Author Archives: Kristin Hege

Construction Workforce Development, Culture and Safety Ensures Job Site Success 

Construction Workforce Development, Culture and Safety Ensures Job Site Success 

A construction company’s success begins with the successes of its individual employees. And according to Dan Clark, motivational speaker and CEO of The Art of Significance Leadership Development, that individual’s success must be channeled through everyone in the company –– from the very top to the very bottom. The result? An engaged and improved workforce, and a culture of excellence and safety. 

In a special episode of the Mobile Workforce Podcast, host Mike Merrill welcomes Dan. They intended to talk about construction safety but what they really talked about was life. More specifically, they discussed how companies can support their teams, celebrate their successes and help everyone become the best versions of themselves.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Don’t compete with others – compete with yourself. Competing with yourself requires a couple trains of thought. First, it’s understanding that people don’t see things for what they are, they see things for how they are in the present (perspective). Second is a person knowing the difference between what they do and what they are. It’s very conceptual but once an individual is able to distinguish their personal beliefs from reality, they can become the best version of themselves. A person who takes accountability for themselves (self-mastery) can have a rippling effect on their coworkers, which can have a positive effect on workplace culture.  
  2. A culture of excellence starts with the law of attraction. Clark’s definition of the law of attraction states that people don’t attract based on who they want, they attract based on who they are. Clark further explains that an individual becomes the average of the five people they associate with the most. Combined with the mindset of employees striving to be the version of themselves, companies in the construction industry will have a better time recruiting ideal candidates to come work for them (because extraordinary employees attract extraordinary candidates). 
  3. Trust and integrity improve safety. Trust is the heart and soul of safety culture, so companies should build cultures that support that. In addition, maintaining trust over the long term requires integrity from the employees. This commitment to service before self will lead to a sustainable source of trust within the company, which will create a culture of excellence.

 

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Episode Transcript:

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast. Today we are sitting down with a wonderful guest, Mr. Dan Clark. Dan is the founder and CEO of The Art of Significance Leadership Development Company. Over the years, Dan has spoken in all 50 states, 71 countries, six continents, to millions of people everywhere. He’s worked with Fortune 500 companies, Super Bowl champions, NASA, MDRT, I think that’s Million Dollar Round Table, is that right, Dan?

 

Dan Clark:

Yeah.

 

Mike Merrill:

I had to look that one up. The United Nations. He’s been on multiple military tribute tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa. Dan has also appeared on Larry King Live, and even Oprah. That’s a big one. Aside from all of those wonderful things, Dan does a lot of other stuff that we’re going to talk about today. And we just wanted to welcome you on the show today, Dan.

 

Dan Clark:

Thanks, Mike, you’re my hero. As I travel and speak, it’s fun to see Mike’s company illuminated as one of the most important vendors in the room, suppliers, if you will. And to hear your reputation behind your back, I think that’s pretty cool. So, it’s an honor for me to be here. And in our stages in life, is not about time management, it’s about energy management. And you and I have so many other choices to take our time and our attention today, and we’ve decided to spend it together, so I honor you and thank you so much. I am excited to talk to you.

 

Mike Merrill:

Thanks, Dan, I’m really looking forward to it as well. A couple of Dan’s favorite topics, believe it or not, are actually workforce development, safety and culture. That’s what we want to talk about today and how those relate to construction leadership. What can you tell us about that, Dan?

 

Dan Clark:

Probably the most important place to start in any discussion as parents, as coaches of sports teams, as family owned business, leaders, and as leaders of Fortune 500 companies, we all have the same formula in which, or on which, we can create our culture, and it never fluctuates. Every culture is created between the strongest belief, the highest expectation, and the best behavior that the leader lives by, and the weakest belief, the lowest expectation, and the worst behavior that the leader tolerates.

 

Dan Clark:

The two operative words are belief and tolerate. And when we can shrink the distance between what we believe, what’s our strongest belief, what’s our highest expectation, what’s our best behavior, and what we’re not willing to tolerate, when we shrink the distance between them, we create what I call a culture of significant partner leaders. And then here’s the kicker, where self mastery is permanent. We’re not the best version of ourselves because it’s expected by somebody else. We are becoming better today than we were yesterday, the only person you need to be better than is the person you were yesterday, we’re not competing or comparing ourselves with anyone else.

 

Dan Clark:

And in a safety construct, well, “He’s not wearing his goggles,” or, “he didn’t follow that protocol.” We’re always rationalizing ourselves out of peak performance because we’re comparing. So we need self mastery to be permanent, and winning to be personal, so that leadership is automatic. We’re not just safe because I said so, we’re not just going through the motions because some leader or manager’s in our presence, we’re not trying to be a good kid just because dad is looking over our shoulder. We’re not keeping the speed limit and obeying the law because there’s a police officer in our rearview mirror, we’re actually taking personal responsibility to become the best version of ourselves.

 

Dan Clark:

And therefore leadership is automatic, where we lead with and without a title, especially when in the building trades in the construction business, in the oil and gas, in the mining, where you actually have to hire contractors outside of your corporate culture. And in that day worker, in that organized laborer who shows up as a member of a wonderful union, you have to get them to buy into your culture of safety, you have to get them to buy into your culture of trust and peak performance, or you’ll never be able to rise to the occasion to have the quality control that whoever’s paying the bill expects of us.

 

Dan Clark:

Again, Peter Drucker said, “Once you get the culture right, the rest of the stuff takes care of itself.” I thought that would be a perfect formula and foundation to lay as the beginning point for the rest of our discussion here, Michael, I hope that makes sense. And we can dissect that a little bit more or whatever other questions you want to ask about culture. Because when it boils down to what you’re not willing to tolerate, it’s easier to get people to understand that, and we’re going to elevate that. You can’t come late, there’s no vulgarity, there’s no sexism, there’s no racism, there’s no bigotry or discrimination. Diversity, equity and inclusion become just part of our culture, is not a new conversation we have to have every day. We start elevating what we’re not willing to tolerate, everybody agrees on that, and the rest of the culture, and the rest of the stuff, the motivation, the peak performance, the personal accountability takes care of itself.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I love everything that you’re saying there about the accountability as the individual. And I heard you speak at a AGC safety conference recently. And one of my takeaways was, how critical it is that as individuals, people are making these decisions, that they want to be safe because it’s the right thing to do.

 

Dan Clark:

And it boils down to reputation, the transference of trust. If we’re only going through the motions of peak performance, and increasing our personal productivity, and being safe, when the manager, when the leader, when the safety suite, excuse me, the safety officer in our organizations is around, as soon as they leave, everybody knows if they can trust us or not. And when we lose trust, we lose everything.

 

Dan Clark:

Let me ask your listeners, what are people saying behind your back? Illustrates, a army sergeant phones up the commissary and a young private answers the phone. The sergeant says, “Tell me what we got.” Private says, “We have 1,500 rifles, 10 tanks and one fat-headed sergeant’s Jeep.” Sergeant says, “What?” Private says, “1,500 rifles, 10 tanks and one fat-headed sergeant’s Jeep.” Sergeant says, “Do you know who this is?” Private says, “Nope.” Sergeant says, “This is the sergeant.” Private says, “Whoa. Do you know who this is?” Sergeant says, “No.” He says, “Good. Bye bye fat head.”

 

Dan Clark:

We have to answer, what do people say behind our back, and realize we can’t control that. And when we understand it’s indelibly tied to trust, we will go out of our way to never violate someone’s trust. And that’s the heart and soul of culture, that’s the heart and soul of the safety culture, that’s the heart and soul of peak performance.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, and I think, to your point, this really goes back to leadership of the company, those that are in charge, the management, they’ve got to emulate that first, and I think the employees then can follow suit and be in line right behind them. Is that right?

 

Dan Clark:

Yeah. Because the purpose of a leader is to grow more leaders who believe what you believe, not generate more followers. And so as I’ve spoken all these 6,000 speeches and 71 countries, I take a lot of pride in interviewing the CEOs, the leaders of all these organizations, including the military commanders. I just got through speaking at the Pacific Air Force Commanders Conference in Hawaii. And all of these CEOs and the highest level leaders, tell us that the toughest challenge that they have is getting everybody in the organization to care as much about the organization as they do.

 

Dan Clark:

And therefore it begins by saying, what do you believe? Here’s our expectation, here’s our expected behavior, but as you said, I’d rather see a sermon preached in here when any day I’d rather you walk with me than merely point the way. It’s not enough for us to just practice what we preach, we must preach only what we practice, which illuminates the real definition of the law of attraction. We don’t attract who we want Michael, we attract who we are. We attract what we believe we deserve in employees, in friendships, in a spouse, in a significant other, in an income, in a job title, in a holiday, in a home, in a neighborhood. And we attract individuals into our lives, who will help us make that a reality. We become the average of the five people we associate with the most.

 

Dan Clark:

I believe that in my travels, we actually become the average of the five people we associate with the most when it comes to workforce development, and trying to recruit more people into the building industries, more young men and young women to find out what a noble profession it is. You build things, you create communities, you organize the environments wherein we create our memories, you are the most noble profession on the planet.

 

Dan Clark:

Oil and Gas, construction, mining, everything goes into the construction construct, if you will, meaning you’re providing a way for us to build the infrastructure of our lives so that we can become the full measure of ourselves and make our dreams come true. I honor everyone who’s in this podcast. But when it comes to workforce development, we can’t think we can recruit people into the building industries, we have to attract them. We become the average of the five people we associate with the most. If you hang around with five broke people, you’re going to become the sixth. If you hang around with… When you when you put a hard-to-catch horse in the same field with an easy-to-catch horse, most of the time you end up with two hard-to-catch horses.

 

Dan Clark:

When you put a healthy child in the same room with a sick child, most of the time, you end up with two sick children. Moral of the story, to be disciplined, healthy and significant, we must be willing to pay any price and travel any distance to associate with extraordinary human beings. And in order for us to associate with extraordinary human beings, we have to attract extraordinary human beings. And in order for us to attract these extraordinary human beings, we must first be an extraordinary human being.

 

Dan Clark:

Let me step on some toes. If every time I go to a construction site and all I hear are vulgar, sexist jokes, I’m never going to want to work there, and I’m never going to want to hang out with these folks because they don’t think like I think or believe what I believe. If that’s the culture, what we’re going to attract are people who enjoy bigotry, sexism, racism, bad jokes, horrible language, and all of the above. And I don’t want you to think I’m a prude. I’m not trying to be self righteous, I’m just making a point that when we build our dream home, when we had our house-warming party when it was finally completed, every individual who worked on our home, the gajillion folks who put on our roof, who spoke broken English, if I can just be graphic, and the framers, and the plumber, and the electrician, these guys from the unions, and the general contractor, the individual came in and poured concrete, we were so amazed at the high quality of human being that they were who just happened to be in the building trades, who just happened to be an extraordinary finished carpenter in my beautiful cherry wood library.

 

Dan Clark:

So we don’t have to settle. What are you not willing to tolerate? And in this high competitive world in which we live, especially trying to attract people into the building industries, why not put out that good, clean, pure, powerful, positive culture that says, “Wait a minute, we’re different. And when you work with us, you actually leave the workplace saying, ‘I like me best when I’m with you, I want to see you again.’” You actually leave the construction site, you actually leave the mine saying, “I like me best when I’m with you, I want to see you again.” Which immediately converts over to our personal lives, our wives, our significant others, our husbands.

 

Dan Clark:

We walk in the door and instead of saying, “Hey, give me a beer, leave me alone, I got to decompress for an hour, turn on the TV.” Instead of as kicking the dog, the ones we walk in the house, instead of us hating our job, we actually love our jobs because it’s helping us become the best version of ourselves. When we walk in the door we’re more loving, we’re more understanding, we’re calm so we listen, “How is your day, sweetheart? Come here, little buddy, hop up on my lap, tell dad how school was today.”

 

Dan Clark:

We get ourselves in a mindset where we want to never ever miss one of our kid’s games, never miss a school concert, a dance recital. Where our lives becomes so fulfilling because we’ve set a higher standard of performance based on our belief. I’m telling you what, it’s so critically important that we understand when it comes to culture creation, there are certain things we cannot control, so don’t worry about them. But we can focus on what we can control.

 

Dan Clark:

And let me give you an example. We have four children, one son, three daughters. And as our children became teenagers, we realized that all of their friends were being raised by parents in a different way than we were raising our children. In a perfect utopian world, wouldn’t it be cool if we could have a parent’s meeting where every one of the parents of our children’s friends came together in the same place, and we agreed on how we were going to raise our children.

 

Dan Clark:

This belief, highest expectation, best behavior, and what we’re not willing to tolerate, but it’s never going to happen, that’s a pipe dream. We can’t control what happens outside of our home, but we can control what happens in our home, when we proactively and on purpose create a culture of excellence, where when anyone walks through our doors, they know our expectation and they know our belief, and we’re not prudes, we’re not self righteous. We’re not saying, “Hey, we’re better than you.” When someone walks in our door, when our children’s friends came in our door as teenagers and young adults in college, immediately they knew they were 100% welcome. They immediately knew non judgmental friendship, unconditional love.

 

Dan Clark:

We don’t care if you have a purple mohawk on the side of your head. Everybody knew there was no racism, no bigotry, no sexism. Our expectation was kindness, honor, respect. We celebrated the social graces, Mike, please and thank you. When someone say, “Hey, give me that,” say, “Hey, what’s the magic word?” “Now.” No, no, not yet. Obviously, we celebrated please and thank you. And what did we not tolerate? Bad language, sexist jokes. No one smoked in our home, no one drank in our home, we said no. What you do outside of our home is your own business.

 

Dan Clark:

But we understand what we can control, and we are inviting everyone to come into our home and live by a higher standard of performance. Especially when you have three teenage daughters, and the tendency is to gossip or bad mouth. And we tolerated absolutely no gossip, we tolerated absolutely no drama in our homes. And one time I went downstairs to deliver some snacks and some drinks to my daughter’s and all of her friends and I interrupted a conversation where they were actually gossiping and bad mouthing two girls who were not in our home that day. What a perfect teaching moment.

 

Dan Clark:

I said, “Ladies, remember, we don’t have any drama. Remember, we are loyal to those who are not present. If you’re talking about some somebody who’s not in our home, the second you leave today, you’re going to worry and wonder about what people are saying behind your back about you, and that violates trust.” And we know that leadership and management and coaching and parenting is the transference of trust. It’s such a key ingredient to develop in this culture. And my whole point, Mike, is that now after all these years with our children being adults, we will run into their friends in Costco, we will see them at a ballgame, and they always make a comment of how safe they felt in our home, how special we made them feel, and how exciting they were to come into our positive environment, especially when they were coming from perhaps a dysfunctional family, or a negative situation, where they were not honored as incredible human beings.

 

Dan Clark:

So, creating a culture of excellence is such a vitally important part of the law of attraction, of taking our performance and our profitability and our organizations to the next level. And remembering that you can’t coach results, you can only coach behavior. You can’t say to somebody, “Be safe.” What the heck does that mean? As parents we can’t say to our children, “You ought to make responsible decisions.” What the heck does that mean? A coach can’t say to his players, “Go out and win the game.” Once the game starts, the coach is stuck on the sideline and he can’t do anything about it. Somebody on the field, somebody on the floor, has to make a play.

 

Dan Clark:

Now, we equate that to the job site in any aspect of the building industries or the construction industry, in the mine, an oil and gas rig, it does not matter, we need to take personal responsibility, make winning personal, and then again say, the only person, again, believe, the only person we need to be better than is the person I was yesterday. And when I start taking care of myself through the law of attraction, it’s amazing how others around me feel better about themselves, and together we rise.

 

Mike Merrill:

Wow. I love so much of what you said. And in my mind, the word integrity just kept coming up. I kept thinking, “This feels like, sounds like, smells like integrity.” What can you tell us about integrity?

 

Dan Clark:

Integrity is something that it’s the most important… If you made a list of 10 core values and integrity was the first, if you don’t have integrity, the other nine don’t matter. It’s that incredible. It’s the old-school my word is my bond, my handshake. We don’t need a written contract, even though the attorneys forces to do that. That when we go into a bank for a loan, there’s the five C’s, I’m only going to talk about character and competence.

 

Dan Clark:

Competence is your ability to pay. Obviously, one of the C’s is collateral. But the two most important are competence and character. Competence is your ability to pay the loan, but more importantly, character is your willingness to pay back the loan. And without those two, if I’m a banker, I won’t give you any money. And so that ties directly into integrity. Who are you when no one’s around? And that’s a safety message, that’s a personal achievement, personal greatness message.

 

Dan Clark:

Think about it in terms of this story. I’m flying on Delta Airlines, 757 jet, from San Diego, California, cross country to Tampa Bay, Florida. It’s a five-and-a-half-hour flight. 757 jet has 24 first class seats, I always get a window seat. All 24 seats in first class are occupied. And we’re now airborne for about an hour and a half of the five-and-a-half-hour flight, I’m on my 16th Diet Coke, and I need a comfort break, I need to go to the bathroom.

 

Dan Clark:

I excuse myself from my window seat there in first class, and I go to the front of the plane, and we’ve all seen the bathrooms on an airplane. With the high cost of tickets, don’t you think they ought to splurge for a little bigger room, is that too much to ask? The operating system of the door, it’s an accordion, you got to push in the middle, it folds in. It’s so skinny, you got to turn sideways and then you got to scoot in. And the lights don’t turn on until you lock the door. So I latch the door lock, the lights flicker on, I turn, and I’m this close to the mirror.

 

Dan Clark:

And making its way down the glass is the stinkiest, smelliest, most unidentifiable gunk you have ever seen in your life. And I automatically take into gag reflex. Water splashed from corner to corner. Used paper towels on the floor, crap everywhere. And then it occurs to the person who comes in here right after me, he’s going to think I did all this. I start cleaning up, I’m like, “Are you freaking kidding me? Oh my gosh.” I finished what I went in there to accomplish, and when I came out, I was livid, I was so freaking mad and grossed out. I’ve been raised to be a gentleman, so I didn’t say anything.

 

Dan Clark:

But to the best of my ability, I stood there in front of the other 23 first class passengers until I got eye contact with every single one of them. And to the best of my ability, I communicated, “Okay, which one of you low-budget bums trashed this bathroom, I want to rip your lips off.” It was so pathetic. I went back, “Excuse me,” I went back to my room, “Excuse me,” sat down on my chair in my seat. I’m looking out the window, fuming inside, and then I learned the lesson, you cannot buy class.

 

Dan Clark:

Because of the nature of what I do for a living as a speaker, as an entertainer, I’m invited to play golf on some of the greatest golf courses on the planet with CEOs, some of the wealthiest, most powerful CEOs on the planet, who have absolutely no character or class. They think their money and title makes them someone that they’re not. They think they’re their car, they think their house, or their job, when in reality they’re not. And for the listeners who are listening, I want you to understand the place from which I’m coming.

 

Dan Clark:

I played football for 13 years, and I was paralyzed in a tackling drill. One day in practice, the coach blew the whistle, two of us ran into each other full speed. The only parts of our bodies that made contact, Lyle’s helmet hit my helmet in a violent head on collision. My right shoulder was smashed into the cutting edge of my fiberglass pads, and we slammed to the ground. And when Lyle got off of me, my eye drooped, I had lost the speech, I couldn’t talk anymore. My right side was paralyzed, my arm dangled helplessly at my side.

