The Last Letter
Doug Bellamy / July 2016
What follows is the 24th letter in a series of letters supposedly written by an owner (Jack Owployer) in response to a general superintendent’s (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 do’s and don’ts so commonly emphasized throughout our industry.
You asked me to give you a more personal and less sterile job description, which resulted in this deep dive into a host of categories, now carefully preserved in this archive of advice. As is always the case, though, everything ends. Starting is easy; finishing, simply put, is hard. Such is the case as I finish this first paragraph of my 24th letter to you. As my successor, my hope is that you have found and will continue to find my writings to be helpful.
Let me say this about “finishing” in the hope that you will apply it to whatever circumstance or predicament you find yourself in, personally or professionally: Finish what you start. Unless you realize that you’ve made a mistake. If so, stop as fast as you can. Otherwise, stick with it until the bitter end. To the best of your ability, force the finish. Make it happen.
If, by chance, you simply can’t finish something, like Gutzon Borglum with Mount Rushmore, leave enough passionate vision behind in those around you to finish for you. Inspiration is contagious and infectious. So then, inspire. Leave your fellow workers sick with determination to plow forward.
Apply that to the allegory we’ve spent the last three letters on: Mount Rushmore. This was the case with Gutzon and his son Lincoln as they prevailed upon their mountainside project. They and their followers embarked upon a journey toward a destination whose pathway was riddled with endless interference. Even so, it is said that they were “loyal to the mountain.” The father–son duo had a core group of people who were committed to the vision and wouldn’t give up until they were finished. You, too, will need one such group if you intend to accomplish anything lasting and substantial. Lead by example, and they will follow.
It is up to you to turn what at times may appear to be a nightmare into the dream. Moreover, I urge you to dream big, shoot for the stars. Even if you fail to hit them, you will still get into the stratosphere. Such was the case with Gutzon and Lincoln. They envisioned four presidents with not only heads and faces, but with shoulders and coats down to their waist, entire torsos standing proudly against the South Dakota skies. That never happened, but something undeniably great did.
Last month I eluded to the Rushmore team having to blow up months (years?) of work. I’m not sure of all the details, but I know they destroyed enough of Jefferson’s likeness that by the time they finally abandoned the original plan, one could see the semblance of Jefferson’s face beginning to take shape just to the right of Washington. They had to abandon the original plan and move to plan B. It helps to have a plan B. It is said that necessity is the mother of invention, and so it is. We must plan. You know how often I quote the old adage, “Fail to plan, plan to fail.” True enough.
However, plans are just that—plans. One rarely executes a plan precisely as intended. Inevitably, one must improvise and be flexible enough to know when to modify the plan. So it was with the Rushmore effort. Originally intending to put Jefferson on Washington’s right, due to conditions in the mountain that were impossible to foreknow, that detail of the plan had to be scrapped. Ultimately, Jefferson would appear on the left of Washington.
I remember the day when we opened our commercial division, having been a residential drywall contractor for 30 years. It was at the onset of the “Great Recession.” Our hope was that being a full service drywall company and having such versatility would allow us more opportunity during and after the slowdown. We would take advantage of both residential and commercial business cycles, as well as attract the best labor and develop that same versatility in our existing workforce.
However, we both know that I spent considerable money and suffered painful losses in that endeavor. It did us absolutely no good in the short term. It took longer and cost more, as is typical. However, here we are 10 years later, still as determined as ever to see that department develop. I planted the seed and watered it, watched it sprout and turn into a seedling. It is now up to you, my son, to grow the tree!
Oops. Sorry. I meant to say — Jack.
Doug Bellamy is former president of Innovative Drywall Systems Inc. dba Alta Drywall, Escondido, Calif. He is available for consultation, business management seminars and training. Visit him on LinkedIn or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.