Self Taught MBA: Going to Where the Going Is Good, Part 3comments (1) October 4th, 2012 in Blogs
What caught my eye about Temo Delao's white Ford pickup truck parked at the post office where I receive my mail was the clever graphic on his company lettering, a painter's ladder in place of the "A" for the trade name "LATINO." It made me smile, and I liked how the company name and logo brought to mind the great number of Latinos in the construction industry. I read the qualifiers that followed LATINO in smaller type, "Property Maintenance; Licensed and insured."
The truck's owner sat in the cab fiddling with his cell phone, so I approached the opened window on the passenger's side and complimented the graphics. He smiled and told me a lot of people stop and compliment his signs, and then added proudly, "I personally designed the name and logo." Curious, I asked for and he agreed to an impromptu interview.
Temo came from Acapulco, Guerrero, Mexico. He moved north to find work about 20 years ago. Like most immigrants, his first jobs were "a little bit of everything, and pretty menial, washing dishes, flipping burgers, and whatever I could get," Temo said. Eventually, this led to a helper's position on a framing crew in Boulder, Colo. The work was hard, humping lumber and picking up scraps, but in the process, Temo learned to read a tape measure, swing a hammer, and cut straight with a Skilsaw. He made wages in the hot sun, rolling joists and standing walls as the home-building economy boomed through the mid-'90s.
An inquisitive fellow, Temo struck up conversations with the tradespeople who came and went on the job site, and was especially intrigued by the mechanical contractors who installed pipes and ductwork on housing tracts. He was surprised to learn they earned nearly double what he could make as a competent framer. "And they work indoors, too," Temo recalls, since Acapulco had ill prepared him for winter framing on Colorado's Front Range. So he moved again, this time quitting his job on the framing crew to start over at the lowest levels of the mechanical trade. He had an advantage, though: As a framer, Temo knew exactly what lay behind the walls, and he soon began to make his mark in the company's lucrative remodeling business, finding clever routes to retrofit ductwork through existing walls and ceilings. Six years later, Temo had a journeyman's license and a crew under his direction. His ambition was even greater, though, nothing short of the American dream: to be his own boss.
He applied for and obtained a Mechanical Class B, commercial and residential contractor's license, and gave his boss two weeks' notice. Then the dream quickly turned into a nightmare. "I printed up a handful of business cards and started handing them out with great expectations," Temo says, "but nobody called. I had no work for six months. Every day I got dressed and went out as if going to work. I handed out cards and talked to neighbors. I did everything I could think of to get work, any work, even if I didn't 't know how to do it. I read books on how to paint and cut lawns, and I got some little jobs cleaning up yards, trimming bushes, and I painted a fence, whatever."
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