 

Dan Clark:

Coach comes running over, “Clark, Clark, are you all right, what happened?” Rocasho mocasho my rah-rah. He says, “Whoa, are you from Spanish Fork, Utah?” Just kidding. He says, “You better get yourself checked.” I said, “Whoo.” A doctor that was present on the field, he came over and examined me. Pulls the coach aside, he said, “Clark’s got serious nerve damage. In fact, he might even have serious brain damage.” The coach look at him and says, “How will we ever know?” Nice guy.

 

Dan Clark:

I went back to normal, my speech came back, I could basically talk again, but my right side stayed paralyzed and my arm dangled at my side. I stayed paralyzed for 14 months. I went to 16 of the very, very best doctors in all of North America, 15 of whom told me I would never get any better. And if you ever heard that, and what happens if we believe it, you’re never going to get any better.

 

Dan Clark:

And my life hit a fast-moving downward spiral, until I hit what I thought was rock bottom, until I hit what I thought was deep depression. And now that I’ve recovered, serious questions are asked, “Clark, why did you go to so many different doctors?” Answer. I kept going from doctor to doctor until I found one who believed I would get better. We’ve gone full circle, my friends were back to the formula. Every culture is created between the strongest belief blah, blah, blah.

 

Dan Clark:

We have to understand that it’s the belief of the leader that creates the leader. It’s the belief of the leader that creates the expectation, and it’s the expectation that creates the behavior. And because you can’t coach results you can only coach behavior, we have to understand that behavior is created and sustained 100% by our belief, which brings me to the second most frequently asked question, “Clark, what took you so long to get better?” If the purpose of this podcast is to elevate people’s performance, to give us a mindset shift, a hard shift, a hard set shift, where we click off this podcast and we go be a better human being not because I said so but because you do. If that’s the real purpose, please listen in.

 

Dan Clark:

I stayed paralyzed for 14 months because I was asking the wrong questions. You see, I was asking the doctors how to get better, when I should have been asking myself ‘why’. And once we answer ‘why’, figured out the ‘how to’ becomes clear and simple, not easy. The heart is what makes it great. We still have to do hard things and put in the work. But when we do and focus in on the reason why our organizations exist, why am I coming to work, why should I be a better human being today than I was yesterday, why should I forgive, why should I be kind, why should I be respectful, why should I honor men and women, why should I always be the best version of myself? Once we answer why, figuring out the ‘how to’ becomes clear and simple.

 

Dan Clark:

And here’s the tragedy in corporate training. Most of the time, all we do is talk about skill set, “Can you do this? Show me that you can do this.” We go through an apprentice program. “Can you do all the things that is required to be an extraordinary electrician, an extraordinary plumber?” Can you do what is required of you to not just mix and pour the cement to the degree and the thickness and the level that we need it to be, but you have the skill set to not just smooth it out and make it a perfect patio, a perfect driveway, a perfect slab, a perfect floor for this huge warehouse or whatever the case may be.

 

Dan Clark:

But how are people leaving you, who hire you, who work side by side with you? Are you a class human being that inspires them to be a better performer, a better craftsman, a greater technician? You see, I don’t think we should just focus in on the ‘how to’ because that becomes very simple. And when we come to attracting the right people into our organizations… Do you realize the statistics right now on millennials, is that the average length of time that a millennial spends in one job is two years. And if we invest so much time and so many resources and so much money in training them up, and then they just jump ship for an extra five bucks an hour, based on how they do it. I’m going to hire you away from that company to work for me just because you’re a better-skilled worker, we’re missing the boat. They’ll never hang around, somebody will bribe them away for just a little bit more money.

 

Dan Clark:

What we want to do when we build culture, is start with the human being. And I bring this up because I stayed paralyzed for 14 months and hit rock bottom, thinking I was depressed. With suicidal thoughts, so confused like, “What a drag, my life fell apart.” And the reason why I went there, my friends, and we must talk about suicide prevention in the building trades because it’s hit an all-time high. Are you listening to me, brothers and sisters?

 

Dan Clark:

The reason why I was so confused and hit what I thought was rock bottom, is because I confused who I was with what I did. I thought I was a football player, when in reality, that’s just what I did. And when we identify ourselves in terms of what we do instead of who we are, we become a human doing instead of a human being, unacceptable significance is what we seek. My plea to the world, my plea to you on this podcast, is to itemize who you really are right now, not the motions that we go through, not the behaviors that we seem to wave as our flagship that this is who I am, no, no, no. Not what you do. Who are you, really? And this is the best story I can use to illustrate how we can answer that question.

 

Dan Clark:

I’m walking through the mall with one of my buddies. And somebody bumps into him and he spills his cup of coffee all over the floor. I said, “What happened?” He said, “I spilled my cup of coffee.” I said, “No, you didn’t.” He said, “What?” I said, “You didn’t spill your cup of coffee, you spilled what was in your cup? Had you had tea in your cup, you would have spilled tea, had you had orange juice or water in your cup, you would have spilled orange juice or water.” We can only spill what’s in our cup.

 

Dan Clark:

Let’s put it into human performance. Let’s insert this whole story into culture creation. Is your culture inspiring people to become the best that they can be? And here’s how you find out. If you’re negative and the economy bumps into you, if you are negative and something that someone says, or interest rates, or competition, or a significant other, or a spouse, or something in our life bumps into you, what’s going to spill out? If you’re negative, what spills out is anger and resentment, and, “I want to fight, are you kidding me?” And trying to put somebody else down physically and emotionally, verbally, because our lives are stagnant and stuck. We have to put somebody else down, say something derogatory about someone, gossip about someone, physically hit them to try and make ourselves feel better about who we are.

 

Dan Clark:

We’re not rising, we’re stagnant and stuck, so we have to put others below us to make us feel better about who we are. Isn’t that crazy? Now that we’ve faced the brutal facts of reality, we need to do something about it. But think about this, my friends, if you’re positive, and the economy bumps into you, if you’re positive and interest rates, a significant individual, a competitor, anything in life bumps into you, bad weather, whatever the case may be and your positive, what’s going to spill out is unconditional love, forgiveness, “Don’t worry about it, man, I’ve spilled on myself before, I’ll just take my pants into the cleaners.”

 

Dan Clark:

A non judgmental friendship. Humility, the list goes on and on, of core values, which brings us to your question, integrity. You can’t buy class. What are you doing when no one’s around that makes you safe that allows you to return home safely to your family, which is what they want you to do, which they pray for the second you leave the home, in the early morning hours of that work day. It’s pretty important that we understand how all these stories and how my message all fits together when we talk about safety.

 

Dan Clark:

And let me just throw out a shout out to WorkMax. What you do, Mike, and your company, validates what I’m talking about. You give us the opportunity to increase our frequency of feedback, which allows us to not only change our behavior, but it allows us to pick the most appropriate behavior in every moment, to keep the dream alive, to keep us safe, to keep the profitability rolling, to keep the production moving, to keep the task and delivery date on time. What you do is so attractive to the world, and that’s why you’re growing your business, and that’s why everyone in this podcast, obviously needs to subscribe to you and become a customer.

 

Dan Clark:

I’m not just trying to pledge, to, I can’t even think of the word, suck up to you. This is refreshing, and that’s why I said yes to your podcast, bro, when you approached me and you told me what you did. And then when I spoke at the AGC safety conference, and you had your five or six people back in the booth, paying as an exhibitor to support the conference, we thank you for that, I was intrigued by what you do and why you do it, applies to my message to the world, and how we can fix what’s broken in our families and in our communities, in our schools, and especially in our companies, or maybe not, especially in our companies, but especially in our country, to heal America.

 

Dan Clark:

What you teach us through WorkMax is what I’m talking about, increase our frequency of feedback, so that we know when we’re not being integral, when we’ve lost our integrity, when our trust is starting to weigh, it’s starting to shift, and somebody that loves us, that cares for us, that admires and respects us because of mutual respect and support says, “Hey, Mike, I don’t think you should be doing that. Hey, Dan, your family expects you to come home safe, let’s not get complacent on the workplace. I don’t think you should climb up on that ladder all by yourself, that’s definitely unsafe, bro.” Whatever the case may be.

 

Dan Clark:

And you know what I learned through the safety conference, Mike, was intriguing. That during the pandemic, there was an organization, a company working in Las Vegas, a construction company. And they were ridiculed and threatened with a huge fine for not wearing their masks when one of their pole climbers, or electricity experts, wasn’t even strapped in. That we had lost our focus on safety, to put it on this crazy idea of masking up. We had shifted our focus of what really matters most. And so I challenge all of you to remember that if all of us on this podcast were belly to belly live today, and we were in a room, and we exited the room and entered another room that smelled so badly that our eyes watered, our noses started to bleed, we were in gag reflex, do you realize that we stayed in that smelly, rank, stinky room for five to 10 minutes, it would no longer smell? We had become desensitized, and it now was the new normal.

 

Dan Clark:

What has happened during COVID-19 and pandemic, in our families, in our schools, in our communities, in our workforces, in our high standards of performance when it comes to safety and quality? Have we not been desensitized, like this is good enough now? Have we not become complacent, working from home because there’s no leader or manager looking at us to make sure that we’re the best version of ourselves and doing everything possible to stay safe?

 

Dan Clark:

You see, it’s what’s been so beautiful and wonderful about this pandemic, is that it really has put all the responsibility on ourselves to be self starters, to be class human beings, to focus in on positive things at our families instead of arguing and escalating domestic violence, are you kidding me? This is the time to appreciate and to love, and to forgive, and to make a list of all the things that are going right instead of the things that are going wrong. Because we don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.

 

Dan Clark:

If we’re all looking out the same window at the same lashing rainstorm in Los Angeles, somebody in our group will complain, “What a horrible day.” Someone else in our group will exclaim, “What a wonderful day,” and the weather did not change. We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are. Who are you and what’s going to come out when you’re squeezed, what’s going to spill out of you when someone bumps into you. And if it’s negative, I aint hanging around with you. If it’s negative, you’re not on my team, we’re here to win the Superbowl. If you’re on my team, go find your own team, and in any team.

 

Mike Merrill:

You’ve said so many great things, but I also keep coming back to not only were you paralyzed as a football player, but you were a first-round draft choice by the Raiders. This wasn’t some high school game or some city league game, you were in the big time and getting ready to go to the big stage. And so to go from that to paralyzed, amazing to come back from that.

 

Dan Clark:

Yeah. And again, it emphasizes that we can’t just put our… I can’t speak for women, but I can speak for us men. So many of us live lives of quiet desperation. “Be a big boy, don’t cry, I can handle this.” We think it’s a weakness to seek out for help, especially when it comes to sadness. And when we talked about suicide prevention, I was there. I’m glad you brought that up again. Because I was at the top of my game like everybody else on this podcast, and then something happens, and we get that punch in the gut.

 

Dan Clark:

Let’s go there, bro. We know so many people, family members, friends, who had COVID. And everybody in my family, my brother and all of his children and blah, blah, blah, my mom, COVID… My mom didn’t have COVID but everybody in my family got COVID and they had mild symptoms. I’m invincible, just like I thought I was when I was playing football. Could it happen to you? Nah. Could it happen to me? Nah, no way. No way, I’m invincible, I paid the price, it’s going to happen to somebody else.

 

Dan Clark:

December 17th, tested positive for COVID, December 21st, I stopped breathing, I’m taken to the hospital. For the next seven days, and heparin shots in my stomach for blood clots, and Toradol for… My body hurts so badly. Every inch of it all, 65 inches, I hurt so bad. My cough was so brutal. I was waking up deer on Mount Olympus. They’re like, in the morning like, “What happened over there in that neighborhood?” And I was sitting home, after seven days, with pneumonia. Now that I’ve recovered, people are going, “Do you have any lingering symptoms yet?” “Yesterday I coughed up a box of Milk Duds I’d eat in a movie when I was nine.”

 

Dan Clark:

To battle COVID, and to think I was invincible and ain’t going to happen to me, and then to have it just blindside me. Almost every day, I push on the door, the door knob falls off, I pick up my briefcase, the handle falls off, I’m getting afraid to go to the bathroom. We have got to talk about prevention, not about rehabilitation. And in my situation, what allowed me to get better, was when I finally realized the difference between what I do and who I am. That everybody on this podcast is supposed to be here on this earth at this time. You are somebody very special. And we need to be the best version of ourselves, you’re going to make a lousy somebody else.

 

Dan Clark:

There’s a reason why you weren’t born in the 1800s, there’s a reason why every single one of us on this podcast was not born 20 years from now. You’re on this earth for a reason, we better figure out what that reason is, and not try to live small and hide our light under a bushel, hide it so no one can actually see us. What we have to do is start dreaming a mighty dream. As I said, I hit a downward spiral where I thought I hit a deep depression. In reality, now that I’ve recovered, you know what I learned? Huge difference between being depressed and being disappointed. Giant difference between being depressed and being discouraged.

 

Dan Clark:

Psychologists will remind us about HALTS. When we’re hungry, angry, lonely, tired or sad. When we’re experiencing any one of those five emotionally distorting and debilitating emotional conditions, we cannot feel, we cannot truly love, we cannot listen. It confuses us, and we start confusing activity with accomplishment, we stop serving others, which is the solution to feeling better about ourselves, and our lives seem to unravel.

 

Dan Clark:

But remember, no matter how bad your life is, no one ever hits rock bottom. You hit rock foundation, you hit rock belief, you hit the baseline core values on which you were raised. And regardless of what happens in the economy, our organizations never hit rock bottom, they hit rock foundation, they hit the baseline governing principles on which they were built, which takes us full circle to how we began, Michael, is still about culture, belief expectation, behavior, and what we’re not willing to tolerate. Eliminating the worst behaviors and the weakest beliefs in our organization so that we’re all on the same page, the same team, with the same goal. That’s how we keep people, that’s how we attract people, and that’s how we increase profitability, and more importantly, that’s how we fulfill the full measure of our existence to become who we were born to be. You’re going to make a lousy somebody else.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. You’re talking about laws of attraction, and when I think of the labor market, the construction, especially as you well know, with your involvement with AGC, there’s just a huge shortage of good help. And so I think these principles you’re talking about now, are probably more critical than ever, that we figure out how to get these things right, so we can start attracting that labor force that we’re missing.

 

Dan Clark:

Yeah. In the dating world, all the surveys worldwide, in different countries and different cultures, every once in a while that pops up on the internet, and I’ll read it, it makes me smile. What do you notice first in a person? And the list goes on and on. I always see, “Notice someone’s eyes first.” Well, in our pandemic, in our mask world, suddenly we realize the eye is the window to the soul. If you pay attention in your own home, if you pay attention in your workplace, you can see if someone’s happy, you can see if someone’s in pain, you can see if someone’s unhappily married, you can see if someone’s sad. Let’s pay attention.

 

Dan Clark:

If the first thing you notice in someone is a smile, someone might be archaic and say, “Well, yeah, I noticed his body, and I noticed her body.” Well, I’m old. I’m 60 years old, I used to be chiseled, I used to benchpress way over 400 pounds around the four, 440. And now I’m so sold I’d bend over to pull up my socks and I think, “What else can I accomplish while I’m way down here?” And I wake up injured and all I did was lay there. “Oh my gosh, I better start stretching out,” because apparently, sleeping is a really tough exercise for me, I might pull something at 2:00am.

 

Dan Clark:

If we only attract people into our building trades based on their outward appearance, based on their outside skill set, what can you do with your hands? How qualified are you to do what we asked you to do on the ‘how to’ side? Eventually, they’re going to jump ship. We need to attract people not just based on what they look like on the outside or their skill set, but on who they are from the inside and how they make us feel better. The marriages that last the most are not those that originally started as a physical attraction, man, your heart, which is lust.

 

Dan Clark:

The relationships that last… I’ve been married for 41 years to the same woman. I got a buddy who says “Yeah, I’ve been married 20 years, not all in a row.” That’s funny. I’ve been married for 41 years to the same woman. And I’m not a genius in marriage counseling or anything else. That every morning if I wake up and I answer why am I married, and I can come up with a good answer, there’s a really good chance I can stay happily married for the next hour.

 

Dan Clark:

And if I could ask that question, why am I married, again, I can stay married for two hours. Eventually, a whole day, eventually, a whole week, eventually, a whole month. And if we stay happily married for two years, do you realize we’ll set an all-time record in the state of California? There’ll be marriage podcast, and talk about marriage counseling. So, let’s talk.

 

Dan Clark:

Love is a commitment, not a way of feeling. Romance is not love, romance comes from a Greek word that means erotic, so I don’t even want to talk about it. If I love my wife because she’s beautiful, that’s romance. If she’s beautiful because I love her, that’s real love, it’s a value creating love, that inspires both of us to become the best version of ourselves. Yet how many of us confuse love, commit, with romance emotion? What do we say our whole lives? “Oh, I love her so much, she makes me feel differently than I’ve ever felt before.” “Oh, I love him so much, he makes me feel differently than I’ve ever felt before.” So do breakfast burritos.

 

Dan Clark:

Maybe you just need a long cold shower and a box of Rolaids. What’s my point? We can’t focus in on the outside appearance, our skill set and what we do. We must always focus in on who we are and why we do what we do, that begins with integrity, a commitment to service before self, and a definite long-term dedication to excellence in all we do. I challenge everybody on this podcast to not just be safe for work, be safe on your ride home. Are you putting on your seatbelt?

 

Dan Clark:

If you’re finally off work on Friday and you’re excited to take your little guy fishing and you hop in the pickup truck, are you going down the dirt road 60 miles an hour without your seatbelts on because you’re having so much fun with your fishing poles and you’re talking about what you’re going to do that day together? We’ve got to make sure that we understand the subconscious and the conscious mind, that if we want to change a habit, we have to first identify what we want to change, make it easy to do, and then link it to an existing habit that triggers our desire to do the next habit, to create the new habit, to uplevel our performance, to uplevel our belief.

 

Dan Clark:

So, when we talk about safety, do it because I said so, and here’s the placard, and OSHA comes in trying to catch us doing something wrong. Let’s shift that and catch each other doing something right, because we’re doing it because we say so not because it’s expected by management or leadership or ownership, we’re doing it because it’s demanded of ourselves, it’s who we really are. You can surgically remove the stripes from a tiger and it’s still a tiger.

 

Dan Clark:

If you and I, Mike, are roommates in college, and we collectively agree to wake up every single morning at 6:00am, and go to the gym and push ourselves to our ultimate capacity of potential as a human being, and then leave the gym and study together for an hour to prepare for the exams of the day and to prepare ourselves to enlighten our minds, and we do it together, we’re only changing our behavior. But if you, Michael, wake up every single morning at 6:00am regardless of I do or not, and we’re still roommates, and you go to the gym and you push yourself, and you study for an hour regardless of I do or not, you do it because you say so, that’s who you really are. You can take the guy out of the neighborhood, but you cannot take the neighborhood out of the guy. You can surgically remove the stripes from a tiger, and it’s still a tiger. In country music what do we say? No matter where you go, there you are. The geographic relocation doesn’t really change much.

