The Self-Taught MBA
About 30 years ago, I read a Fine Homebuilding article that changed my career. I came upon it while building my second house. By then, I owned a sturdy Ford truck and a garage full of tools, and I felt like the consummate homebuilder. I could layout a foundation, frame walls, cut rafters and stringers, hang a door, and even thread steel pipe, so I had little use for subs, which I regarded a lazy builder’s expense. Taking pride in digging footings with a pick and shovel and driving every nail, my project moved slowly; work stopped every time I sped to the lumber yard for materials. So I hired a helper, but things didn’t improve much; I was purchasing a lot to build a third house, and then started lobbying blueprints through the Los Angeles building department. I hired a few, minor subs reluctantly, but they complained the framing wasn’t moving along quickly enough, so I even hired people to do the jobs I had always done, like the framing, and demoted myself to sweeping and fetching materials, frustrated by more frequent stops at corner payphone. Late at night, I pulled wads of crumpled receipts from my pockets and penciled numbers into a hardbound ledger.
Insight from more building professionals
That was 30 years ago, before cell phones and computers made things a little easier, although neither would have solved my problem. The technological breakthrough I first encountered in the pages of Fine Homebuilding was something still beyond the grasp of many of today’s newly aspiring building entrepreneurs, the briefcase.
Trading Tool BoxesDavid Gerstel’s 1988 article, “Running the Company,” described my plight perfectly: I had yet to learn that management is a trade onto itself, requiring its own set of skills, a new toolbox and the same level of focus you’d give to cutting a compound miter-100%. Today’s management tools have become highly sophisticated, but the concepts behind a well run business remain the same, and understanding the structure of business, from operations through finance and marketing, can help you remain organized and effective, even if you still wear all the hats.
This blog will seek to blueprint the basics of business management following somewhat the same syllabus taught in a typical MBA program, but teasing out the lessons as they apply to running a small construction company including interviews with successful, entrepreneurial managers in the homebuilding and remodeling business, as well as management experts in other fields. The purpose of this blog is to offer a business management forum on this site, and to outline business management concepts that may help readers scale their current management systems and strategies to allow for future growth.
For more business insight, read the next installment of the Self-Taught MBA.
It's tough to put down your toolbelt and pick up a briefcase (or laptop computer). David Gerstel’s 1988 article, “Running the Company,” described this problem perfectly back when Fernando Pages Ruiz was wrestling with the demands his budding construction company.
Once a builder is comfortable as a business manager, it's time to focus on adding innovation to the construction process. Fine Homebuilding online members can read Ruiz's recent article on incorporating best practices.