• Field Notes 02.03.2011

    Our once-a-week local newspaper has a columnist who wrote an article that has the wheels turning in my head.  We’ve all taken advice from our parents, grandparents and others who influenced us in our formative years and then lived long enough to see their wisdom.  In the article, the columnist relates his grandfather’s advice and directs his comments to current affairs, but I’d like to borrow some of his points and apply them to the glazing world, if I may be so bold…

    1. “This is not a fair world.”  No kidding!!!  I don’t remember when I learned this growing up, but I do know I’ve had to teach it to my kids, or tried to.  But all it takes in the glazing world is to bid one project and hear that you’re the low bidder one minute, only to find in the next minute the preferred sub of the GC got the last look and was given the job at your number.  Or someone who doesn’t have a clue as to the complexity of a project has bid so low that the job’s been given to them, later to hear they fell flat in performing the work.  When bidding a job, doesn’t it generally take the same amount of glass, aluminum and steel to construct the wall?  So that part should all be about the same as far as two competing estimates go, right? All that may then separate any two numbers is the labor each has figured to execute the work. You would think most bids would be relatively close. How come the bid that’s lower by 20% or more always gets the work? Even when they have no experience at that level, and you have to scrap and claw to stay in the game on the projects that company shouldn’t have been doing? 

    2. “There is no such thing as a Free Lunch.” Or, if it’s sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The article refers to the past practice of offering free lunches at taverns, but first you had to buy a beer and THEN the lunch was free.  Every time a concession is promised to help close a particular project on the promise of future work, how often does that really benefit the bidders in the long run? The easy way taken today will be more difficult to deal with in the future.  The tables always turn, be it life, politics, sports or contract glazing. 

    3. “Save Time and Money:  Do It Right The First Time.” Does this really need to be explored? It’s not complicated: rework saps company resources, two of which are time and money, not to mention materials, overhead, wear and tear on equipment, etc.  And morale.  Having to repeat work not only takes time, but also prohibits the company moving to new endeavors that may be even more profitable than the current effort that got screwed up might be.  Early in my career when I first started at a company, I was told by an architect and a general contractor who were two of the better customers of that firm, that although the company did really good work, it had to do it twice before it was right, and it always took a lot longer to get it right than it should have. No kidding! That was a jolt.  I think that company finally fixed their problem, but I don’t know, I quickly moved on.  

    4. “Take Your Girlfriend Swimming Before Marriage.”  Ok, that might sound sexist, but please don’t dismiss the point he’s trying to make: “know your partner before committing to any contract . . . See what’s under the bustle and makeup.”   This happens through building long-term relationships with vendors, customers and, just as importantly, employees. Knowing how your date – the party you’re about to work with – squeezes the toothpaste may tell whether or not further development of the relationship is warranted or to be avoided. Seeing them in different circumstances than at the Saturday night dance always helps. 

    5. “Never Go On a Spending Spree Without First Inviting Those Who Will Pay the Bills.”  The author addresses this in the political sense: If it isn’t your money, don’t spend it without the taxpayer’s approval. I think I may want to disagree with him on that.  I’ve never been in the position to make this call, and have a lot of admiration for companies that heavily invest in a future venture that may or may not succeed. How venture capitalists know how to do this, I will never know. I think too much in absolutes, in black and white, not enough gray, certainly not enough in color. My checkbook MUST balance each and every month. I do know and firmly believe part of what makes the U.S. a great country is the freedom to do this, and it’s the bedrock foundation of how businesses are built. But for every Microsoft, I’ve got a pretty good idea there are thousands of DeLorean Motor Cos. that didn’t make it.  Which makes it all the more amazing that people keep trying to be the next Bill Gates. If the right opportunity presented itself, I may give it a whirl, but that hasn’t happened yet. I’m afraid I wouldn’t know of a golden opportunity even if it were the size of an oncoming Mack truck. Would you? 

    6. “Never Spend More Money Than You Have.” Good advice, right? Ok, all of us do this, especially if we have a mortgage.  Or a car payment.  And outstanding balances on credit cards. And on and on. I knew a business owner who paid off the last project’s costs from the overbilling on the front end from the next project, never once letting each project stand on its own financially. He was spending money faster than it was coming in. Isn’t that a Ponzi scheme, by definition? Let’s see, isn’t Bernie Madoff about to do serious time for something similar? There’s a price to pay, both in our personal or professional lives if we do this. And when we wake up to this fact nationally, we’re going to have to elect politicians who will do more than worry about getting re-elected (sorry, personal opinion, but I’m worried about this because my grandkids are going to have to deal with this probably before my generation has to).

    7. His last point:  “By the way, there is a (another) lesson:  Play it safe and keep your opinions to yourself. “  Anyone who knows me also knows that’s just not going to happen.  It’s nearly impossible…

    Posted by Blogger @ 8:37 am

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