 

Dan Clark:

How many times do we see a wonderful, wonderful woman doing everything she knows how to do, to get out of a physically and an emotionally abusive relationship, only to jump back into a more dysfunctional relationship with a bigger loser than the bum she just got rid of? It’s because she’s still exactly the same human being in the law of attraction. We don’t attract who we want, we attract who we are. We must be willing to pay any price and travel any distance to associate with extraordinary human beings. In order for us to attract extraordinary human beings, we must first be extraordinary human beings. I thought I better bring that full circle as we wind up our time.

 

Mike Merrill:

At what point did you connect the dots with this mindset? Because clearly, at some point in your life, and maybe it was when you were young and you were always this guy, but at some point you decided, “I’ve got to look at things this way.” Do you remember when that was, or was it an event, or did it happen naturally?

 

Dan Clark:

That’s such a good question, Mike. I could go really deep on that. But I think as I’ve… Because of what I do, I’ve written 35 books. I hope everybody can follow me, danclark.com is my website, obviously, and you can click on Training. And I have online courses on leadership and public speaking, how to tell a story, how to make it funny, provocative and emotional, which helps you in your presentations to win the bid, and you’re in the construction world, all of those things.

 

Dan Clark:

And we can take a deeper… And I have videotapes and great stories on record and blah, blah, blah. But as I’ve analyzed, as I’ve written 35 books, I think it began… My first memory, Mike, is when I was eight years old, battling with cancer in my throat.

 

Mike Merrill:

Oh goodness.

 

Dan Clark:

And I don’t know what our earliest memories are of anyone on the podcast, but I remember being in the primary children’s hospital, and the cancer was on the wall of my vocal cords. And one more day before it was reversed, one more day, a miracle in my life, one more day it would have eaten through that wall and I would have never been able to talk, I would have never been able to sing. You’ll see on my website, I’ve got some gold records in country music. Some of you will love my songs. “Had I shot you when I met you, I’d be out of jail by now. My wife ran off with my best friend and I’m going to miss him dearly.” That’s a tear jerker. “How can I miss you if you won’t go away.” I got great songs.

 

Dan Clark:

But I would have never been able to record any music or be a professional speaker had that not happened. And so that’s my earliest recollection of realizing the significance of personal intensity, personal focus, our personal responsibility to take charge of what it is that we can do to become better, to heal, to do what is necessary, what is required of us.

 

Dan Clark:

And when I was 12 years old, I was in a weekly television series. I know that that same mindset came through especially in the audition. I was the voice of a cartoon character. And in high school, I was an alpine ski champion, a motocross champion, a Golden Gloves boxing state champion. This attitude of personal excellence has been part of my DNA, because I was bullied so many times, made fun of as a kid. Because of my athleticism, I was always playing on teams with kids who were older than me or associating with them. And for some reason, out of their insecurities, I would get beat up. I got in a fight every single day in the fourth grade, and it was just defense, it was not me going after this kid.

 

Dan Clark:

And to be pulled down and made fun of and told my whole life, “You can’t do that,” or, “You’re not good enough,” it accelerated my desire to prove them wrong that, “Yo, yeah, watch me.” And so that played out in high school. I got called American football player as a junior in high school, my senior year I got hurt in the third game, and I was worried about getting a scholarship. And I had to battle back in time to make the basketball team, which allowed me to get a football scholarship because they could see my athleticism on the basketball court and see that I had recovered.

 

Dan Clark:

And everything in my life is linked. I’ve connected the dots based on, I really don’t care what anybody says to me, I’m going to fire up. I’ve got so many stories where people have said, “No, you can’t, you don’t have what it takes.” And deep down inside of me, I’m not an angry guy, and I’m not a mouthy disrespectful guy, I’ll just say, “Thanks.” And then deep down inside, my heart starts to flip and burn. And I start waking up early and staying up late, and I can’t wait to prove them wrong.

 

Dan Clark:

I ran into this kid who beat the crap out of me. I defended myself, but he fought me every single day in the fourth grade. And when I graduated from high school, I was 372 pounds, state 100-yard dash champion. So skinny I had to jump around in the shower to get wet. And I was the Golden Gloves boxing champion. And in the first two summers after high school graduation, I grew two and a half inches taller and gained 87 pounds. And then one day I ran into this whistle dick. And he was looking at me like, “I sure hope he doesn’t remember fourth grade.” And he came up to my armpit, he hadn’t grown. I gave him the look. I didn’t have to say one thing, I’m just looking at him like, “Really?”

 

Mike Merrill:

It’s all you got?

 

Dan Clark:

“You were so insecure in those days, your life sucks so badly that you had to put me down to make yourself feel better about who you are.” And now I am not better than anyone else, don’t get me wrong, I’m just fired up to figure out who I really am, and can I do this? Let me see. Can I learn to paint, can I learn to play the piano, can I learn to play the guitar, can I learn how to fix a bad sink, can I fix a broken pipe? What can I do? Why not let curiosity drive me every single day to wake up earlier than most instead of later than most, and make sure I’m the best version of myself so I don’t die with my music still in me. And that’s my own personal motivation.

 

Dan Clark:

And people who just sleep and, “This is who I am,” good for you all, but not my circle of influence because I don’t leave saying, “I like me best when I’m with you, I want to see you again.” I want some inspiration. If I’m the smartest person in the room, I’m in the wrong room. I need to hang around with people who will push me in the weight room, who will push me in the recording studio, who will push me in the professional speaking world, who will help me become a better author, a better storyteller, a better speaker, a better dad.

 

Dan Clark:

You got to stop competing against others, my friend. I don’t want to be the best dad in a roomful of dysfunctional deadbeat fathers. If we’re playing golf in a golf tournament, and you’re playing on an 18-hole course, 72 par, and I shoot 108 and everybody else shoots 120, and I win the tournament because I suck less than you suck, that’s a bad system. We’ve got to compete against ourselves, so when I go out on the golf course, first thing I do is compete against myself, make sure my swing is as good as it can be, then I compete against the golf course one hole at a time. And then, I compete against my buddies in the foursome where we got a little action going on closest to the pin, or whatever we’re going to do, on an 18-hole bet. And it’s always in that order. It has to be.

 

Dan Clark:

And the same thing in the workplace. “Well, he did it, so I can do it,” or, “They’re not holding her accountable, why should they hold me accountable?” That doesn’t matter in the big scheme of things. What we have to do is say, what is the task, what is the requirement, what is my highest strongest belief, my highest expectation, my expected best behavior, what must I do to prepare myself to always do that, be consistent, with integrity, service before self and a commitment to excellence in all I do, and the rest takes care of itself.

 

Dan Clark:

And there’s some people who don’t like me, and I get over it. They don’t want to be around me, I get over it. And that’s not pompous or windbag at all, that’s just basically saying, “Life’s short.” And I almost died in the hospital with COVID, and I was paralyzed for 14 months playing football. I’ve had enough kicks in the face, punches in the gut, to remind me, “You got to fight, you got to hang tough, and you got to be the best you can be. Don’t ever take one day for granted because we don’t know if tomorrow is my last day.”

 

Dan Clark:

I don’t know if this is my last podcast. That’s an odd and eerie feeling, but put yourself in my position. In one moment, my entire life was changed, from an athlete, getting all my attention with my body, to a philosopher, if you will, a speaker, a motivational, inspirational guy trying to fire people up. And that’s my greater joy. And let me just say this as we conclude. Now, in retrospect, Mike, my paralysis is one of the best things that ever happened to me. Don’t misunderstand. My injury was not one of the best things that happened to me, but who I became as a man, and what I learned about the sanctity of life, and time, and priorities, and relationships as a result of going through that setback, clearly makes it one of the best things that has ever happened to me. We have got to understand that adversity is what introduces us to ourselves. No one will ever know how strong we are, until being strong is our only choice. We really have to get up and go again every single time. Get knocked down seven times, get back up eight. And that day is a pretty good day. And then you hold on and never say never because in two more days, as my song says, in two more days, tomorrow’s yesterday. Ladies and gentlemen, don’t take your life, ladies and gentlemen, don’t give up, ladies and gentlemen, don’t think that’s the course of action. No one wants to kill themselves, they just want the pain to go away, and there’s always ways for us to find the solution. Guaranteed, hold on for one more day.

 

Dan Clark:

And I will help you, danclark.com. Follow me on Instagram, danclarkspeak, and you’re going to get some serious videos. Master the morning, own the day. I can’t tell you how excited I am for us to keep in touch. Please keep in touch, or this podcast is for not.

 

Mike Merrill:

I agree with that. You’ve got a podcast too, what’s your podcast called that you’ve got coming out?

 

Dan Clark:

It’s called Power Players. And now that you know my philosophy of life, I invite intriguing guests, Grammy Award winning songwriters, individuals like Amy Purdy, if you watch Dancing With the Stars. She had both of her legs amputated because of an illness when she was a teenager. And she made it all the way to the finals. Her partner was Derek Hough. So inspirational. Talk about you thinking you had a bad day, look what she’s been able to overcome.

 

Dan Clark:

I have Olympic champions and sports heroes, and individuals who you can believe, because they all remind us we have to be ordinary before we’re extraordinary. Every single amazing human being we’ve ever met who’s inspired us to greatness, was ordinary, they were exactly like us before they became extraordinary. In my podcast, Power Players, I’m going to extract from them, I have extracted from them, stories about resiliency and about how to get back up and go again.

 

Dan Clark:

And why each of us has a story to tell, and why each of us is significant, and not better than or less than anyone else. But we are commissioned by God at birth, in my mind, to become the best version of ourselves, that’s why we’re born into this world. To find out who we really are, what our talents, how can we make the world better so we don’t die with our music still in us. Podcast Power Players. I feel like I’m this walking billboard saying, “Okay, now, please, please follow me on Instagram, @danclarkspeak.”

 

Dan Clark:

But I have ancillary reasons, I really want to keep in touch. Because anyone who’s tuning in to your podcast, will obviously want to tune in to my podcast, knowing that we do become the average of the five people we associate with the most. And what you talk about and who you are as a man, Mike, is so much bigger than the building industries, is so much bigger than the construction industry. And I would hope people would think of me in the same way that what we talk about is not revolutionary, it’s bringing us back to what is really right. Those time-tested truths that have never, ever changed, that apply to every generation, Millennials, Gen X’ers, we Baby Boomers. My hair is falling out, I’m growing in places I don’t even need it, my only hope is my hair in my right ear will grow long enough, I can comb it up over the top of my head. And apparently, Michael, with all due respect, every time you got a gray hair, you just plucked it out.

 

Mike Merrill:

I do. Yeah, I do.

 

Dan Clark:

I don’t even want to worry, I don’t even want to bother.

 

Mike Merrill:

Well, Dan, this has been a fantastic time. I’ve surely enjoyed learning from you and talking with you. I really appreciate you coming on today.

 

Dan Clark:

Thank you, Michael. And I’m a fan of yours, so we’ll definitely connect offline many, many times and see how I can serve you because you’re already serving me. Thanks for WorkMax too, I need to plug that one more time. It’s intriguing to me how someone like you would start a company based on what you believe. And that’s why your company is successful and why it’s going to escalate exponentially in growth and the service provided, because it’s built on the correct core principles that we’ve been talking about this entire podcast, so I congratulate you and I encourage everyone to investigate WorkMax and to support you. Because together we rise. You’re amazing. Thank you.

 

Mike Merrill:

Thank you, Dan. I sure appreciate it, and I really look forward to keeping in touch, for sure.

 

Dan Clark:

Thanks, man.

 

Mike Merrill:

All right.

 

Dan Clark:

I was just saying goodnight, goodbye, good morning to everybody.

 

Mike Merrill:

Love it. Well, thank you to the guests for joining us today on the Mobile Workforce Podcast sponsored by AboutTime Technologies and WorkMax. If you enjoyed the conversation that Dan and I had today, please follow Dan at danclark.com, follow him on all the socials, and check out his content there.

 

Mike Merrill:

Of course, if you enjoyed the conversation, we would also deeply appreciate a nice rating and review, and share this podcast with your friends. After all, I know Dan’s mission is very much like ours. We want you to not only improve your business, but your life.

Strengthen Construction Supply Chains Through Technology and Relationship Building

Strengthen Construction Supply Chains Through Technology and Relationship Building

In the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic threw much of the construction industry into disarray, with projects going on hiatus and some businesses going under. And while the majority of the industry adjusted to new safety regulations and got back to business, the metal industry wasn’t spared. The virus caused metal mills across the country to close down or dramatically diminished their capacity, which caused supply chain shortages that are still being worked out today. Fortunately, Isaiah Industries President Todd Miller says technology and relationship building are two ways for contractors to get back on track.

In this episode of the Mobile Workforce Podcast, Todd explains how technology solutions are helping contractors build better relationships with the suppliers as well as providing support for their sales and manufacturing processes. He also shares ways in which customers benefit from technologies like visualization software and artificial intelligence, and why the silver lining of the pandemic is how it’s led to companies thinking outside the box.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Develop strong supply chain relationships. While roofing contractors often think about the materials needed for projects, they forget about the people providing them with those supplies. But remember, networking and building relationships with suppliers is important. Not only are these key business relationships, they can provide support with product knowledge and suggest alternatives if certain items get discontinued.
  2. Improve productivity with technology solutions. Building products manufacturers have been late adopters of technology, but that’s turning around thanks to satellite visualization software and artificial intelligence. Today, workers can leverage this tech to measure buildings for things like roofing materials, siding and windows. On top of that, software can determine what products need to be ordered and connect to supplier databases, which streamlines communications and facilitates faster ordering.
  3. Technology can also boost sales presentations. Todd raves over modern softwares that can revamp home improvement pitches, especially when being conducted remotely. He emphasizes that virtual presentations means more prospective customers can be reached since distance is not a factor. Not only does this increase the number of sales meetings, it means contractors can sell more jobs. Post-pandemic, expect the use of technology to boost sales to continue.

 

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Click Play to Listen to the Podcast Now:

Episode Transcript:

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast. I am your host, Mike Merrill. I appreciate the opportunity to sit down with you today and especially with our distinguished guest, Mr. Todd Miller, who is the president of Isaiah Industries. Todd is highly regarded in the roofing and manufacturing space, and one of the suppliers and providers of technology solutions and more advanced systems for roofing that roofers are enjoying today. So, Todd, grateful to have you on today and excited for the conversation.

Todd Miller:

Thanks so much. I’m really looking forward to today and appreciate the opportunity.

Mike Merrill:

You bet. I guess, first off, before we get too deep into the conversation, just wanted to ask, are there any associations or affiliations that you’re proud of or that your organization contributes to?

Todd Miller:

Yeah. So as you mentioned, we’re a manufacturer of metal roofing and metal building materials. So the two trade associations that I’ve been heavily involved with over the years, and I am very proud of the work that both of them do. One is Metal Roofing Alliance. Metal Roofing Alliance is more an educational organization that’s geared toward homeowners to help educate them about the benefits and other attributes of metal roofing. So that’s metalroofing.com, and then there’s also Metal Construction Association or MCA, which is metalconstruction.org. That’s much more of a technical organization. They get involved with a lot of the code issues, looking at testing of different systems and so forth, and they do some market development also, but another great organization over the years. So Metal Roofing Alliance and Metal Construction Association.

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. Well, that’s great. I know for us, those affiliations with different organizations that do such good work are an important part of our business, and it gives us opportunities to rub shoulders and compare best practices with other vendors in our space. So good to hear that you’re involved and plugged in to those things, and I think… Were you on a board before, or chair, or different levels of involvement?

Todd Miller:

Sure. So both of those organizations, I’ve been on the board, and Metal Construction Association, I chaired for a couple years. I did my stint there as well, but yeah, you’re right. There is so much. One of the things that I think I learned early on in my career was… especially in this little niche we call metal roofing, we really can’t look at each other as our competition. I think that even goes for contractors in their local markets. The lion’s share of the market is still other materials, and so if you can be together, you can be stronger together. As the saying goes, a rising tide raises all ships. So a strong believer in companies working together for the betterment of all and the betterment of their industry.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. I love that approach to things. That’s something that we try and do here as well. So great for you. So as far as your background with Isaiah Industries, can you tell us a little bit how that got started and maybe a little bit how you arrived where you’re at today?

Todd Miller:

Sure. So I was born into it. My father had worked for Alcoa Building Products back in the 1970s, left Alcoa in 1980 to start this company. So I was working here summers during high school and college, and that type of stuff. When I came out of college, I was looking at a lot of different opportunities out there. At the end of the day, I’m like, “There’s a business sitting over here that I already know and I already understand. I don’t have to learn. I can hit the ground running.” So my dad was good enough to let me come into the business. He wasn’t sure that that was really the right thing to do, but I think it worked out okay.

But back in the early years, our business has morphed a lot. So in the early ’80s, we were national suppliers to Pizza Hut and Dairy Queen, IHOP, 7/11, Dunkin’ Donuts. All those brightly colored roofs you remember from Americana and traveling down the highway with your parents. Those were a lot of the products we were making, and that was really fueled our business in the early ’80s. But as an example, in the early ’80s, Pizza Hut was building 400 stores here. By about 1988, they were closing about 200 stores a year.

Mike Merrill:

Wow.

Todd Miller:

So we saw that that commercial business wasn’t always going to be something that we could depend upon, and the interesting thing was there were a few contractors out there selling one of our product lines residentially. There were a couple of guys in Texas, and California, and Pennsylvania. So when I got out of college, came into the business full time, I just went out and started spending tons of time with those guys, trying to learn what they were doing, how they were doing it, and then we set about setting up other contractors across the country selling residential metal roofing. 

So we really were pioneers in this in terms of manufactured products. I mean, there were always sheet metal guys out there who would put a sheet metal roof on your home. But as far as manufactured products, we were really a pioneer, and it was just a real blessing to get to know folks who had pioneered all this, and to learn from them, and then to go out and spread it across the country. So today, our company, 90% of what we do is manufacture residential metal roofing. We get involved with… We enjoy working with churches. For us, we see that as very missional and something we enjoy doing. So we do some of that. We do some multifamily, a little bit of light commercial, but the vast majority is reroofing of single-family homes.

Mike Merrill:

Interesting. So basically, you’ve come up with a cure for shingles with metal roofing. Is that what I’m hearing?

Todd Miller:

A cure for shingles. Hey, I may have to steal that line.

Mike Merrill:

That’s great. I’m the king of the dad jokes. So that tracks.

Todd Miller:

I relinquish my title. Good job.

Mike Merrill:

Good to know. I’ll give you my FedEx account. You can send the trophy my way.

Todd Miller:

There you go. There you go.

Mike Merrill:

So that. Yeah, it is actually fascinating. I know where I live, even residential areas, again, you’re seeing a lot more homes getting reroofed. Rather than the traditional three-tab shingles or even architectural, they’re going metal, and we’re seeing solar. I mean, it’s just a major infrastructure upgrade even in residentials. So it’s interesting to hear you are seeing the same thing.

Todd Miller:

Yeah. It really is, and so we have seen the market share of metal in the residential arena go from about 2% maybe 20 years ago up to 13%, 14% today, which when you consider the size of the market, that’s pretty significant.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

Todd Miller:

Metal has also, at this point… Well, a few years ago, surpassed tile as the number two most used product.

Mike Merrill:

Wow.

