Vince Bailey / August 2016
Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends …—John Lennon/Paul McCartney
I have spent a lot of space and ink on this page, complaining about all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that we bidmeisters endure on a daily basis. Absurd deadlines, woefully inadequate bid docs, merciless GCs, sadistic bosses, sleepless nights, unrewarded efforts, treacherous competitors, an endless recession—you’ve heard it all here on many occasions. So often, in fact, that a casual non-quantifying browser of this column might wonder why anyone would even so much as toy with the notion of joining the ranks of such an ill-used and miserable lot. Is there any upside to engaging in such a demanding and thankless profession as ours?
Of course there are several. One exactimator put it this way: “Where else do you get the opportunity to gamble with huge sums of other people’s money?” Where indeed. Others like the impression of prestige. They say if you tell someone outside of the trades that you’re a construction manager, they think you’re some kind of field boss. But when you say you’re an estimator, you instantly become a creature of higher intelligence in their eyes. Go figure. Then there are all the free lunches and happy hours covered by the sales reps.
As for me, there’s a primary benefit associated with being an estimator that I cultivate by sharing such grievances as listed above with those who hold those grumblings in common with me: I like the camaraderie of the bidmeister ilk; we are family.
Skepticism comes natural to me, so whenever I hear the term “team” being bandied about as it is so gratuitously in our industry these days, my BS alarm begins to hum. It’s usually lip service being paid to a corporate efficiency concept touted by smiling managers who, more often than not, secretly loathe the people they work with.
But just the other day, I overheard a fellow bidmeister utter a rhetorical question that really gave me pause. He said, rather off-handedly: What could be better than working for your friends? Being familiar with his circumstances, I had no reason to doubt the veracity of his statement. He works for three owners who are genuinely friendly, supportive and empathetic. Although they retain their authority through respect, they treat their estimators as equals—as friends, in fact.
It made me wonder for a moment, what made them so different from other bosses I’ve observed in the past. I was quick to come up with an answer: They are all estimators. They have suffered (and still do) the same frustrations, experienced the same anxieties and made the same mistakes as their subordinates, with whom they are in perfect sympathy. I think that is the real definition of a team. Pondering this, I began to recall the several friendships I’ve encountered over the years through the same kind of shared ordeals that only we bidmeisters know.
Mike gave me my first estimating job after being his foreman for several years. He patiently tolerated my many fruitless efforts until I hit my stride. Brian showed a tech illiterate how to navigate the new (at that time) digitized estimating programs, stifling what I’m sure was an irresistible urge to break down laughing at me. After I spent too many years as a project manager and away from estimating, Frank helped me get back up to speed on the upgraded programs without breathing a word to anyone how hopelessly rusty I’d become. He literally saved me from losing a badly needed position. Bruce was always ready and able to jump in and take up the slack whenever it looked like I wouldn’t make a deadline, and we’d generally commiserate over the oppressive atmosphere we both worked under at the time. Rigo gave me guidance on how to figure labor productivity effectively—according to the reality on the ground (as opposed to my recollection from back in the day). Moreover, he lent a forgiving ear for my sketchy Spanish. Patrick helped me to jump ship when the captain turned out to be Ahab. Bob threw me a line and brought me ashore when the next ship sank.
Then, of course, there’s the support and encouragement I get from the colleagues who follow this column. The emails and phone calls expressing sympathy and agreement with my point of view are pleasant reminders of the fellowship that we estimators share. It’s a fellowship that we encounter through shared experiences—hardships, rewards, trials and triumphs, peaks and troughs. Over the years, I’ve received numerous responses from estimators who hail from all parts of the country. Virtually all them have said the same thing in so many words: “Thanks for expressing a gripe that I’ve carried around for way too long—thanks for saying it for me.”
So the next time I use this page to launch on a rant over this or that grievous blight on our industry, consider this: I’m just commiserating with my friends—my team. They understand.
Vince Bailey is an estimator/project manager working in the Phoenix area.