business,” said Drier.
“To have a successful mentor-protégé relationship, there’s got to be mutual respect and mutual openness to ideas,” said Jason Klar President of Platform Contracting. “I’m learning just as much as Ariane from this relationship. My company is getting stronger and I am hopefully helping her along the process.” Ariane Kirkpatrick is president of The AKA Team which is participating in the new-and-improved Mentor-Protégé Program. As president of CAA, she also spearheaded the program’s restructuring.
Understanding the Construction Business
Klar mentions that a strong outline is also needed for success. “If you don’t [have one], you blink your eyes and two weeks are gone and you really haven’t progressed or haven’t worked toward it. You have to be ready to do the work successfully when the opportunity presents itself. It’s about getting ready and being ready and then taking advantage of the opportunity,” he added.
Grant Raymond, director of business development at Dunlop & Johnston (D&J), Inc. has mentored RWJ Wiring (RWJ) for the past year. “Not only do we get the fulfillment of lifting up another firm, but we are also able to look at our clients, who are requiring MBE/FBE participation, and confidently say we are not only talking the talk, but we have rolled up our sleeves and are doing the hard work others just profess,” said Raymond.
“It is a win, win, win,” said Anthony Mirando, lead faculty and lecturer at Kent State University. “The companies are assigned an intern, company business plan overview and goals. This helps them become more competitive and solid as a business. We all learn and are impacted by each other’s experience and differing backgrounds,” he said.
Though relationships are the bedrock of the program, firms are also given intimate knowledge about how construction businesses should perform. There are classes, assessments, and goals established in the formal Mentor-Protégé Agreement. “We discuss the pitfalls of running a business and what it takes to be successful. We explain key performance indicators, estimating, the importance of safety and client relationship management. We do this with education and training,” said Drier.
Focusing on Results
Greg Consolo, Donley’s Vice President of Construction, mentions that the Mentor-Protégé Program “the fruits of our labor from our combined efforts are yet to be fully seen. I’ve enjoyed the networking and conversation. As Mentors, we’ve all made some mistakes on the many complex industry issues we are faced with. We want to help others succeed and not need to make the same mistakes we did along the way.” Donley’s is mentoring KBJ Construction and says their President, Kyle Jones, is very receptive to suggestions and opinions. “We all have blind spots. Sometimes, while you’re in the moment, you may miss the forest for the trees. You have to stay focused and get the next success, and build on that success,” he said.
Jones mentions that their goal is to “build sustainable businesses. The suggestions and relationships are great. Nothing helps like opportunity and the ability to have actual work,” adds Jones. “I’m hoping the work will come sooner rather than later. They [Donley’s] have a lot of projects. My goal is to perform some of our interior and construction management services for them. We’re hoping our relationship with Donley’s and other owners and contractors in the industry which Donley’s might be affiliated, will be a win-win for us. People do work with people they know, trust and have a relationship. That’s the benefit…the people you meet who might be in positions to help,” he said.
Protégés are not the only people who profit from mentoring. Mentors also experience benefits, thanks to collaborative learning. By helping others improve their business skills, mentors may improve their own. They may be inspired with new ideas, meet new contacts and learn new business strategies from their protégé.
“Ironically, as they [RWJ] learn more about what it means to be a general contractor, we too have learned more about the viewpoint and struggles that confront the subcontractors we employ. This has helped our firm grow and strengthen our relationships in the industry as well,” said Raymond.
George Bigham, Academic Program Coordinator Construction Management at Kent State University (KSU), helps introduce professional interns to construction teams. “The challenge is to have the proper people on the bus to be successful,” said Bigham. He is also a professor of Construction Management at KSU and serves as a mentor to two contractors. Bingham also helped Shumate and Kirkpatrick create the Mentor-Protégé Program. “I assisted in identifying interns, training in the construction management processes and procedures, educating on business practices and resources to assist with business operations focusing the protégé on pursuits and business endeavors, and reviewed current systems/processes,” said Bigham.
In speaking about the protégés, Bigham says the program focuses on their strengths. “They are selling their skills and expertise to fill the needs that the companies are looking for,” he said. “They become contractors the companies want to hire. They add value to the contractor. If there’s a need or scope of work that needs to be completed by an owner, I am going to call this company. If they are on budget, on schedule, we can safely count on them to get it done,” he explained. The protégé’s main goal is to be independent and to be a sustainable business.
Raymond suggests the two companies, “Find common ground, enjoy working with one another, and find a cause to work on. Having a joint project has been huge for our team,” he said. “This project has really moved both our firms forward in a positive manner, providing RWJ the skills to work as a general contractor and D & J the documented experience that we truly are leading our industry with lifting up the MBE/FBE community,” Raymond explained.
Mirando encourages other construction companies to become involved and participate in the Mentor-Protégé Program. “If you take an interest in helping people, you will take steps to become involved and be active in the industry,” he said.
“The sharing of knowledge and experience is important, but the most beneficial pieces are to assist in the providing of a professional intern and the focusing of the business on what the protégé can be most successful at performing. The organization, focus, and how to implement this plan is invaluable,” added Bigham.
Though the program has seen its share of successes, there is always room for growth and improvement. “The biggest challenge has been coordinating schedules to grow the relationship,” said Bigham. “Also, the development of matrices for success has taken some time as it is critical to understand measures that show whether or not we are achieving success.”
To those interested in the program, Bigham offers this, “Make sure to spend time understanding where you are, what your goals for the future are, and how to measure your progression to those goals,” he said.
Lastly, Raymond advises that it takes time and effort to make real change. “Other than a stronger documented plan for where RWJ is heading, it really comes down to the time and effort to continue to work together, make mistakes together, and learn together until one day we find ourselves successfully competing against RWJ in open competition. That will be the day we know we all have succeeded!”