Todd Miller:

So metal is the second most used, what we call steep slope roofing material. So with the largest being asphalt shingles, of course.

Mike Merrill:

Interesting. So I guess to get to the topic of the conversation we wanted to have today, let’s talk about the relationship between a supplier like yourself and the contractors. I know today… I mean, I just saw the other day. At Home Depot, plywood was like 48 bucks a sheet or I mean, just unbelievable for 7/16ths OSB.

Todd Miller:

Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

Nuts, right?

Todd Miller:

Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

So when prices are up like that and everybody is busier than ever, it feels like those relationships would be more critical than ever for companies to continue and keeping up with their workload.

Todd Miller:

Yeah. I really think they are, and that’s one of the things. So metal has not been immune to price changes here recently as well. We’ve suffered a lot as an industry from COVID. A lot of the metal mills either shut down or had their capacity diminished because of the virus. So metal became short in supply because as we know, the building industry stayed very robust. A year ago, we all didn’t know that would be the case.

Mike Merrill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Todd Miller:

So what we’re seeing is shortages out there. Delays. I don’t think metal has anywhere near the issues that for some reason, the lumber industry does. We’re not seeing that kind of increase of those kinds of shortages, but can’t say that we’re immune to it either, and so a lot of folks are asking me, Todd as a contractor, “How do I protect myself during these price increases and these shortages?” I always have a number of things to suggest, but really, the number one is make sure you’ve got tight supply chain relationships. Realistically, I don’t know that contractors… Most contractors have often thought in terms of supply chain because generally speaking, products were fairly available. Sometimes they would even have two or three sources of products.

Mike Merrill:

Right.

Todd Miller:

Then, of course, when the big boxes came on the scene, that opened up a whole new avenue of them to purchase their materials. But now, with things tightening up, I’m saying, “You got to know who that supply chain is and start to make sure that relationship is tight.” I had a contractor call me the other day. A fairly large asphalt shingle contractor out of Denver. He’s genuinely concerned. He’s on allocation from his shingle suppliers. He’s seeing shortages. He’s seeing products being discontinued, colors being discontinued. He said, “If we have a bad storm market this year in any of the hail areas,” he said, “I’m genuinely concerned where I’m going to get product from.” So he had reached out to us because he wanted to talk to metal guys and composite guys, and build his supply chain with those products as well as alternatives to asphalt shingles. I thought, “Kudos to you.” That’s really forward-thinking and was a great move on his part, I thought.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s brilliant. Really, I think in a lot of… and especially when you’re involving insurance companies and other things, a roof… You don’t think too much about it until it starts leaking, so. But once it does, it’s more critical than anything to get that repair before more damage, and more money are lost, and more…

Todd Miller:

You have to do something. Yeah, that’s absolutely right. So, yeah. So these are certainly interesting times.  

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s great. So in most parts of business, communication is always key. So wh at role are technology solutions and systems playing in having this more efficient communication and collaboration?

Todd Miller:

Yeah. It’s pretty neat because I think that building products manufacturers have always had the reputation of being pretty late adapters in terms of technology and not really knowing even what technology would be of benefit to our customers. So to that extent, I got to put a dig on manufacturers of building materials because we haven’t been the best, but the point is it’s getting much better. One of the areas that we certainly saw it originally was the use of satellite imagery to measure buildings for roofing materials. They can even measure siding and windows, and so a lot of manufacturers have been very proactive in terms of building relationships with some of the satellite imagery companies, and then making sure that their contractors were keyed into that as well

Then, of course, the satellite imagery companies have been saying, “Well, what’s the next step?” So the next step has been for them to build databases of products made by the various manufacturers, which requires the manufacturer to be involved, to have that database built of their products so that it facilitates ordering. So you can’t not only measure the roof, the software can go ahead and tell you all the products it’s going to take to build that roof as an example. Some of them also now will actually place that order direct with your supplier.

Now, here in the metal roofing industry, I mean, that’s been very, very helpful because many of our products have to be… especially if you’re dealing in the vertical seam products, standing seam type products, those are all custom lengths. So the ability to pull those satellite measurements to help you quote the job and even build the order is extremely helpful. It’s funny when satellite measurements first started coming out. I mean, I was the guy sitting there that’s like, “I don’t know if I trust this. How do I know this is accurate?”

Mike Merrill:

Right.

Todd Miller:

Frankly, in the early years, there were issues. Generally, today, I would trust that satellite measurement over most guys with a tape measure.

Mike Merrill:

Interesting.

Todd Miller:

They really are amazingly accurate. So we use them pretty regularly to even do custom-length panels and things like that. So that was I think the foray maybe of tech, if you will, and the ability to use it to help better serve contractors was through that measuring and ordering piece.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that. I grew up in the industry as well, and I remember back in the day when it was paper blueprints. If all the sets were lent out, you may have to pull the ladder out and drive 30 miles to the project, and get up on the roof, and pull a tape, and… I mean, that on a steep pitched roof. That’s not always either a safe or easy task. So amazing advancements in so many different ways in technology.

Todd Miller:

Even then, you were still wondering, “Did they build the building to match the plan?”

Mike Merrill:

That’s right. Yeah, or, “That feels like an 8/12. That’s not a 6/12 either.”

Todd Miller:

Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

But yeah, it’s interesting how many advancements we’ve had. I have to wonder. What does drone technology do to affect some of these things as well?

Todd Miller:

So that’s been huge as well. So most contractors at this point have a drone, and they’re using them for roof inspections. They’re using them to go out and capture images to bring back into the home to show the property owner, the homeowner, whoever. “Hey, here’s what’s going on on your roof.” It’s also taken us… Another thing that this all has done is partly safety too. I mean, no longer does that salesperson have to climb up on that roof, which opens you up to a whole new broad group of possible participants in our industry. People who previously said, “Yeah. Roofing interests me, but the same way I’m going to climb up on a roof.” Well, they don’t have to anymore. So drone imagery has been great.

The other great thing that I think was one of the early parts of tech coming into our industry was, of course, visualization software, and so visualization software. A lot of manufacturers have it now, and a lot of contractors, if they tap into the right manufacturer, can actually bring that visualization software directly over to their websites. But that allows the customer to upload a photo, and to play around with different products and colors, and that type of thing. 

Now, we’re getting into the next stage of that. I know our company is working with our supplier on visualization, and our next area is going to be using artificial intelligence so that… It used to be if you wanted to bring in a picture of your house, you had to go in there and pick all the corner points of the roof and tell it where the roof was, and then it would put the product on there. Well, with AI, it automatically does that masking and figures out, “Hey, here’s roof,” figures the right angle, that type of thing. So we’re really excited about bringing that into this as well, which is the cutting edge right now in terms of visualization type things.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. It makes me think as you’re talking about all these advancements. It surely has impacted the sales process also because now, if you’ve got these tools as a sales option instead of the old paper, flip decks, or…

Todd Miller:

Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

Then, we had PowerPoints, and now we’re just in a whole different world. So what impact have you seen that have on the sales process?

Todd Miller:

So one of the things that we’re really excited about right now is there’s a platform called Ingage, which is I-N-G-A-G-E. I think there’s some others out there, but I’m really smitten by Ingage right now. But Ingage is working with manufacturers like us to develop very interactive sales presentations. So yes, you’re exactly right. The old way of having a home improvement guy come to your house, he’d brought out the huge three-ring binder, and he’d flip through pages, and every once in a while, you’d catch a glimpse that his script was on the backside, so you knew he was reading through you.

But the cool thing about these new interactive presentations, which of course are typically done on tablets or something, is that they are not so linear. So one of the things you always ran into, if you were doing a flip chart type or just a straight PowerPoint presentation, was the customer would ask you a question, and you’d have to say, “Oh, well, we’ll get to that in a second. Just hold on. We’ll get to it. I promise,” or else you risk having to go down that rabbit trail, and then go down it again when the deck slide showed that. But these new ones, you can flip in and out. They aren’t linear. So if the consumer gets emotional about a particular topic, you can go there rather than delay that emotion and try to come back to it later on.

So I’m just incredibly excited about that, and we’re seeing a lot of manufacturers get on board with that type of an interactive presentation. Also, of course, one of the things that we’ve seen happen so much since COVID is a lot of contractors are doing virtual presentations rather than going into the consumer’s home. So this type of presentation lends itself extremely well to a virtual presentation as well.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I almost can’t even imagine going all the way back, rewinding the tape to the ’90s and the early 2000s when I was out there swinging the hammer. It’s just a whole different world in every way virtually, and digitally, and technologically.

Todd Miller:

Yeah. It is very exciting stuff, and we love the fact that… Again, we’ve seen that metamorphosis from measuring software and things like that to the visualization, and now to the actual sales presentation and bringing that all together in a way that helps contractors sell more jobs or sell more jobs professionally, or helps the property owner be more involved and emotional about what they’re buying. One of the things that we talk a lot about in sales is most customers buy rather emotionally, but they still got to have the logical end of things for it all to make sense.

So as an example, in our industry, I always tell people that after people have this metal roof installed, the thing that they tell everyone about is how beautiful it is. But by the same token, when they go to work and they’re standing around the coffee pot, they’re not telling people they paid $80,000 for a roof because it was pretty. They’re telling them, “Hey, I bought it because it’s sustainable. It’s energy efficient.” All these types of things. So these new presentations just offer this great marriage of emotion with logic to guide the consumer to the right decision for them, and we know as salespeople, sometimes that decision isn’t going to be our product, and that’s cool, but we have some great tools now because of technology to help them make the right decision.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that, and I think just going back to a couple of comments you made earlier, the fact that we’re doing it safer and more efficiently, we’re not wasting fuel, and time, and resources, and again, risking people being in unsafe environments just to get an estimate together or just to go and double-check something. Then, we can do it digitally. We don’t have to drive to their house. There’s so many efficiencies gained that ultimately in the end, the consumer wins, the supplier wins, the contractor wins. It’s a beautiful thing.

Todd Miller:

Yeah. I agree, and one of the things that we have seen with some of the contractors who have adopted doing virtual presentations, video conferencing type presentations with property owners is some of them are saying, “I’m never going to go back. I’m always going to do it this way.” Just a good example you touched on. I mean, it used to be if a sales person was doing a professional presentation of a product, if he was really lucky, they might be able to do three presentations a day, but probably no more than two. I mean, they almost had to be right next door if you’re going to do more than two. Well, now, someone can sit and do virtual presentations five, six, seven, eight a day and be doing them 200 miles away, 300 miles away to increase the footprint of that business also. So I really see virtual presentations as a great way for companies to expand, expand their businesses.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, and in between those presentations, they’re able to zip out 15 emails, put a quote together, answer a couple of voicemails, send some texts out. So everything else is more efficient too.

Todd Miller:

You add this with some of the tech we talked about as far as taking measurements and converting them into quotes. I mean, a lot of times now, that doesn’t have to be done by the salesperson. That can be done by an administrative type person who just knows that software extremely well. So it, again, takes that plate off the sales person, lets the sales person do what they do really well, which is sell.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. So what does a contractor do to make sure that they’re aligning with a supplier that can help them best leverage these types of technologies and ultimately sell more efficiently and effectively?

Todd Miller:

I think that one of the things that we are seeing is for many years, the trend would be for you to have a manufacturer, a distributor, and a contractor, and very little opportunity for the two ends, the contractor and the manufacturer, to connect. I’m really seeing that change. So even if there is still a distributor involved, the manufacturer and the contractor have a relationship as well and know the power of that relationship. So I think the big thing for contractors is don’t be afraid to think, “Okay. Well, I’d buy this product from this distributor, and I can’t ever talk to anyone else.” Don’t be afraid to get some connections made with that manufacturer so that you know what tools they are offering, what tech they are offering. You know what’s coming next around the pike.

Especially, so many manufacturers too are doing webinars and educational type things. We as a manufacturer crave that relationship with contractors. So don’t think… I think the big thing for a contractor is don’t think that just your immediate supplier who is probably a wholesaler, a distributor, a two-stepper, don’t think you can’t go beyond them to build your relationships as well. It doesn’t eliminate the distributor, but it makes your business more effective by having that relationship upstream.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s great advice. So one other point I wanted to touch on. Like a lot of different product upgrades, so to speak. I mean, I’ll call it an upgrade because I think it certainly is.

Todd Miller:

Sure.

Mike Merrill:

What return on investment that an end consumer could expect to receive from going metal instead of asphalt or barrel tile, clay, some other options?

Todd Miller:

So one of the things I will always train a contractor if they’re thinking of… Maybe they’re a roofing contractor, and they do a lot of shingle, and they want to get involved in metal. I always tell them, “Well, here’s the way to start that. Make sure that whoever does your appointment setting, whoever that person is on the phone taking calls or going outbound, responding to emails, and things, have them ask this very simple question. ‘Mr. Jones, Mrs. Jones, how long do you intend to live in your home?’ If that homeowner says anything that sounds like 10 years or more or, ‘They’re going to carry me out,’ then you come back and say, ‘Oh, wow. That’s great. I think when you called us, you are talking about maybe an asphalt shingle roof. We have some products that we also find homeowners who are staying in their homes long-term, they really gravitate towards some of these other products. Is it okay if we bring those to your home as well?'”

You get your answer, and if they answer affirmatively, “Well, yeah, that probably makes sense,” then you suddenly have maybe not flipped that lead from asphalt into metal, but at least you’ve nudged the door open a little bit for metal, and so that’s… I forget where we started with this question, but that’s always my advice as far as how you start to build metal into your business as a contractor.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. If it’s 10 years or more, then it sounds like there’s extra value and a reason why. What would that value be possibly, and what are some of the reasons they’d want to go that way?

Todd Miller:

Right. So the metal roofs out today, and there’s a wide range of them in terms of product qualities, but even the lower ones are certainly easily a 35 to 40-year roof. Nice thing about metal roofs is you can usually extend their lives by repainting them at some point, if you want. So it’s not necessarily 35 years and it’s shot. You can probably paint it and get an extra 15, 20 years out of it. So I think the longevity, the sustainability is a big one. Energy efficiency is another big one. We typically hear from homeowners that they save about 20% on their summer utility costs with a metal roof.

Mike Merrill:

Wow.

Todd Miller:

That’s because the metal uses reflective pigments in the paint, and we also take advantage of some thermal breaks and air gaps to keep heat out of the home and keep it out of the attics. So we reduce the AC load and the AC cost. Then, you also have some consumers who rightfully so really care about our environment. So they like the fact that a metal roof is made from recycled material. They like the fact that at the end of its useful life, a metal roof is 100% recyclable. Virtually, all other roofing materials are eventually going to end up in a landfill. I mean, that’s just the hard reality. so metal, of course, is 100% recyclable.

Then, I think the final thing is what they can do in terms of the design and the look of their home. I mean, most houses, you look at them, probably 60% of the house is roof. Yet, we tend a roof with the same materials that all of our neighbors do. So you can individualize, characterize a house, get that curb appeal up, which everyone cares about today. Thanks to HGTV. Everyone cares about what their house looks like, and so we can really help them design it in a way that makes it more appealing to them or appealing to others and probably adds value to it in that process also.

Mike Merrill:

That’s great. Well, this has been a very fun and insightful conversation. I’ve learned some things about metal roofs today, and some of the technologies that they can leverage, and also enhancements in my utility bill reduction strategy. It’s great and useful information I think for our listeners. So before we wrap up, I just had a couple of questions to end on, and I just wanted to ask you more on a personal level if that’s okay.

Todd Miller:

Sure.

Mike Merrill:

What’s something that you are grateful for in your professional life that you’ve learned over your career?

Todd Miller:

Oh, well, I think absolutely that not being afraid to build relationships with who one would think are my competitors. So that’s happened a lot through those trade associations. I mean, those are folks who, yeah, I’ve learned a lot from. Just the other day, I had a competitor. I was in a pinch for some metal, and I went to a competitor. I said, “Hey, you don’t happen to have any of this?” Today, I placed a PO for 8,000 pounds of metal from him that he did happen to have.

Mike Merrill:

Wow.

Todd Miller:

So I think that that willingness to realize that your competitors can be your friends and you’re not working together in a nefarious way, but you’re working together for the good of your businesses and the good of the industry.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. That’s great advice for any of our listeners, I’m sure. What about, is there a skill, or a superpower, or something that you’ve learned to embody and enjoy as a trait over your career that you could share with others?

Todd Miller:

Well, the thing that comes to mind when you asked me that, and I can’t say that I know exactly what caused this, but I’ve been blessed with a tremendously loyal team. We have about 55 team members, and our average length of employment across the company is I think around 17 years at this point.

Mike Merrill:

Oh my goodness.

Todd Miller:

I’ve got tons of folks who have been here 20, 25 years, 30 years. In fact, the first employee my dad ever hired is still working here 40 years ago. So I don’t know what it is, but I can say that I’m incredibly grateful and feel incredibly blessed by the loyalty of our team, and that really… Our customers are the ones who benefit from that because our customers know that they’ve got years of experience here. So if they have questions or they have problems, they can get those things taken care of because they’ve got skilled, knowledgeable folks here who can do it.

Mike Merrill:

Wow, that’s wonderful. Thank you for sharing that. What about maybe a challenge you’ve overcome over the years or something that was really difficult and you worked your way through? What was it maybe, and what did you learn? 

Todd Miller:

Oh, goodness. I think one of the challenges has been that as a small manufacturer, we always had to look like a much larger company because realistically, I mean, here we are, this little metal guy, and the guys we’re selling against are the Owens Cornings, and the CertainTeeds, and the GAFs of the world. We’re not only selling against them. We’re selling at a much, much higher price. So I just think that one of our biggest challenges has always been helping our business to be as professional as it possibly can be, realizing who it is that we’re competing with.

Now, another way we have done that though is by being very personal in what we do. Everyone who comes to our company with interest of any sort gets a personal response from me. I had someone the other day say, “Well, I know what I got from you was just an automated email.” I was very pleased to go back to him and say, “I don’t use automated email. What you got was really an email for me.” So we take a very personalized approach to business as well that I think also helps to differentiate us from some of the behemoths out there that we compete with, which are great companies and do very well what they do. I just think being smaller, and more nimble, and having our great team here, we’re able to take things a step further a lot of times.

Mike Merrill:

Wow, I love that personal touch. Good for you.

Todd Miller:

Yeah, we enjoy it.

Mike Merrill:

It obviously served you well.

Todd Miller:

We enjoy it.

Mike Merrill:

All right. The last thing, so what… If there was one takeaway that you wanted our listeners to come away with from the conversation, what would that be?

Todd Miller:

Okay. So I’m going to tell a story on myself. This was probably, I’m guessing, about 1989. I got someone who called me on the phone. They were doing a survey. I don’t know who it was. It doesn’t make any difference, but the question they asked me was, “I’m sure you’ve heard, Todd, about this thing called the internet.” “Yeah. Yeah, I know a little bit. I’ve got a prodigy account or something where I could dial up.” They said, “What do you think the internet is going to bring to your company in the future?” I thought about it a second. I thought, “We’re a manufacturer. We bring metal in. We crunch it up. We put it in boxes. We send it to people.” I’m thinking, “I don’t know possibly what the internet is ever going to do for us.” So that’s what I told them.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

Todd Miller:

Of course, in hindsight, nothing has changed has changed our business more than the internet then partly because people could find us and we could be known. So I guess the big thing I’d like to encourage folks as a takeaway is there are so many opportunities out there to use today’s great technology in your business. Don’t be afraid of it. Make sure that you’re using it to its fullest. I mean, the things that you folks do, helping to track people, and track time, and all those types of things that you folks help people with. I mean, that is just really valuable stuff that saves someone time and also brings greater efficiency into what you’re doing. We got to face it. I mean, everyone talks about it. The labor market being tight for skilled trades is not exactly loose for white collar trades either.

