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December 2014   

Letters to a General Superintendent (Part 5)

By: Doug Bellamy

What follows is the fourth letter in a series of letters supposedly written by an owner (Jack Owployer) in response to a general superintendentís (Joe Gensup) request for something more than the typical job description. Though the company had provided a generic job description, what the superintendent needed and received was much more personal and heartfelt, when compared to the sterile notion of doís and doníts so commonly emphasized, throughout our industry.

Dear Joe:

As you know, Iím getting some R&R at my favorite hideaway, the St. Regis in Monarch Beach, Dana Point, Calif. These folks really know how to do business. They treat you like royalty, anticipating your every need, right down to the minutest detail.

Pardon my gushing, but putting my infatuation aside, my comments are relevant. Thereís a lot to learn about business from other industries, and those lessons apply to all businesses, particularly to us and Starwood Hotels.

Their model of anticipatory service is, as Iíve repeatedly told you, the essence of doing great business and well worth our consideration. Anticipate and act! Thatís the mantra of great business management, and Starwoods has it wired. Enough said.

So where were we? Oh yeah, I was addressing your discouragement with our workload fluctuation, the inevitable upcomingóbut very briefódownturn, immediately followed by the equally inevitable jerking of a sudden upturn in workload. I have referred to it as the bull ride. As I said, we have two options: meaningless, destructive and counterproductive stress and worry, or the bountiful benefits of careful planning and preparation.

Letís talk about that nasty slowdown we are facing. Thatís the priority. First things first. Then weíll talk about planning and preparation for the spike in workload following directly thereafter.

Donít make the tragic mistake many businesses make during a downturn, by sitting on their hands, fretting and sulking about the lack of work. You are way too smart for that. Donít focus on the downturn; instead, focus like a laser on organizational improvement!

There is plenty of work to be done in business when a slowdown occurs. During a downturn, any business has a tremendous opportunity to do those things that need to be done, things that they havenít been able to get done when they were so busy.

Donít look at it as a negative. Donít be myopic. Take a big-picture view, see it as a part of business thatís inevitable, and take advantage of it to become the very best business possible. In short, get ready!

Before the slowdown hits, communicate with all your crews and let them know whatís going on and try to arrange to loan them out to a trustworthy competitor, with the guarantee they will return them as needed. Itís a good idea to network with good businesses that will labor share. Scratch each otherís backs, but make sure you can trust them. Itís not easy, but it is do-able. I know. Iíve done it. Now itís your turn.

Doing so will go a long way with your existing workforce. If they know youíre looking out for them, it will be much appreciated. Develop loyalty; these guys and gals have bills to pay. Show them we care and theyíll care about us. Theyíll be waiting with bated breath to come back "home,Ē and weíre gonna need a houseful. Placing them elsewhere will go a long way toward long term employee retention. Itís not a panacea and wonít always work, but it will help.

The first thing you want do during a slowdown is reduce cost if possible. I shouldnít say "if.Ē There is always something thatís needing cleaned up, shaved and a haircut, when it comes to cutting cost. Identify it and do it. Come out of this leaner, meaner and operating more efficiently than ever.

However, donít be afraid to spend money when needed to prepare for the upcoming busy period. Cut back where it makes sense. If you typically rent some equipment, containers, etc., return them. Why pay for what you donít need? Thatís called waste. Driving down waste is always a huge benefit that immediately translates into profit.

Waste is a subject in and of itself. I donít want to spend time on it now. Just visit our archives on to find the article that I was fortunate to have published, titled "Getting Wasted.Ē Thatíll be a great read while you have some time on your hands. Yes, I know youíve read it before. Read it again. There is more to learn there, trust me. Iím not asking, Iím telling you to read it again!

I know youíre working on safety certifications and you deserve an "atta boyĒ there! Good idea! There are huge dividends to getting our EMR (experience modification rate) down, namely more profit. A lot of money passes through a business like ours. The trick is learning how to keep more of it. Safety is a surefire way to do so.

I donít want to get ahead of myself here, weíre talking about the slowdown. But, lest I fail to mention it later, when the work picks back up, rapid fire hiring escalates risk and more accidents tend to happen. Thatís a proven statistic. Plan on sufficient effort during new hire orientation to keep those new employees safe.

Get our equipment and vehicles serviced. If youíre going to need more of anything, get it ordered. Your suppliers may need lead time, time you wonít have if you wait until you need it.

On another note, give your best people a little breather, including me. Wasnít I supposed to be getting some R&R?

That ought to keep you busy until I get back!


Doug Bellamy is former president of Innovative Drywall Systems Inc. dba Alta Drywall, Escondido, Calif. Visit him on LinkedIn or contact him at

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