Meet Mike Taylor, AWCI President
Don Procter / July 2016
When the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry’s new president, Mike Taylor, was hired as an estimator for Liddle Brothers Contractors Inc. in 2000, he had a wealth of management experience at three firms. None of those firms, however, were in construction; the last one where he spent several years was, in fact, pest control company Terminix.
A polar opposite, you might think.
“Not really,” he says. “Interestingly enough, I got quite a bit of construction background with Terminix.”
In addition to sales and managerial duties at Terminix, Taylor dealt with litigation issues arising from building damage claims. “I saw what termites actually do to structures, to buildings,” he says. “It perked my interest in construction.” So when he was hired by Liddle Brothers owners Leonard and Barbara Liddle, his father-in-law and mother-in-law, Taylor saw it as a natural progression in his career. “I had gained experience on how to price work from my time at Terminix,” he says.
Leonard—who in 2004 won AWCI’s prestigious Pinnacle Award for his endeavors on behalf of AWCI and the industry along with dedication to his local community—taught him the ropes at Liddle Brothers, a mid-size wall and ceiling specialty contractor based in Nashville, Tenn. Taylor learned how to do accurate takeoffs and read drawings with Leonard’s help as well as through a number of night courses.
“I’ve never done the field work but I spent a lot of time on sites watching and talking to our craftsmen, learning what was involved in doing quality stucco, EIFS and plaster work,” Taylor says. After a few years, he moved up to management, and today he is the executive vice president of the company.
The Business of Business
Founded in the mid-1930s, Liddle Brothers has been an AWCI member since 1949. Its market is primarily commercial plastering, EIFS, stucco, and historical plaster renovation. Liddle Brothers does some selected high-end residential work, including many of the Nashville area country music stars’ homes.
Taylor says his “greatest contribution” to the industry has been running a model and successful specialty contracting business with strong ties to the community. “I have several jobs that I am particularly proud to have been a part of,” he recalls. The interior plaster work at the new Schermerhorn Symphony Center, remodelling the Tennessee Governor’s Mansion and the “very detailed” plaster work at the Tennessee State Capitol are examples. “For me these are exemplary because they all are directly related to civic and community endeavors,” he says.
The company’s long-standing relationship with the AWCI “has meant a lot to us,” he adds. “We have formed business alliances and friendships with many member companies around the country (such as F.L. Crane & Sons, Precision Drywall and Grayhawk, LLC). Through networking with them, we have been able to secure many jobs that we might not otherwise got. The value of the AWCI is it is not only an educational and technology-based deal, it is a networking forum for us.”
At the helm of the AWCI over the next 12 months, Taylor sees his role as to support the “good work” that AWCI has established. “Steve Etkin and his staff do a tremendous job,” he says, “and my focus is to give them everything they need to continue doing that work. It is important to convey to them and our members how important they are to our success.”
Attracting new members to the fold is paramount to the continued success of the association, he says, noting an “aggressive marketing plan” is important. Each member can help by encouraging other contractors, suppliers and manufacturers to join. It is a message he will remind members of at the many association chapters he visits over the coming year. “I really look forward to it,” he says. “Every time I have been to another chapter event, I learn something new.” The year will feature a trip to Australia for a look at wall and ceiling operations there with AWCI’s distant cousin, the AWCI of Australia and New Zealand.
Life along the Mississippi
Liddle Brothers does work in Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama and Mississippi. In recent years, Nashville has witnessed a growth spurt, largely due to its diversified economy and the additional work volume in the building industry.
Taylor’s biggest concern—and he sees it as a nationwide problem—is the push by owners and general contractors to drive down project bids. Too often the quality of workmanship and selection of materials suffer when bids are driven down, he says, adding that increasingly contractors are not adhering to best practices. “It is not the way to do business,” he says, “and we don’t want to be perceived in that light. We need to not only get the job, but we also need budget to continue to provide quality work.”
The problem stems from top of the chain: Owners who often pressure architects and designers to limit their design cost resulting in less detailed drawings. “In the end we’re not getting accurate drawings of what they want, and that is driving costly change orders,” Taylor says.