Mike Merrill:

Right.

Todd Miller:

One of the things we learned last year was this shortage of labor is not because of unemployment. Unemployment was suddenly 30%, and we still couldn’t get enough people or get the people that we needed in our industry. So again, using tech, using what’s available through your suppliers to stream… maybe not streamline your organization, but to make your organization more effective and more efficient. Don’t be afraid of it. That’s probably my biggest advice.

Mike Merrill:

Oh, great. That was a great way to end. Well, thank you so much for joining us today, Todd. Had a great time and look forward to keeping up with you here in the future as well.

Todd Miller:

Sounds good. It’s a real pleasure. I greatly enjoyed it, and all the best to you.

Mike Merrill:

Thanks, and you as well. Thank you to the guest for joining us today on the Mobile Workforce Podcast. As always, we very much appreciate your listenership, and if you enjoyed the conversation Todd and I had today, please give us a rating and a review, and follow us on LinkedIn or on Instagram, @workmax_. Of course, those five-star ratings and reviews always help us to bring more valuable guests in on course of our goals here. We really want to help you improve not only your business, but your life.

How The LIME Foundation is Closing the Labor Gap

How The LIME Foundation is Closing the Labor Gap

Workforce shortages in the construction industry cause businesses to turn down projects and miss deadlines every single day. And while the competition for experienced workers is fierce, hiring away from competitors and recycling through employees puts a Band-Aid on a bigger problem: the lack of young people choosing construction as a career. Frustrated by this disconnect, ARS Roofing CEO Letitia Hanke decided to take action. She founded The LIME Foundation – a nonprofit that introduces young people in Santa Rosa, California to the trades and connects these prospective workers to construction firms seeking to hire. 

In Part 2 of their conversation, host Mike Merrill and Letitia discuss construction’s dire need for expanding its workforce and how The LIME Foundation is a model for tackling the labor gap. They talk about the foundation’s training programs, why construction companies benefit from investing in young people and showing them the path to long-term careers. They also dive into how others can learn from Letitia’s model and create training programs in their own communities.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Promote career opportunities in the trades industry. Recent generations have been taught there is one path to a good career: graduate high school, graduate college and get a professional job. But not everyone wants to risk going into debt or attending a university. Many others don’t realize the vast opportunities working in construction and trades can offer. Rather than waiting for prospective workers to find you, go to them. Whether it’s job fairs or formal training programs, make recruiting new workers a priority to combat worker shortages.
  2. Invest in training brand new workers. Taking the time to train someone brand new to a trade may sound like a lot of time and money, but it’s well worth the investment. Competing for experienced workers has its limitations, whereas there’s an expansive market for prospective new hires. Another perk? A newbie is highly trainable and less likely to bring shortcuts and bad habits from other job sites.
  3. Seek out trade training programs – or start one yourself. While The LIME Foundation is only in Santa Rosa, California for now, there are still plenty of construction and trade programs throughout the United States to connect with. And if there isn’t one, take a cue from Letitia and explore how you can take action to bring educational programs to your region and attract a new generation of workers to the industry.

 

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Click Play to Listen to the Podcast Now:

Episode Transcript:

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast, sponsored by AboutTime Technologies and WorkMax. I’m your host, Mike Merrill. And today we are sitting down for part number two with our dear friend, Letitia Hanke. She’s the founder and CEO of ARS Gutters and Roofing and Solar out of Santa Rosa, California. If you haven’t listened to the first episode, we would love to have you go ahead and take a listen there and be excited for you to hear some of the great things that Letitia was able to share there. But for today, we want to talk more about your entrepreneurship.

If you haven’t listened to part one of mine and Letitia’s conversation, I encourage you to give it a listen. We talk about her start in roofing and also advice for up and comers and especially women in construction among other things. So a bit more about Letitia. She’s a celebrated entrepreneur who’s been featured on Mike Rowe’s Returning The Favor, The Kelly Clarkson Show, and was also named residential contractor of the year for 2020 by Roofing Contractor. Good job. But more importantly for the conversation today, Letitia is the founder of the LIME Foundation and it’s a nonprofit organization for young people to learn about the trades and get training in Santa Rosa, California, and discover real-world opportunities in construction. So welcome again, Letitia, let’s dive in.

Letitia Hanke:

Okay, great. Happy to be back.

Mike Merrill:

Thank you. So the construction industry is facing issues with this labor gap. People are busy, there’s a lot of work to do, and there’s not enough people to do the work. What can you tell us about that and what you’re doing?

Letitia Hanke:

Well, first of all, I didn’t realize that the lack of workforce in construction existed everywhere. I thought it was just here in California. And this was about six years ago when I first started thinking about how we need to bridge this gap and start training young people. And before that, we were already having a hard time finding employees to want to go into roofing. So at first it was just about me. I was just like, I need roofers, how do I find roofers? And then as I just started talking to my fellow contractors, general contractors, painters, they all started saying the same thing. Like, “We can’t find workers either. What are we going to do?” And I just said, “Well, how about, if I were to start a nonprofit that trains young people in the trades, would you guys be interested?” And they said yes. And that’s really how it all started.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. And that was in 2015?

Letitia Hanke:

2015 is when I started the nonprofit. And it took a couple of years for me to actually develop the program and actually get, because I needed to have contractor buy-in. Back then, a lot of us were like, it costs a lot of money to train a new person, someone who has no experience whatsoever. We would rather hire someone with a bunch of experience and a bunch of attitude than to just train somebody from scratch. So I really needed that buy-in from the contractors and luckily we were all at our desperation point, so it was pretty easy for me to say, “Okay, are you going to be willing to train them from scratch?” And they said yes. And so it worked out very well.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. So, what all is involved? What are the different components of your nonprofit?

Letitia Hanke:

So, the program’s called the NextGen Trades Academy. So we’re training young people, ages 16 and 24, many just right out of high school or maybe they’ve dropped out of high school, went back, got their GED, dropped out of college. Just all the ones that are just not sure what they want to do in life. And our class teaches them about all the different trades that, right now we’re working with 17 different trades in that industry, and simply introducing them to a career in the trades. That’s really all we’re doing, is saying, “Hey, here’s what roofing is all about, here’s what you can make, here’s a contractor telling you a little bit about what it entails. If you’re afraid of heights, you’re probably not going to want to go into roofing. If you don’t like going under these houses, you’re probably not want to go into plumbing.”

So we just introduced to them this new world that literally they’ve never heard of and letting them know that they can go straight into a career making 17 to $22 or more an hour, because it depends on what company or what trade you’re in. They’re starting people at $25 an hour to start with no experience, just none. And, I didn’t know it was going to explode like it did and it did. It just ended up exploding and now we have all these young people learning about these trades and then going straight into a career in construction.

Mike Merrill:

That’s wonderful. Man, that beats the heck out of the fast food joint down the street, right?

Letitia Hanke:

Yes. We’re talking about that often. Sometimes they’re actually working at the fast food joint and taking our class at same time. So, they finish our class, they graduate, they put in their two weeks notice and next thing you know, they’re working for a solar company making $26 an hour. So yeah, it’s pretty nice. Yeah, it’s really…

Mike Merrill:

The more the benefit to the community too, right?

Letitia Hanke:

Oh my gosh. I have to say, especially to our community here in Santa Rosa. In 2017, we experienced a huge fire, the Tubbs fire, and it burned down 5,500 structures here in our town. And, imagine trying to rebuild all those homes when contractors were already busy, they were already busy before those fires. So, what’s really helped this community is to have a workforce, to have someone to draw from and train so that way, we can get our rebuilding done faster. So it’s been great for the community because we’re getting people back into their homes. So, it’s very exciting.

Mike Merrill:

Well, and I know you’re, clearly you’re removing barriers from people to have an opportunity. You’re creating something that didn’t exist before and broadening horizons of somebody who maybe didn’t have a direction, right?

Letitia Hanke:

That’s correct. I’m one of them. So I was in college, I mentioned before I think, I was in school and in my junior year I started working for a roofing company. I had just turned 20 years old, I was still in college at the time. Well, by the time I reached my senior year in college, I was in quite a bit of debt because I got student loans to get through college, and I ended up dropping out of college and my senior year, because I ended up getting promoted at the roofing company that I was at. I became the office manager of this business. And now I’m making $50,000 a year, which was huge back then for me. And I’m just like, finish college or… But like I said, I was in debt. I was 20 something years old and all this debt.

So what we’re helping is a lot of these young people that are kind of being taught through life that, you graduate from high school and you go straight to college. Many of them don’t want to go to college. They don’t want to go, some of them can’t afford it, and now we’re just saying, “Okay, here’s another option for you. If you don’t want to do that, here’s a great option for you. And now you’re not getting into debt and now you’re moving directly into a career.”

Mike Merrill:

Wow. And I would imagine because of obviously your company ARS, you’ve got an opportunity to hire some of your graduates. Is that right?

Letitia Hanke:

Yes, I get first dibs. Really, roofing is not the most, when I asked my students, every class I ask, the first day of class: What industry are you interested in? They usually say electrical. And I think it’s just because they just think that’s like the best industry to be in and they don’t really realize it. But it’s so rare that I get them to say roofing. And I remember I’ve hired four of the graduates and I have one of the graduates with me now and another one moved on to work for a bigger company after working for me for two years. And I remember that that student said roofing the first day in class, and he said roofing the second day, the last day of class, and I literally hired him like on the spot. He was one of our top students in that class, I’m just like, “You’re hired.”

And it’s been great for me because my other, my seasoned, I won’t call them my old employees, but my seasoned employees, they’re seeing how by hiring someone who’s green, we call them green, brand new into the industry, they’re able to train them exactly the way we want them to be trained. They’re learning the skills the way we want them to learn it. They’re not coming in with bad habits. I know many of you listening to this about those bad habits. When we would hire seasoned employees that have been in the industry for 20 years, they think they know everything. You can’t teach them anything. I’m just like, “Well, if you’re going to work here, you’ve got to do the work the way we do it because we’re certified, we’re this and that.” And they come in with attitude and stuff. The difference now is we’re bringing them in and they’re learning quickly, and now we get to train them the way we want them to be trained. And that’s a value. And that’s what my contractors are seeing. They’re just like, “Okay, this is actually working.” So it’s been great.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I’ll bet, they’re not bringing their shortcuts with them, right?

Letitia Hanke:

Exactly.

Mike Merrill:

So, how are you… You talked about one of your students moving on to a different organization. I imagine you’re getting feedback from other contractors that are benefiting from this. What are they saying?

Letitia Hanke:

Oh my gosh. I think the biggest thing that they’ve been saying is just that they didn’t realize it. A lot of us just didn’t want to spend the extra time and the extra money to train someone green, but now they’re seeing the value of doing that. And that’s why they’re referring us to more contractors, they’re hiring more of our students. And they’re not even thinking about hiring a seasoned person because they know that all they have to do is move up some of the employees that they already have, move them up and then train these people to move them up and that’s actually working out better. And it’s just been great to actually just seeing more and more and more con… We started off with 11 contractors and now we have 168 in four years.

Mike Merrill:

Oh my goodness.

Letitia Hanke:

It’s working. It’s been great.

Mike Merrill:

Wow, what a blessing and a benefit to… Talk about a win-win win, right?

Letitia Hanke:

Yes, absolutely. They just needed to see it. Sometimes it was hard for them to see, but as they keep hearing their other contractor friends saying, “Oh yeah, I hired this graduate and now they’re running their own crew after a year.” And that’s all it takes for them to actually see that as happening and working and now they’re going for it.

Mike Merrill:

Wow, that’s incredible. So, the LIME Foundation is primarily in the Santa Rosa area, right? Are there organizations like this or have you collaborated with any other institutions to this point?

Letitia Hanke:

We are mainly in Sonoma County. So we’ve actually been able to do the program throughout Sonoma County, and we’re in talks right now of down in the Bay Area as well, doing the program in that area, in Santa Clara County and also many other areas like Napa county is a lot of different counties and stuff they’ve been contacting us about how to bring the program to their location. And for me, I always tell them the same thing that starts with a… I need contractors first, it has to start with a buy-in of contractors that are willing to hire. So that’s the process, but yeah, we’re definitely working on that expansion for sure.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. So you’ve been at this for well, six years since you founded, it sounds like the last three or so plus in action. How many students have gone through this so far?

Letitia Hanke:

So we had 185 go through, 142 have graduated from the program. So they actually made it through in graduation, that means that they’ve got a B at all the classes. They’ve got to participate, do the homework that we have for them, and then they get certified, the Cal-OSHA, which is a safety certification. They’ve got to pass that course, it’s a 10-hour course. So they do have to take quite a few steps to actually graduate from the program, but they also know what’s at the end of that tunnel. They know that they’ve got this great opportunity.

Most of our students get hired within 30 to 60 days. So, we’re now up to 81, as of our last class, we’re up to 81% of our students being hired. We had a class where we had 100% of our students that graduated. They were nine students that graduated, 100% of them got hired within 30 days. Contractors were waiting for them. They’re like, “When are they graduating? What time?” So, I like that a lot actually, but some of them are not work eligible. For instance some don’t have a driver’s license to be able to drive vehicles, so they have to work on getting their driver’s license or they’re still in high school maybe they’re still juniors or seniors and they have to graduate. We do recommend that they graduate first. So once they graduate from the program, then we can get through… Once they graduate from school, then we can get them hired, but we have to make sure that they’ve graduated first.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. What an amazing impact! You must be so proud, honestly.

Letitia Hanke:

Yes. Oh my gosh. It’s just my favorite thing. I love it so much and just being so connected to these young people and seeing their journey and just, oh my gosh, it’s just so beautiful. It makes me so happy every day to wake up to continue to do what I’m doing, because I just know that I’m helping to change these young lives. So it’s really…

Mike Merrill:

For generations, right?

Letitia Hanke:

Yes.

Mike Merrill:

You’re changing generations.

Letitia Hanke:

My goal is to go full circle where one of my graduates starts their own company and then they hire graduates from the class like I am, and I’m this close to that. One of my graduates has been working for a contractor for four years and he’s been a journeyman now with him for two years. So he’s got another couple years and then he’s able to get his own license. And then one of our female students started her own company. Once she graduated from our program, she actually started one of her own companies as well. So she doesn’t have an employee yet, but I know she’ll pick from our group when she’s ready. So I’m just really looking forward to that day because that’s been on my dream board actually, when I first started, that’s what I wanted to have happen. So I’m looking forward to that day.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. So, you mentioned a dream board, is that like a vision board or something?

Letitia Hanke:

Yes, my vision board, yes. My vision board is, I look at it every day, it’s in my closet and I have to go in there and to get my shoes. And so I get to look at my vision board.

Mike Merrill:

It’s a good place for it.

Letitia Hanke:

I know I’m in there every day, that’s where I’m going to look at it and I just get to constantly look at those things that I want to see for my future. And I’m always changing, as I achieve the goals, I put up new ones, but it’s just great to be able to see those things come true. And just to keep me going every day, working towards that vision and working towards those goals. It keeps me motivated.

Mike Merrill:

Very inspiring. You probably mentioned, you don’t want to do roofing anymore, you just want to do more of this right?

Letitia Hanke:

I won’t say that out loud, but yeah. That’s my retirement. My nonprofit is definitely my retirement. If I had a chance to spend the rest of my life helping these young people, I would do it in a heartbeat. So yeah, that’s my retirement for sure.

Mike Merrill:

Sounds like you’re well, on the way. And I know we could use one of these in Utah, I know that. Everybody I know is months out.

Letitia Hanke:

Yes, months. Months out. Yes, we’re working on it.

Mike Merrill:

Well, we’ll see if we can help plug in a few more contra… We’ve got a lot of great customers that are larger roofing organizations around the country.

Letitia Hanke:

That’s wonderful.

Mike Merrill:

So I’m hoping, I’ll send this episode to many of them, see if we can get some of them to play.

Letitia Hanke:

Thank you very much.

Mike Merrill:

So, tell me with how this is working out, what, number one is just like you planned it and then maybe what’s been a pleasant surprise for you about this so far?

Letitia Hanke:

I think, well, I planned out doing this class, helping a few students, but I didn’t expect Mike Rowe to contact me about it. That’s number one. It’s gained this national type, people knowing about it all over the place. I thought I would be confined to little Santa Rosa, Sonoma County. And now from just even that show, people in Kentucky and Florida and Georgia and everywhere, Colorado, even Utah, people contacted us saying, “Hey, how do we get that program here at our place?” And that’s what I wasn’t expecting. I was not expecting that I could do this program around the country and around the world really. So that makes me super excited to know that I can help so many more people with the model that we’ve already built and have put together. So yeah, it excites me everyday every time I think about that. So we have a little list of all these other cities and states that people wanting the program and I’m just like, great, let’s make it happen.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I love it. So we’re plugged into our local AGC chapter here in Utah, and they’re just finishing, I think our ribbon cutting ceremony will be in probably late June, maybe early July, and they had a huge training facility and over $4 million of the labor materials for that work donated from the contractors here locally. And it’s a safety and a training facility for something very similar to what you’re doing, train the trades and get more qualified people ready to enter the workforce because there’s such a gap.

Letitia Hanke:

And that’s funny. So, it’s very expensive here in California. So California is very different from other places. So in order for our students to be able to do hands-on training we have to have worker’s comp and it’s very, very expensive. So we said, okay, we’re just going to do this class as an education type piece and without really a lot of hands-on. And it’s been great to know that we can do it, just education, education only, and still get them hired. And the contractors are doing all the hands on training. They’re there working for them. We thought they’ll have an apprenticeship. Nope. They’re just hiring them and then training them right then and there. So, that’s been nice to not have that expense of that. And then knowing that this is just from education, that we’re getting these young people hired for full-time positions. So it’s really great. I would love to do some hands-on with them, but it just costs quite a bit over here in California.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I can imagine.

Letitia Hanke:

Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

So, for somebody who wants to bring more awareness to the trades and start making an impact in their community, what advice would you have for them?

Letitia Hanke:

Well, number one, you can contact me.

Mike Merrill:

There you go.

Letitia Hanke:

I’ll help you do that. But I realized that people may have a passion just like I did to start their own nonprofit and do their own training, which they absolutely should do. But maybe you don’t feel like doing all the work because there’s a lot of work involved in it. They can contact someone like us or look in their regions where they’re located because most likely there is a training program somewhere where you are and you just have to do a tiny bit of research and find it and just get involved in that because it’s working and it’s working because these are young people that are, they’re ready to go right into the workforce. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s perfectly okay for them to go straight into the workforce and we just need to be teaching that more out of school, at a young age, that there are other options for them. So I’m working on that right now as we speak.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s very inspiring. Again, I can think of probably 10 podcasts that we’ve recorded, at least that breached on this topic at some point, and everybody’s saying the same thing. There’s a gap, there’s not enough skilled labor coming out of high school and colleges, people are not going into the trades like they have been in the past and it’s a lost art, we need to start figuring out how to foster these young boys and girls, young men and women to get involved.

Letitia Hanke:

Yeah, and it’s hard to make up the time because we’ve had this gap for so long I’ve got employees that are aging out and then I have new ones. You know what I mean?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

Letitia Hanke:

It’s already there, that gap is already there. So how are we going to make up for that lost time? I still don’t know that answer. I just know that I’m working on it and we need more and more and more people to work on it. And the jobs are there, the opportunities are literally there. We just need to make sure that people know that that opportunity is there, especially our young people. So we can do that, each and every one of us can make that happen. And like I said, feel free to contact me. I would love to help you work your way through it, or if you’re interested in our program, figure out how to have it there.

Mike Merrill:

So, what’s been your secret? You mentioned earlier that they could start their own, or if they didn’t want to do the work, they could call you, but everybody has good ideas. It’s not hard to come up with a good idea, but the execution is where the challenge is. What’s been your secret sauce to help you do that?

Letitia Hanke:

My team. Oh my gosh, I literally surrounded myself with some of the most magnificent people. I knew I couldn’t do this on my own. Yes, I always have ideas. There’s always that idea, but to really truly implement that idea, you’ve got to have a great team around you. So number one, my roofing team, they’re so amazing that it gives me that free time to actually be able to spend over here on the non-profit. So they run that company, they make sure everything is going nice and smoothly, so I can have that extra time. So, that’s number one.

But then if you’re going to start a nonprofit, that’s a whole other business. They call it a nonprofit but I’m telling you it’s a whole other business. So, I have a great team over there as well, that they believe in the vision they believe and they have the passion. Remember, I was mentioning that earlier, they share that passion. And so it just makes it that much easier to make it happen. And they want to see it grow, they want to see it build they’re experiencing firsthand what it’s like for these young people. Luckily we stay in touch with a lot of them. So we get to really hear their stories and see how it’s changed their lives. And that’s all we really need to hear is, why don’t you students tell us how much this changed their lives and that’s it for us. So yeah, surrounding yourself with the right people, you can make it happen. That’s all you need.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Which to me, when you say that, I’m thinking people that you can trust and that also trust you, right?

Letitia Hanke:

That’s correct. You need to be able to trust them. And you want to make sure that they’re the right people for the job and how it, it’s just how much dedication, how they dedicate themselves to it. And I have luckily found some of the best people I feel in the entire world. So, I’m very blessed, again, very lucky, very blessed to have great people that I’m surrounded by. And your family, my husband, my son, you’ve got to have good people, my parents. They’re all just great security for me and making sure that they are supporting me in every way, because yeah, it’s a lot of time away from your family and your loved ones when you’re building something like this and just to get their buy-in and their understanding of how I’m trying to change the world. They’re like, “Go change the world, we’re here. And so, that means the world to me.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. Well, you’re clearly an inspiration and you are to me, but to many others as well, and I can see why.

Letitia Hanke:

Thank you.

Mike Merrill:

So speaking of that, who inspired you?

Letitia Hanke:

My mom. Oh my God. I’m not going to cry? Let’s turn this off. My mom, oh my gosh, she means so many sacrifices for me and for my brother. And she’s so smart. And there were things that, and my dad, he’s been in construction, he’s a pipe fitter, retired pipe fitter. So construction’s literally been in my brain for years, as they’ve just brought me up such the right way in life about just having morals and believing in prayer and God and how I can make and change the world if I really want to do it. And my mom, the sacrifice that she made for her career to have me and my brother instead, those are the things that I’m just like, I appreciate that she gave up those things for me and now I get to do the things that she wanted to do in life. And she just really wanted to help others as well. So my parents inspire me every day and my kiddo, my son is a huge inspiration to me as well. So yeah, my family.

Mike Merrill:

All about family. That’s wonderful. Well, you deserve all the goodness you can get your hands on.

Letitia Hanke:

Thank you.

Mike Merrill:

Thank you so much for joining us today. I sure enjoyed this conversation, Letitia.

Letitia Hanke:

Me too.

Mike Merrill:

How do people get involved? If they want to donate or get involved with the LIME Foundation, what can they do to help?

Letitia Hanke:

Well, we surely can’t do this for free, so donations are great. We are a nonprofit, we’re a 501(c)(3), so there’s mentorship that’s available. Even if you’re out of area, you’re still able to be a mentor if you’re a contractor, so you can get ahold of us for that. And also donations are always welcome. We need to pay for those tools when we run out of the ones that were donated, we need their uniforms, just the instructors to go through the program. And we’re talking donations from $5 to $50 to $5,000. Everything matters. You’d go to our website, the limefoundation.org and LIME is linen-lime and Lime is my son’s name spelled backwards. My son’s name is Emil, E-M-I-L. And that’s how it became the LIME Foundation.

From my story of when I was younger, I was bullied. I grew up in an area that was predominantly white, and I was pretty much one of six black students in the whole school. So I was severely bullied. And so LIME Foundation kind of came out of what I went through as a kid. And my son started experiencing racism when he was about seven years old. And I started talking to him about what I went through as well, and how music is what really helped me get through those bad times. So you may not know, but part of LIME Foundation is also an arts and music program for disadvantaged youth that have gone through really hard times in their lives. And so when I wanted to name my non-profit something that meant the world to me, it was my son’s name spelled backwards because kids used to bully him and tease him and call him lime and names.

And so LIME is something that makes me always remember how important it is to be able to help others and to get people through their hard times in life. So LIME Foundation, at the limefoundation.org, you can see all of our videos, you can donate to us and help us and connect us with other contractors and people that just want to change lives.

Mike Merrill:

Beautiful, Leticia. Sure appreciate it. And there you are owning it again. You just keep owning stuff, don’t you?

Letitia Hanke:

Thank you so much for this opportunity. And hopefully someone will make contact with me.

Mike Merrill:

They will. I’m going to make sure of it. But we really appreciate the opportunity to shine a light on these important topics and your inspiring and incredible story of perseverance.

Letitia Hanke:

Thank you. Thank you so much.

Mike Merrill:

All right, well, we’ll have to do it again down the road and check in on your progress, if that’s okay.

Letitia Hanke:

Thank you so much.

Mike Merrill:

Great. Thank you. And thank you to listeners for joining Letitia and I today for our important conversation, we appreciate your listenership and we’re excited to bring you these great conversations and especially talk about things that are so important, our industry and the LIME Foundation and all these great and important details about how we can all dig in and help improve our industry. Again, our goal, the podcast is to bring you valuable conversations that can help you not only improve your business, but also your life.

Breaking Barriers and Paving the Way for Women in Construction

Breaking Barriers and Paving the Way for Women in Construction

The construction industry has made positive advancements in recent decades, especially when it comes to technology, engineering and safety. But one area in which the industry continues to lag is the makeup of its workforce. In 2019, women comprised only 10 percent of the construction workforce. And while there is some silver lining – including a growing number of women managers in the field – there’s more work to be done. Fortunately, there are leaders like Letitia Hanke paving the way for women to enter the field of construction and build successful careers.

In this episode of the Mobile Workforce Podcast, Letitia talks about her journey starting out in roofing to now being president and CEO of ARS Roofing. She and host Mike Merrill discuss breaking into the business, navigating the industry and why mentorship is imperative for up-and-comers in construction – especially women who need to see themselves represented. They also talk about how construction leaders can ensure a level playing field for all.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Find a mentor (or become a mentor). It can be intimidating to start a new job or navigate a new industry, which is why mentorship is critical. Whether it’s booking time with business coaches or chatting with leaders in other industries, everyone can benefit from having trusted mentors to get advice from on navigating the peaks and valleys that come with a career. Mentorship can be especially valuable for women to build a sense of community in an industry they’re outnumbered by men nine to one in.
  2. Network, network, network. They say if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together. Letitia advises networking and building relationships throughout the industry. By sharing best practices with peer groups and sharing notes, everyone can work together on making the industry better across the board.
  3. Prioritize expanding the construction workforce. Like every other industry, the construction space faces worker shortages and is in need of top talent. But leaders can turn this around by broadening who they recruit and conduct outreach to. By being inclusive of women, and workers of all ages and backgrounds, the construction industry will gain a competitive edge.

 

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Episode Transcript:

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to the Mobile Workforce podcast, sponsored by About Time Technologies and WorkMax. I’m your host, Mike Merrill. And today we have a fantastic guests on that we’re really excited about, and that is Mrs. Letitia Hanke. And Letitia is the founder and CEO of ARS Roofing Gutters and Solar out of Santa Rosa, California. Letitia has been featured on Mike Rowe’s show, Returning the Favor. She’s also been on the Kelly Clarkson show. Super cool. And she was named Residential Contractor of the Year in 2020 by Roofing Contractor. But Letitia is a lot more than just a construction entrepreneur. She’s a founder of The LIME Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on helping young people in the Santa Rosa area discover real-world opportunities in the trades. Hello, Letitia and welcome.

Letitia Hanke:

Thank you. I’m happy to be here.

Mike Merrill:

That’s good. Well, so how are you doing today?

Letitia Hanke:

Pretty Good. I’m super happy that it’s Friday.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, me too. That makes two of us. So you started ARS Roofing back in 2004. So we’re, gosh, 15, almost 20 years now, quite a while. And you’ve grown the company up to about 24 employees now. So how did you get started in construction and what inspired you to take the leap into business for yourself and especially roofing?

Letitia Hanke:

I wasn’t really expecting to get into roofing. I was in college, I’m a musician. I’m sure you can see the drums in the back. So I was actually in college at the time for music and performing and recording arts, but I was broke all through my college career and I needed a really good paying job. And when I was about 20 years old, I applied for roofing company, simply as the receptionist, answering the phones, filing. And I got connected at this wonderful company and started working there. And then after a few years, my boss decided that he wanted to retire and approached me about possibly buying his company a few years later. And I’m just like, “I’m not a roofer. I don’t run a roofing company, but I’m not a roofer.” And he’s like, “Don’t worry, I’ll teach you.” And literally, few years later, after being in the field, I was able to get my own contractor’s license and started my own business.

Mike Merrill:

Every little girl wants to grow up and be a roofer. I know.

Letitia Hanke:

I knew that when I was nine years old, I wanted to be a roofer when I grew up.

Mike Merrill:

Sure. Love it. So now that you’ve been doing this for a while, what would you change or do differently if you could start over? What do you learn now that you maybe didn’t understand when you first got into this?

Letitia Hanke:

I was trying in the very beginning, I didn’t really know a lot what I was doing as far as being a business owner. I didn’t take a business class. I didn’t really know how to hire employees really, because I just, I got kind of thrown into it really. So in the beginning, I feel that if I had taken a few more business classes, learned a little bit more about finances, profit and loss. I learned all that later on in life when I’m just broke. And then I finally started learning a little bit more with my accountant about how to read my numbers, how to be able to do my job costing. And that helped me so much. So finance, learning a little bit about the numbers early on. I think that would have definitely helped me be in a better position years later.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that answer. I hear that a lot. That’s the biggest challenge. We’re blue collar people in the construction industry. And so the business side is often where maybe the gap could be that’s.

Letitia Hanke:

That’s right.

Mike Merrill:

So speaking of that, kind of leads into my next question. If you were going to give advice to somebody who’s listening that may have interest in starting their own business, or maybe they’re newly started, what are, aside from finance and job costing, what are some other tips that you would give those folks?

Letitia Hanke:

Don’t start with your own money. I remember, when I owned my house at the time when I first started, and I took a loan out on the house so I could have the money to get into there. And I’m just like, “Oh my goodness, what am I doing?” And then the market crashed and it was just crazy. And I’m just like, “I’m going to lose all my money.” And so I recommend, and I even tell a lot of people now when I talk to them about starting a businesses, there are different grants available out there for starting a small business. And then there’s other programs, like small business administration, the SBA loan, which is what I got to actually start my company. So it’s great to have that opportunity to actually have some seed money to start off with so that way you can have a little bit of cushion because that cushion becomes very important.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Construction is definitely not for the faint of heart. So I feel your pain. I actually grew up in construction, had a construction business for over a decade also before I helped start our software company. So definitely know the bumps and bruises that you can take along the way.

Letitia Hanke:

That’s correct. Ups and downs.

Mike Merrill:

So also you don’t fit the typical profile of a roofing contractor, I’ve been to tons of roofing conventions and a little bit different packaging. So what can you tell us about that?

Letitia Hanke:

Well when I first got into roofing, well, I don’t know any other African-American roofers at this time, especially here in California. But it was a big challenge for me, getting started as a female because I go to all these different male-dominated networking events and it’s all men in there and I’m walking in, Miss Roofer. And it was a very interesting experience in the very beginning because they just weren’t really accepting me into the industry because they’re just like, “Who is this lady that thinks she’s a roofer?” So it was challenging in the very, very beginning, but I pushed through.

Mike Merrill:

Good for you. Yeah. I was doing a little research and I did come up with some statistics. One of the stats was that only 10% of the people working in construction comprised of women.

Letitia Hanke:

Yep.

Mike Merrill:

And that’s overall. 87% of those, so 8.7 of the 10, were working in office positions. And then only two and a half were tradespeople.

Letitia Hanke:

That’s right. Yeah. And there’s 3% are roofers. And then I don’t even know what the percentage of African-American roofers. I haven’t even made it that far to research to see how many are actually women of color that are in this industry as well. So that’s a whole nother set of numbers.

Mike Merrill:

And kudos to you for pushing through whatever those barriers may have been, or may still be. Obviously you’re thriving, which is fantastic.

Letitia Hanke:

Yes. It feels good.

Mike Merrill:

You have such a positive energy and a vibe and just a fantastic smile and I can feel your energy even through the monitor. So I appreciate it.

Letitia Hanke:

Thank you. I’m excited to be here. Just talking about it makes me really happy.

Mike Merrill:

I could tell. So even within that, so one other statistic that was interesting that I’d to drill down on a little bit, is only 13% of ownership in construction are women. So what can you tell us about that number? And what’s been interesting to you in that experience?

Letitia Hanke:

Yeah, I think it’s just because it is a male-dominated industry that it’s intimidating. You have to have a really thick skin to really push forward and keep going in there, because everyone that you’re working with, most of the contractors that I’m working with are male or were in the very beginning. Now’s a little different, I’ve been encountering so many more women, finally getting into the trades. But in the beginning, it’s just very intimidating.

Letitia Hanke:

So if you’re not ready for that or prepared for that. I had really great mentors that were women that were in other industries like property management, but that’s really male-dominated as well. And those mentors helped me to just prepare myself for it. And they said, “You’re going to get this, this, this, and this, just ignore it and keep going.” And I just always listened to that advice that they gave me and I ignored it and kept going. So that’s what got me through. But some women and people in general just if they can’t handle that extra pressure, it just makes it that much harder for them to focus on what needs to get done. And I just focused, I stayed focused through the whole thing and that’s why we’re where we are today. So it’s been great.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. And I love that you mentioned mentors because I know that I hear that a lot. That’s a critical piece. What would you say about the mentors that helped you through that journey?

Letitia Hanke:

It was just that they’d been through it. So they were able to really kind of prepare me for it. And I have business coaches as well. I couldn’t be doing what I’m doing today without really great coaches. They’re both females that have just really gotten me, even my therapist, I have a life coach, a therapist, and a business coach. And they just really get me through that day to day and just keep me very, very focused. So that’s definitely something I definitely recommend is that, if you’re going to start a business or get into this kind of industry, you need someone that’s going to help hold you accountable, number one, but also someone that you’re going to be able to talk to when those times get really rough because you have peaks and valleys. So just remember that, there’s always those peaks and valleys.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that you mentioned that. I know when we look into the, even the professional sports arena or other areas, everybody has a coach, the best people in the world have that third person perspective that can help guide and direct. And I love that you’re tapping into that, even in business.

Letitia Hanke:

Yes. For sure. It’s very important. They give amazing guidance on the time management, helping me with my time management and being able to have family time or just even just my own personal time instead of working all the time. So my coaches have helped me with that these years.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. As an entrepreneur, it’s a slippery slope, right?

Letitia Hanke:

You’re working all the time. My son is 18 and I’m just like, “Oh wait, weren’t you just a baby yesterday?” Because time just went by so fast. And when you’re working a lot, it’s just like, “Oh wow.” Before you know what your kid is 18 years old. So it’s crazy.

Mike Merrill:

As an entrepreneur of the business we’ll gladly take any minute you’ll give it. No question about it.

Letitia Hanke:

That’s correct.

Mike Merrill:

So one of the other statistics that I was able to dig up, 64% is the increase amounts from 2004 to 2019, of women-owned businesses. So that’s a big number and that’s great to see. Are you witnessing more of that? Are you seeing that in your peer groups or among the associations you’re involved in?

Letitia Hanke:

Oh, yes. Yes. Yes. And it’s so wonderful because I felt so alone. This was 17 years ago when I first started my own company and I felt so alone. The women that I would see at these networking events, they were usually the office … just your statistics said, they were the office managers or the receptionist of those construction companies, but they weren’t actually the contractors. So it was hard for me to really be able to connect. And so definitely over the last 10 years, for sure, so many more women contractors getting into restoration and painting and just all these grueling type industries in the field. And I gravitated right to them. And we connect with each other and talk about all the things that we sometimes can’t talk about to the males and we can relate to each other and really have that, we can rely on each other and help each other through those hard times. And I’ve just been seeing so many more women and I’m trying to get more women too, into construction as well. So it’s important.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. There’s this common theme I keep hearing and that is, networking and other people and associating and comparing notes, helping.

Letitia Hanke:

Yes.

Mike Merrill:

How important has that been?

Letitia Hanke:

It’s been great because I couldn’t do this alone. If I attempted to do this alone, I would have been gone a long time ago. And networking and talking to other contractors, male or female, just talking to them about best practices. We’re not enemies. Even other roofers, I have other roofers that are my friends and we talk about best practices and how’s it going for you? And those things are very helpful for all of us. We don’t have to be enemies. We can work together and be able to create something even better if we’re actually working together to make the industry a little better. So that’s been very valuable for me to have that networking.

Mike Merrill:

Oh, I absolutely love that. So it sounds things are really moving the right direction, which is just fantastic.

Letitia Hanke:

Yes.

Mike Merrill:

There’s still probably some barriers and some challenges. Have you had some experiences where you feel you didn’t get the job or you didn’t get something because of these other unique things about you compared to the typical roofer?

Letitia Hanke:

Yeah. I touched on it a little bit, number one, being a female already is just one of those things where sometimes other contractors have disparaged me. They don’t even know who I am and they’re telling customers, “Oh, you don’t want to go with her. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.” But I’ve had to deal with it as being, not only a female, but also being African-American. As a female, when I first got into the industry, my very first encounter at a networking function, and back in the day when I first started 17 years ago, I just wanted to be one of the guys. I would wear my jeans and my boots. And I’m walking in, just try to be one of the guys.