But owners, Taylor says, take unnecessary liability risks when they reduce the quality on a project. “At the AWCI we put out all types of technical information through publications to let the owners, architects and general contractors know about these issues,” he says.
Complicating matters is the fact skilled labor shortages exist in many regions of the United States. In Nashville and other major cities, wage demands go up as the skilled labor supply dwindles. “I’m for our people making more money, but I’m also for passing that increase on to owners and general contractors, and we have not been able to do that,” he says. “It is one of the contributing factors to our lower business results.”
In an ideal world, recruiting young people into the trades would be a simple and straightforward solution to developing a corps of skilled people to replenish an aging workforce. But drawing youth into the trades has been a trying one for the building industry. “They want to go to college and graduate to make good money,” Taylor says. “They don’t see the construction industry as a place they can do that as quickly as they might like to.”
How do you attract more young Americans to the industry? It is not only important to get across that there is “good money” in the industry, but also long-term careers with upward mobility. “That’s not only true of work in the field, but they can move into offices in management positions and make a very nice living,” he says.
Taylor believes the colleges and training institutes across the United States are, for the most part, doing a good job of training. Drawing young people to these training facilities is the obstacle. “It is a matter of creating a strong interest in them so they want to be part of the building industry,” Taylor says.
To make up for the skilled labor shortages, builders have relied on undocumented workers. “They are often good, skilled, hard-working people, and I don’t know how the industry would get all the work done without them,” Taylor says. “AWCI’s immigration policy (www.awci.org/pdf/awci-positions-immigration-policy.pdf) supports hard-working, tax-paying, undocumented workers to earn legal status.”
Today’s contractors have other hurdles. Many businesses struggle to meet the guidelines of the Affordable Care Act, which Taylor says can be “confusing” and are “a great expense” to our businesses. “I think it has done a great deal of damage to our health care industry and to businesses in general,” he says. “Personally, I would like to see the next administration address the serious problems caused by the Affordable Care Act.”
AWCI at 100
AWCI will be celebrating its 100th year in 2018. While it is too early to say how that celebration will unfold, Taylor says the association is in discussion for plans to salt away a time capsule for the next century and to be opened in 2118. Input from members on what to put in the capsule is welcomed.
“It will be pretty interesting to see what the suggestion will be—a look at how the industry operates today, and it would probably be even more interesting to see how the industry is 100 years from now and how much it has changed,” Taylor says.
Some things haven’t changed much over the past century. Take the field of plastering, for example. “We basically use the same products and we virtually do it the same way,” Taylor says.
Taylor thinks the primary purpose of the AWCI—to help its members succeed—will be just as much a priority with the association in 10, 20 or 30 and maybe 100 years from now: “That’s really the sole purpose of AWCI now, and I don’t ever want to lose sight of it.”
Helping members succeed goes beyond just contractor members though, he stresses, noting that manufacturers and suppliers can’t be forgotten for the efforts they go to update and educate members on new products, technologies and installation methods—often done at seminars, expos and at conventions. “They support us, so we need to support them,” he says.
Home Sweet Home
When Taylor’s not at work, there’s a good chance he’s spending time with his family. He recently celebrated his 24th anniversary with wife Dee, who, like him, came aboard Liddle Brothers in 2000, moving her way up in accounting to office management.
The couple’s only child, Mikayla, will be a junior soon in pediatric child life and development nursing at a local Tennessee university. “I have often told her I don’t care what she does with her career as long as she enjoys it because if she enjoys it, it will never be just a job,” Taylor reveals.
Among Taylor’s favorite past-times are fishing, hunting and golf. But when it comes to sports, hands down his favorite is watching baseball, he says, noting that he doesn’t play but is a big fan of teams from the major league to little league. At his home town of Mount Juliet, Tenn., (a suburb of Nashville), Liddle Brothers is the oldest sponsor of the local Little League team. The contractor provides money for equipment, supplies and uniforms. It might be a small thing in the scheme of things, but Taylor says the civic-minded gesture is a philosophy he embraces. “It’s an important part of what we’re all about,” he says.
Don Procter is a freelance writer in Ontario, Canada.