Letitia Hanke:

And I was wearing this polo shirt with my logo on it. And we were at this networking event and one of the general contractors was hanging out with his buddies at the bar and I just kind of walk up and they see my logo and he’s like, “Oh, you worked for ARS roofing?” I’m like, “Oh no, I’m actually the CEO.” And he’s like, “From the kitchen to the rooftop, huh?” That’s what it was like for me in the very beginning, was that. That was my very first networking event, by the way, the first time I’m stepping out of my comfort zone. But being Black, experiencing the racism part of it, customers that don’t want to shake my hand.

Letitia Hanke:

I used to hide a lot in the very beginning. I would sign my name L.R. Hanke so they would think that I’m a man. I didn’t have my face on anything. And I remember a couple that I encountered, I went to their home to sign the contract, they didn’t know I was Black. And the wife just jumps when she answers the door. And I’m about to come in and her husband comes over and I’m just like, “Hey, great to see you.” And I put my hand out and he looks down at my hand, looks back at me and down in my hand again and he walked away. And I’m just like, “Oh my gosh, do I go inside this home or not?” And I go in, ready to sign the contract. And she’s like, “Oh, I think we’re not going to do the roof. We appreciate you coming by.”

Letitia Hanke:

And I’m just like, “Well, I’ve got the sample boards here you like asked for, to look at colors.” “Let’s just do that on your way out.” And I’m like, “Fine, no problem.” And I’m walking out the door and the homeowner guy, he comes back over and he says, “I just want to let you know, we have an alarm system on our house. And if anyone tries to break in, it’s going to go off really loud.” And that’s what he said to me as I’m walking out the door. And that’s the kind of stuff that I’ve had to overcome and get through.

Letitia Hanke:

But that day when that happened, that was about eight years ago. That changed my life forever because I literally went back to my office. And by the way, I told him, thank you very much for that information. I went back to my office, took his contract, put it through the shredder and then I completely rebranded my business. I put my face literally on everything. If you go to my website, my face is everywhere. And then I changed my name to Letitia Hanke and I kind of came out and in so many ways, because it was my way of being able to say, “Okay, I’m not going to hide anymore.” And my business literally catapulted from that day. Because now people wanted to support a Black-owned business and they wanted to support a woman-owned business. And that’s how we’ve climbed to the top. So I should be thanking them for that. But that’s what I’ve dealt with over the years.

Mike Merrill:

What a difficult, yet incredible experience. Good for you for being strong, doubling down.

Letitia Hanke:

Yes, for sure.

Mike Merrill:

And owning it. I absolutely love that. I’m very inspired by that. What advice would you give to other construction leaders, especially women, that are trying to break into this? What can they do to be proud upfront and own that earlier?

Letitia Hanke:

It’s a great industry to be in. Construction, in general, but I love roofing. I think it’s just a really beautiful art form and anyone who wants to break into construction, you just need to believe that you can do it. I was 20-something years old when I first started training in roofing. And I didn’t think that that was something I would ever do. It was never on my mind to actually own a roofing company. I knew I wanted to own a business. I’ve always known that I wanted to be a business owner, I was a little entrepreneur when I was younger. But I just took that chance and took that risk. And then it all paid off in the long run. So it’s really just being willing to take that chance and that risk and trying it out. And if it fails, it’s okay. Being okay with failure is all right. And what if it doesn’t fail? What if it ends up being a multimillion dollar company? Just take that chance and that risk and go for it.

Mike Merrill:

Oh, I love it. Good for you. I love how you, again, have continued to just buckle down and persevere and push through even among such ugliness and divisiveness that I can’t believe, even whether it was seven or eight years ago, or I can’t believe in the last 20 years that that could even happen.

Letitia Hanke:

Yeah. I know. It’s hard. You’re still there, but now it’s different because everyone knows I’m Black. So it’s great. I don’t really have that many issues anymore and they know I’m female right off. I think that was just a great decision to make. And now I don’t have that trouble. They know who I am when they call me. So it’s been great. It’s actually been a blessing. So again, I should be knocking on their door and thanking them for that.

Mike Merrill:

Good for you. I love that. I hope they listen to this.

Letitia Hanke:

If you’re listening.

Mike Merrill:

So what advice would you give to companies that want to hire a more diverse workforce and want to help to improve those areas that we clearly still have room for improvement, as a country and as an industry?

Letitia Hanke:

I think it’s about changing your mindset. I know when I’m talking to contractors or talking about a contractor, a lot of times they say he, he, he, instead of they. It’s just starting to be more inclusive. There are a lot of females and young females that simply don’t know that they can be in this type of industry because we’re not telling them that. They’re not hearing that. And so we’ve got to change ourselves into always thinking that it’s a ‘he’ thing. It’s not a ‘he’ thing, it’s a ‘they’ thing. And if you want to have more diversity, you need to do more outreach. So diversity is in many different levels… 

As far as diversity goes, diversity is in many different ways. It’s not just your color or your race, but it’s also whether you’re hiring women, people young and old LGBTQ community, diversity is a big whole thing. And unless you’re reaching out to those communities to join your team, you’re going to always be seeing the same people. So I just always make a little extra effort to make sure that I have a very well diverse team at my company.

Mike Merrill:

Well, you’re a great example to many of the rest of us. And I appreciate you sharing that.

Letitia Hanke:

Thank you.

Mike Merrill:

So many great efforts. You’re doing so much good work. I don’t know how you … Do you ever even sleep?

Letitia Hanke:

No.

Mike Merrill:

Doesn’t sound like it.

Letitia Hanke:

My coach helped me get sleep. My business coach. She’s like, “Okay. So at this time you go to bed and at this time you wake up in the morning and start work all over again.” Yeah. She helped me be able to actually go to bed at a regular normal people’s time so yeah, I have good work and home life balance now that I’ve had some really good coaches in my life.

Mike Merrill:

Good for you. So with ARS, tell me, in 2021, what are you excited about? What’s next? What’s new?

Letitia Hanke:

Oh, 2021. What’s next is just getting through this pandemic, number one. I’m looking for that. I’m looking forward to getting back at my company, my team, we do quarterly events. So we do team camping trips and bowling nights. So I’m actually really looking forward to being able to do that again with my team, because I hope to just be able to be a family together. I have a really fun speaking engagement coming up for the 2020 Roofer of the Year. That’s coming up in Texas in September. Key note speaker, and that’s a really big thing for me because I’m actually going to be talking to my peers of roofers around the country. And that is huge for me through all these years to be able to do that. So I’m looking forward to it. I’m very nervous, at the same time, and like I said, just getting through this year is going to be a really great thing and definitely a goal of mine. So yeah, lots of good stuff happening this year, though.

Mike Merrill:

That’s exciting. This is ironic, but I was on with our marketing director earlier this morning. We are just signing up for that same event. So I’m planning on speaking as well.

Letitia Hanke:

Well, I will see you there.

Mike Merrill:

Maybe I can give you a post-COVID hug, we’ll see.

Letitia Hanke:

That would be so exciting. I do miss hugs.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, me too.

Letitia Hanke:

I’m a hugger. I’m sure the contractors are like, “Wait, she’s hugging me. What’s happening?”

Mike Merrill:

Right! You’re a hugger, a roofer…I see in the back, you’re also a drummer. It looks, or somebody is. What’s the deal with that?

Letitia Hanke:

Yes. I come from a long line of musicians in my family. I mean, literally since I was nine, I’ve been playing drums since I was nine. I started off playing the trumpet when I was seven, piano since I was 12. It’s definitely my way of getting away. The stress that I endure on a daily basis, my getaway is writing music. Being able to, I play my drums up in church and I’ve been growing up in the church, playing the drums since I was really young. So it’s definitely something that I love to do. And music is a big part of my heart.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. That’s awesome. So is that the set that Mike Rowe gave to you?

Letitia Hanke:

The set that Mike Rowe gave to me is actually at the church still, because it’s huge. It’s a huge kit and I can’t fit it in this little room. This is my practice kit. But no, I left it there at the church, the way he presented them to me. So I get to play them when I’m there. So it was a huge surprise. Mike really just made me and my day it was a great thing that happened.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That was really, that was a tearjerker to watch, actually. I enjoyed watching that too.

Letitia Hanke:

Oh, I cry still. Every time I hand one of my students the tools, because at the end you saw all those tools that he gave to us and now we get to give them to our students from our academy. And it’s just, I cry every time. So yeah, it’s definitely one of my favorites.

Mike Merrill:

It’s awesome. It’s a DeWalt tool kit. And it looked, if I remember, it was about $65,000 worth of tools that he donated to your school?

Letitia Hanke:

Yep. And now they’re not having to spend 500, $600 for tools and it’s been really great.

Mike Merrill:

Oh, fantastic. Love to hear that.

Letitia Hanke:

Thank you.

Mike Merrill:

So kind of wrapping up the conversation side of things, I wanted to ask you a few more personal questions. Nothing too crazy.

Letitia Hanke:

Okay.

Mike Merrill:

So in your life, your work-life balance, whatever it is, what’s been one of the key differentiators that’s helped you find success? I feel you’re successful. What do you think?

Letitia Hanke:

Well, prayer. Prayer has gotten me through some of the worst and the best times of my life through this career. But again, earlier I mentioned, I know I said it already, but it’s really been all my mentors. It’s been having someone to speak to and talk to about the business part and the life part and figuring out how to be able to have that fun and persevered through the best and the worst times.

Letitia Hanke:

Here, where I live in Santa Rosa, we’ve had so many fires, so many huge fires and just different opportunities for us to not persevere through it. And yet we kept getting through it. And my mentors and my coaches have really helped me be able to stay focused. It’s just about staying focused and having your mind on the prize. And for me, it’s just being able to keep my employees working and helping them take care of their families. And so that’s been the greatest thing that I can say right now, is just being able to have my prayer nights and talking, and listening and implementing the things that my coaches tell me to do. So that’s been definitely my saving grace.

Mike Merrill:

Ah, good for you. I’m a person of faith and prayers. Very helpful and necessary for me, too.

Letitia Hanke:

Yes. Yes.

Mike Merrill:

I appreciate your sharing that. And really, again, being honest, you don’t think of, oh the roofer, what a blessing in my life, but when your roof’s leaking and somebody has to fix it, so you can get back to normalcy.

Letitia Hanke:

That is correct.

Mike Merrill:

Fires or-

Letitia Hanke:

Exactly, exactly. Wind storms, the list goes on. Yes. I mean, we come to their rescue and we’re there to take care of them and keep them, I say safe and dry. And that’s literally what we do. So yeah, we’re a very important part of construction, keeping that roof over their heads.

Mike Merrill:

Good for you. Well, speaking of, also another, I guess question that I ask everybody is, what is Letitia’s superpower? When you put your cape on.

Letitia Hanke:

Oh my gosh. I think it’s my passion. I have to say, I have passion for life, passion for people. That’s really, I think that, I know for sure, that’s the thing that keeps me going. If you’re going to call that my superpower. I genuinely care for others and want to see others succeed. I’ve had people that have come to my rescue and have passion to helped me through my hard times. And I just to pay that forward. And I think that’s really one of the, if you ask my friends and family, they would say that my passion is definitely, I would say my superpower. Because it’s what keeps me going and making sure that I can always help others whenever I can. So yeah, I would say that.

Mike Merrill:

You clearly have a kind heart to plug that passion into because that shows also.

Letitia Hanke:

Thank you very much.

Mike Merrill:

All right. So, to wrap up, what would you hope that the listeners come away within our conversation today?

Letitia Hanke:

I’ve said a lot of stuff. I think the one thing is, and I may have mentioned it earlier, is just, don’t be afraid to take chances. In my life the risks and the chances that I’ve taken to just try it, to give it a shot. What’s the worst that could happen? That’s literally what I’ve been doing through this whole journey. And just listening to my gut and saying, “Okay, this is something that I could do.” And I really feel that if you just are willing to take that risk and take that chance, it could turn out to be something absolutely amazing. Absolutely amazing. And I can literally say that’s what’s happened for me.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. Well, thank you, Letitia. You are such an inspiration and I just appreciate the opportunity to kindle a friendship. I hope we can see each other in September, and get a chance to talk again before that.

Letitia Hanke:

We will, for sure. 100%. I’m looking forward to it.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. In fact, we’ve talked about this before. We’re going to record a second episode about Letitia’s foundation called The LIME Foundation.

Letitia Hanke:

Yes, exactly.

Mike Merrill:

So stay tuned for that. We’re going to do that next and release that in a second episode so we can focus more on the great work she’s doing there.

Letitia Hanke:

Yay, thank you.

Mike Merrill:

All right. Thanks again, Letitia. We’ll talk to you again very soon.

Letitia Hanke:

Bye bye. Thank you.

Mike Merrill:

And thank you to the listeners for joining us today on the Mobile Workforce podcast, sponsored by About Time Technologies and WorkMax. If you enjoyed the conversation that Letitia and I had today, please follow us on Instagram, @WorkMax_ and on LinkedIn @WorkMax. And give us a five-star rating and review on the podcast platform that you listened to this episode on. Those ratings and reviews are very helpful for us to continue to bring valued guests and these valuable conversations, to not only help you improve your business, but improve your life.

Driving Experimentation in Construction Through Creativity

Driving Experimentation in Construction Through Creativity

Experimental projects encourage creativity in the construction industry. At the forefront of this is Alfonso Oliva, Director of LERA+ – a spinoff of structural-engineering firm LERA. LERA+ pushes the boundaries of creativity with the principles of engineering by way of design optimization, software development, simulation and 3D modeling. The result? A jaw-dropping portfolio that includes some of the most iconic buildings and structural art in the world. 

As exciting as these projects may be, most construction firms don’t require such high levels of experimentation. However, there’s a thing or two to be learned about introducing new levels of creativity to projects and optimizing projects through technology, such as computational design and digital fabrication.

In this episode of the Mobile Workforce Podcast, Oliva breaks down how structural optimization technologies are being utilized in construction projects across the country and how construction firms can incorporate creativity and artwork into their projects. 

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Experimental projects begin with research. There’s no shortage of cut-and-dry construction projects. But on the occasion a firm is allowed to think outside the box and experiment with new possibilities, the process begins with a big question mark: why not? From ideation, a team should analyze their concept as if they were in school, questioning and researching to determine what’s possible and understand the boundaries they can work within.
  2. Technology, creativity and engineering go hand-in-hand. According to Oliva, most anything is possible when seen through the lens of these three factors. A creative idea relies on engineering principles to understand its boundaries, while technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) solutions enable construction firms and consultancies to streamline projects and move them forward.
  3. Technology will always be second to human judgement. There’s no question technologies speed projects along and eliminate repetitive tasks, but what solutions like AI can never replace is human judgement. Whether it’s from an engineer, fabricator, architect or client, technologies help guide the way, but people will always understand the beauty and feel of a project in a way technology could never replace.

 

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Episode Transcript:

Mike Merrill:

Hello and welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast, sponsored by AboutTime technologies and WorkMax. I am your host, Mike Merrill. And we have the opportunity today to have a wonderful guest, Alfonso Oliva, director at LERA Plus and an adjunct professor at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Alfonso is a highly regarded expert in structural engineering, as well as an installation artist and a skilled sculptor. Today, we’re talking about structural optimization technologies and how these things are being used today in construction projects across the country. Also, how construction firms are bringing a new level of creativity to structures around the globe. Hello Alfonso, thank you for joining us and welcome.

Alfonso Oliva:

Hi Mike, thanks for having me first of all and hello everybody to all the listeners.

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. Well, before we get too deep into the conversation part of the podcast, can you tell us a little bit about your background and share some of your history?

Alfonso Oliva:

Sure. I’m originally from Italy. I was born in the south of Italy, close to Naples and that’s where I started my studies. I started with surveying engineering, that is somehow related to what we’re talking about today. It’s still in the engineering field. Did a lot of that and then that’s where my engineering path that brought me here started. I signed up for civil engineering in my university in Cassino and I took my bachelor there. And then while when I signed up for the master, I had the opportunity to basically apply for a scholarship. That is what brought me here in New York. I applied for the scholarship. I won the scholarship and I came to New York and I basically started a mastery thing where you instruct engineering with a focus in structural engineering. Finished that master, went back to Italy to finish my other master in civil engineering. And then I came back to New York to start working.

And that’s when I started working on tall buildings. Doing that, I found a lot of processes that were repetitive in my opinion and I wanted to cut down and that’s where the optimization starts kicking in. I got interested in that. I started another master in computational design with focus on optimizations at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey. Completed that while I was working. I was applying those concepts there. I moved to another company, it’s LERA, where I’m working today, started the LERA Plus group, thanks with the support of the partnership. And then while at LERA, since we are a research group and I’m passionate about research, I started a PhD in computational design with focus on sculpture design. As matter of fact, LERA Plus today focuses on the arts. We’ve talk more about that but of course also works very closely with LERA on tall buildings, museums and all the likes.

Mike Merrill:

Wow, you must love school.

Alfonso Oliva:

Yes. Research and learning more about processes is one of my passions.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s amazing. I was looking on your LinkedIn profile and it just kept reading education, education, more education. You’re working on a doctorate degree now, is that correct?

Alfonso Oliva:

I actually completed my doctoral degree in January this year.

Mike Merrill:

I didn’t see that congratulations! 

Alfonso Oliva:

Yeah. Maybe I didn’t update my LinkedIn profile but that’s done. And I think I’m done with school for now, I think.

Mike Merrill:

Congratulations. You still have long black flowing hair. There’s no gray, so you’ve done something right.

Alfonso Oliva:

There are some, I’m not going to get close to the camera but there are some.

Mike Merrill:

Love it. Well again, thank you for joining us today. You’re certainly very, very experienced in some pretty exciting projects. I know that LERA Plus has worked on such buildings as the world trade center, freedom tower, buildings, two, three and four in New York City and a lot of other iconic structures. What projects are most fascinating to you that you’ve worked on to date?

Alfonso Oliva:

Oh, very good question. A difficult question, honestly because LERA works on a lot of interesting projects and I think that’s what I love about the company. It’s very diversified. We work from anything that goes from super tall buildings all the way down to the design of a chair. We span across all of that. It’s a very interesting question. I must say that one of the projects that was the most fascinating in terms of complexity yet simplicity, is definitely the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. It was a very interesting project. We went through many different phases. It was actually supposed to happen in Chicago and then the project was relocated but the complexity technically was definitely due to the geometry itself, right. It was a big challenge for us but also a big, exciting moment. We were able finally to put everything together, to put all the research effort and the computational processes, with the longstanding experience of LERA into engineering. What we did here is that we developed new systems. We developed new piece of softwares or extension for software to support three different processes.

One was the engineering processes. One was the beam process. And the other one of course, was the computational process. The computational process was sometimes bridging across these two. Sometimes it was bridging across the architectural and the engineering and sometimes was bridging across the engineering and the construction. It was a complete process, a complete optimization of the process. And I must say that the final result was very exciting for the whole team. You need of course, in this kind of projects and in this kind of advanced workflows … That’s how I like to decide to define them. You need highly trained people. And that’s exactly what made this successful. The highly trained people are not only within the LERA Plus group but they extend within LERA. We have experts. The engineering side understands what we are doing at LERA Plus. The people in the beam department understand what we are doing in the LERA Plus department. And that’s what makes that optimization of the workflow successful.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That’s very fascinating. I can’t help but think when I hear you speak about this, the details and the level of involvement of so many parties, it sounds like very little happens on accident in these types of structures that LERA Plus is working on. Is that right?

Alfonso Oliva:

Definitely, definitely. That’s one of the main benefits, I will believe. You cannot blindly rely on what the computer is doing, if we want to define it like that. Meaning, you cannot just drop an algorithm in the process and hope that the algorithm is actually doing something for you but you need to closely monitor what’s happening and have your engineering judgment applied to it. If you do that, then what happens is that you are actually benefiting from that process and you get to a closer level of detail, just to get to your question, right because all the sudden, you save all the time that you would have put into what the algorithm is doing and you can focus even more on the detail. You can be, “Okay. Now, I can trust this algorithm. I’ll keep monitoring. I’ll make sure that it’s doing what I want but I can also look closely at what it’s doing at another detail because I have more time.”

Mike Merrill:

What I’m hearing is the creative genius, as well as the applied understanding of that design, is always a critical or secret part of the equation. Would that be correct?

Alfonso Oliva:

Exactly. There is always a mix of that, the engineering judgements will never be left alone or it will never be taken off from this. It’s actually a very strong integral part of it. And that’s why we were able to create all these processes and melt all these different group of people together.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, it’s amazing. I’ve traveled the world in different places and seen many of the buildings actually that LERA Plus has been involved in. When I go to the website, I think I probably saw at least a hundred and would lose count. And many of them are familiar and very infamous buildings and structures. What aside from just working on these types of projects, sets LERA Plus apart from other companies?

Alfonso Oliva:

Oh, interesting question, Mike. I think I should probably say collaboration and I know that this word might sound a little bit simple for such a complex question but it’s exactly what it is. And allow me to mention a couple of examples here, LERA Plus … Basically, I am not LERA Plus, right. What LERA Pluses is, is a set of people coming together and creating that research environment. We have a lot of internal collaboration.

I’ll give you an example. One of the co-founder of LERA Plus, Nidhi Sekhar, she’s been with me since the very beginning of everything. It’s accomplished a whole other series of tasks, right but that joins very much with what I’m doing. And then there are people in the engineering field. One of them being Antonio Rodriguez that has been leading our virtual reality research platform that also plugs in into what we are doing very tightly and keeps reinforcing that group. That’s one of the reasons why LERA Plus today, it’s still alive and it’s actually expanding. As I mentioned before, now we are heavily involved into the arts and we are designing … We are expanding our business into sculpture design, both for the engineering optimizations and computational design.

Mike Merrill:

Alfonso, tell us, how do experimental projects encourage creativity throughout the construction industry as a whole?

Alfonso Oliva:

Yeah. Experimental projects are the key. This ties directly back to the first observation that you made on me basically being constantly in school since I was born. And the reason for that is because I had … This was like more like 10 years ago or 12 years ago I should say, when I started working in New York. I felt that it’s very difficult to do your job, meaning design your structures and at the same time, keep that research going, right. That was my reason to continue my studies back then, right.

All I’m trying to say here is that experimental projects are nothing else than an extension of the projects that we do in school, right. It’s basically our need for basically feeling that something is new, that something it has not been done. And it’s also a big question mark. Why not? Most of the research that we do, they … Some of them actually, I should say, I don’t want to say most of them but some of them, they actually do not have an aim, right. We are shooting in the dark. The reason for that is because we want to also consider things that over the years has been considered not good, impossible, not efficient in the field. We try with a small percentage or with a bit of the percentage of our research, to basically try to reinvent processes. Expand the projects that are … I would say, they are part of the foundations of the whole innovation process.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that. We’re at a software company here at WorkMax and I know that from time to time, we’ll have what we call a no bad ideas meeting, just to reset the stage and to get the creative juices flowing again. And it sounds like you learned that from your studies and in school but that actually gets applied practically when you are out in the field, working on these real projects.

Alfonso Oliva:

Yes, definitely. Everything that basically goes into the research projects. All the effort that goes there, it is not wasted. And we actually get that or part of that, that’s the beauty of all the different process that we develop. And we basically apply that in a project that actually gets built at the end of the day.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And I keep thinking of the … I don’t know the exact quote but Albert Einstein basically talking about the thousand times of failing was learning a thousand times it wasn’t going to work. He was that much closer to the actual end result that he was after.

Alfonso Oliva:

Exactly. Yeah. Failing is also always going to happen. And it’s a good thing. I think having that emotional roller coaster through a research project to a design process makes everything more interesting, right. At the end of the day, we are humans and we want to be connected also with the human side of feelings. And that’s what motivates us the most.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. What’s fascinating about what you’re saying to me, is I’m thinking of the fashion industry and we’ve all probably seen these shows where there’s people in these extravagant costumes or outfits walking across the catwalk and I’m thinking, “There’s no way on earth anyone’s ever going to wear that in public.” It looks crazy, it doesn’t look beautiful maybe, right.

Alfonso Oliva:

Exactly, exactly.

Mike Merrill:

The art industry and the comparison there, maybe with what you’re doing.

Alfonso Oliva:

Yeah, definitely. It’s exactly what you were mentioning before, your no bad idea meeting, right. Nothing is a bad idea, as long as you think it’s a good idea. And the reason for that is because over the years, we’ve built all these barriers. We built all these barriers that we are living within, especially in our industry. And the processes that we have to date, they don’t allow you to look beyond those because you need to move fast through that path but if you break out of that path for a little bit, just to explore what’s out there … And maybe it’s a jungle, maybe it’s difficult to see what’s going on because it’s unexplored. And it has been that for many years but if you start looking through, poking through, looking at all the beautiful trees and all the things that are around, you understand that there is way more. And then eventually, you can reconnect that to the original path and integrate it within the design process. I think that’s what’s beautiful about innovation.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I agree. And even on the technology front, when I think back to when we started in business back in 2003, they had PDAs that were PalmPilots and that was a smart device. That was the smartest device that existed. And then Blackberry came on and now iPhone and Androids and the iPads. And I’m so thankful for these innovators that have pushed technology to where they’re able to land today. And I feel like in your line of work, it’s a very similar situation.

Alfonso Oliva:

Yes. We hope very much so and we have done … To date, I believe we have brought a lot of contributions to many different fields within our industry, that of course made me and all the people in the group and other people in the company very happy, even about contributing in a different way to a project or to a solution, to a design solution or anything like that. And we always strive to make things very, very perfect and processes even more complex, to then deliver something that is more optimized the next time and then more optimized and more optimized.

Mike Merrill:

Well, and I’m sure there are many firms that have learned from designs and approaches to solving challenges that LERA Plus has undertaken but also at the same time, I’m sure that LERA Plus has learned from other engineering and design firms to again, move the greater good further down the innovation path.

Alfonso Oliva:

Yes, that’s a very good point. I also believe that there has been … Of course, as in any other business, a little bit of a lack of cross collaboration between different firms. Of course, I do understand the business point of that but I must say that at least in the last … Probably more in the last five to six years, there are many groups and many collaboration groups. I’ve collaborated with other engineering firms and what brings everything together, is actually the computational side, that I think it’s a beautiful thing because I would love to see more engineering firms collaborating together, more architectural firms collaborating together in order to advance the whole industry as a whole. And I think that happened somehow in the tech industry. That’s why they moved way faster than of course, what we are moving. We’ve been in a period of stall for a long time. And now, we are moving a little bit faster but we are still beyond, I believe.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And you’re mentioning on the technical side, it makes me think of artificial intelligence or AI. I know LERA Plus is doing some exploration in that area. What exactly is going on there with LERA Plus and also the industry with AI?

Alfonso Oliva:

Yeah. As we mentioned before, we’re always up to some research project, this being one of them. This is a research project that is led by Nidhi Sekhar. She’s been doing a great job at it. It’s of course in the early stages. It’s tough to say where it’s going but we see potential applications within the fields. What we are very hardcore about in terms of artificial intelligence, is that we strongly believe that it will not replace humans, right. That’s something that people have been mentioning in the past and everything. We are not on that train of thought.

The way in which we want to use artificial intelligence, is to basically overcome or even implement those tasks that now are impossible, right. For instance, if you have to do 3000 iterations of a process to match something, you wouldn’t do that. You will then basically get a human go through that pain for such a … Let’s say, little reward. That will be a common applications and actually, one of the research projects as we say, that we are releasing in our new newsletter, where Nidhi Sekhar has been working on recognizing a sketch, literally enhanced sketch and then going to a data set of thousands of different sculptures and matching that sketch with existing sculptures. The reason for that is because we want to motivate people in understanding that anything is doable. Anything has value. Your sketch, your scribble that you have here, could be something. Get inspired from these other sculptures that have been built in the past and keep going.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Repurposing the work that somebody already did.

Alfonso Oliva:

Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

That’s brilliant. When we talk about AI, one of those areas in design engineering is of course 3D modeling. What are the benefits of 3D modeling versus 2D and how is the industry utilizing that today?

Alfonso Oliva:

Big topic here. I feel like we historically and up-to-date actually, believe it or not, that it’s still a lot of 2D going on, right. We build things out of 2D drawings but the fabrication process, it’s actually … It has advanced way more, right. We are using robotic arms. We are using all sorts of beautiful machinery that think in 3D, right. What’s going on? Where is the missing link? Why are we not advancing? If you look at the complete workflow from the design, all the way to the publication, what it’s missing in the middle. And that is something that actually I’ve been tackling with a group at Autodesk.

I’m part of the executive North America committee with Autodesk, with another series of brilliant engineers in the field, from all the different companies. And that’s where I’m talking about cross collaborations and seeing that happening more and more and we recently actually released a white paper on this topic. How do we go in the middle of the workflow and we change how things are done? For instance, if the engineer carries their design in 3D up until it hands that over to the fabricators, how do we transfer that 3D knowledge and all that data, right because that’s all there is, it’s a bunch of numbers. How do we transfer that directly to the fabricator without going through 2D drawings and the fabricators having to rebuild a 3D out of that. It sounds like a very simple task but it’s not that simple. And it’s something that as a committee, we are very strongly pushing in the field and we hope it’s going to be implemented soon.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I had a chance to read through that white paper and it was fascinating to underscore, like you said earlier in the conversation, that human element is still a critical part to the design process.

Alfonso Oliva:

Yes, definitely. The human element, as I mentioned, even before … For instance, in the case of AI, it’s always going to be there. You need that engineering judgment, you need that fabricator judgment and all of that. That’s the integral part. All that you want to do, is to basically automate those repetitive tasks or as I used to call them and I still called them, boring tasks that nobody wants to do of course.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I understand that. And I’m sure again, a lot of the things that you’re sharing are very technical but when you go and see a beautiful building that has unique or almost seemingly impossible characteristics from an engineering standpoint, how can this structure be? And yet it is so beautiful. And I know that there is a lot of work that goes in behind the scenes. You’re talking about maybe even hundreds of people to bring a project like that to life and allow us to have the opportunity to enjoy those beautiful structures.

Alfonso Oliva:

Definitely, definitely a lot of people behind that and a lot of coordination.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And I think that’s the other point with … I used to run track in junior high school or you’re on a relay and you’re handing the baton off from one person to the next and you have to have a proper handoff in order to continue to execute and achieve your destination or your goal. Kudos to you and your team at LERA Plus for continuing to collaborate in that way so successfully to bring these buildings to life.

Alfonso Oliva:

Thanks. Thanks for that.

Mike Merrill:

One of the things that I keep thinking also, is where can the listeners learn more about some of these topics? Are there any publications or forums or places that you can point them to understand more about what you’re talking about?

Alfonso Oliva:

Yes. Well, the first place, it’s our website of course, LERAPlus.com or LERA.com. You’ll find a mix of information there. I’ve done a lot of speaking and talks in the past that are available online. One of them that I did for the center for architecture, it’s an interesting one because it talks about the intersection of engineering technology. How to live in between the works and how to apply one field to the other and vice versa. If you go … Yeah, on the center for architecture website, you’ll definitely find the talk. And of course, we are also on social media, like Instagram and Facebook. Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

Beautiful. What are some speaking engagements or opportunities you have coming up where you’re sharing more of your insights?

Alfonso Oliva:

Yeah. As I mentioned, over the years I have been speaking a little bit in many different venues. I’m very thankful for people inviting me to that, both in the US but also internationally in Europe and in Asia. And this year of course, it’s a little bit different because everything is online. We might resume maybe towards the end of the year. Some people have been contacting me and they’re planning an in-person event. That will be very nice.

Yes, there are different opportunities in Europe that we are still working on in consolidating. There is one that is set in place here in the United States. In November, there is going to be the CODA Summit it’s called, it’s a conference that is focused heavily on art and the CODAworx group. It’s a very interesting group because they aim on connecting designers, artists in this case, people that are in charge of public works and then technical people, so engineering and fabricators and so forth. It’s a venue that has it all, this event is going to be in November. If you look for CODA Summit November, you’ll find it. And we are speaking there. We’ve been speaking there for the past two years. It has been a great experience and you meet a lot of interesting people.

Mike Merrill:

That’s wonderful. We’ll be sure to link that in the show notes so that the listeners can have a chance to check that out. I have to also wonder, what … I know that you work with different software products or solutions companies like Autodesk and other software vendors. What are some of the tools that you utilize in order to accomplish the great work that you’re doing at LERA Plus?

Alfonso Oliva:

Yeah. We work with many different software in the company. Part of the workflow or the … Let’s call it the typical workflow, even though we do not have a typical workflow. I just want to stress that out. A lot of the companies that we work with, of course, they are McNeel, that is on the Rhino and Grasshopper side. And then of course Autodesk, very heavily involved on a lot of their softwares. The ones that we use the most are Revit and Dynamo. And the reason why I’m mentioning these softwares is because we’ve done a lot of custom development for plugins for the softwares or external softwares that link to it. And these wouldn’t have been completely doable without the collaboration with them, meaning getting in touch with people at Autodesk, getting in touch with people at McNeil and understanding how to do all of that. They’ve been helping us a lot on that enabling new features for us to expand our tools.

And then on the structural side, we basically use a lot of different products. We use CSI products that are the standards in the US, like SAP2000 and ETABS. And then we also use other softwares that are more common in Europe, like SOFiSTiK and all of that but the idea behind it is to always expand on it, right. There is some limitations that come with the softwares. The reason for that is because the developers cannot, of course, put in a software every single function that any company might need, right. They have a foundation, a super strong foundation that you can start from but then the key is to be able to expand and branch off and create your little workflow from it.

And that’s what we do. We’ve been doing that internally. Three years ago, we actually started a software developer company within LERA, it’s called Supple Technologies. The partnership and I’m also a partner of it, Antonio is also partner of it and with that, we’ve been actually serving clients. We’ve been developing software, we’ve been developing plugins for clients to streamline their workflows. It has been very interesting because we served architects, engineers, artists, you name it.

Mike Merrill:

What I’m hearing from all of this and what I love is that I’m getting a very clear sense that the arts are alive and well, they are not dead. Despite all this incredible technology and algorithms and integrations and 3D modeling and AI and all these things, the human element is still present in every aspect of the design and engineering process. And it shows, it shows.

Alfonso Oliva:

Definitely, yes.

Mike Merrill:

Rounding out just on more of a personal level. I just wanted to ask a few questions. What’s one of the processes or skills that you’ve developed over the years that has served you well in your experience?

Alfonso Oliva:

Oh, very interesting questions. And since we are in the personal one and I’m very much of a person I should say, I learned over time to actually believe in my ideas. I think that’s a good answer to this question. I must say that at the beginning of my career, I was a little bit intimidated by that because of that part I was talking about before. I was confined within those two worlds. And I was like, “No, I need to do this in order to get there.”

And then at some point, I just naturally diverged and I went into the jungle that I was talking about before I got lost but I had a lot of fun in that jungle. And then eventually, I got back on the path with a lot of new things. Yeah, I think believing in yourself is the best tool.

Mike Merrill:

Wonderful. And I was just going to ask what’s your personal super power for Alfonso? Is that the same thing or is there something else?

Alfonso Oliva:

Well, part of it it’s to basically keep your interests alive. I’m also an artist, as you mentioned before. My gallery represents me. It’s not my gallery but the gallery that represents me is in Chelsea. I make sure to keep my art alive, my own art of course, it’s all computational art. It’s a bunch of algorithms creating things. And that’s definitely what keeps me motivated and keeps me going and also gives me ideas for my work at LERA.

Mike Merrill:

I love it. What’s a challenge that you overcame earlier on in your career that you’ve been able to work past and build into become a strength?

Alfonso Oliva:

Huh. A big challenge, it has been to … I must say because a lot of people are going to relate to this, a big challenge it has been, “How do I keep doing things differently when I have to complete this task, right?”

And the easy way to answer that is through an example. When I started working in New York City, I was working on tall buildings. And as I mentioned, I was doing a lot of repetitive tasks and I was like, “I want to automate this but I have no time.” … Because the time that I have is the time to accomplish that task and the way in which I overcome that challenge, that I invested into something, right. I started creating a list little by little, all these algorithms that while I was working on my machine, would run on another machine and accomplish the same task over and over again and starting optimizing it. That’s how I started basically understanding and trying to overcome that, right. The way I should answer your questions is through validation. Meaning, you have to invest some time. Nothing comes with nothing. The first part is going to be an investment to validate something but then in order to overcome the little gap that you want to fill, you can basically validate your option and step over and keep going.

Mike Merrill:

You literally cloned yourself, is that right?

Alfonso Oliva:

Exactly, exactly but the other version was smarter than me. That’s what I found out. And that’s why then I kept going with the other version.

Mike Merrill:

I love it. That’s great. Well, the other version won’t get gray hair either, right.

Alfonso Oliva:

Yes, exactly.

Mike Merrill:

Well, that’s awesome. To wrap up, what is one takeaway that you would hope the listeners would have at the end of our conversation today?

Alfonso Oliva:

I think one of the takeaways is that remember … Always remember that at the end of the day, no matter which kind of task you are completing, if it’s for work or for a project or for research or anything, we are humans. And we need to respect ourselves for that. Don’t stress too much if things are not working because some things are meant not to be working, right, for you to teach something. And keep believing in what you’re doing somehow down the path is going to bring you some gain, even research that you consider dead, believe it or not, after three years, you’re going to be able to take a little piece of that research and apply it to something that you’re doing. At the end of the day, just keep believing in yourself, keep believing in your knowledge and in your ideas. And eventually, they will lead to something down the road.

Mike Merrill:

I love it. Never give up and learn to pivot, is what I’m hearing.

Alfonso Oliva:

Exactly, yes.

Mike Merrill:

Love it. Well, thank you, Alfonso. This has been a treasure for me to spend some time with you today. I really appreciate having you on the podcast.

Alfonso Oliva:

Thank you very much for having me and I’ll see you soon.

Mike Merrill:

All right, thank you. And thank you to the guests also, for listening to the Mobile Workforce Podcast today. If you enjoyed the conversation that Alfonso and I had, we ask you to please give us a rating and a review and also share the podcast episode. If you want to learn more about what we’re doing here at WORKMAX, you can follow us on LinkedIn at WORKMAX and also on Instagram, @WORKMAX_. And again, we sure appreciate the five star rating and reviews and the sharing of these episodes with your colleagues and friends. We, of course in the end, want to help you not only improve your business but your life.