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Earlier this month, I wrote a post offering a few hints for those on the job search. It seems especially pertinent in these times, because we as managers are receiving more resumes than usual.

Not a week goes by that I don’t see between 3 and 5 job applications. I would say the majority of them are from graduating college seniors, folks who have worked their whole lives getting that just right degree. Their diligence from the last four years, combined with extracurricular activities, would have made them worthy candidates in good times.

I feel like I have empathy for this younger generation of job seekers, because at their age, I was in a similar situation.

At the age of 24, my fledgling home building business had gone bust. Aside from feeling depressed I was broke and without a job. I talked with my father who in turn reached out to our preacher who in turn reached out to a large construction company owner in town. I got a job. While those were stressful times, I will never forget this man’s generosity of help. Never.  It’s because of his mentoring and his hands on assistance with my job search that I was able to move on to the career I now enjoy.

I believe that as people established in our businesses, we owe it to the young folks out there to treat their resumes with respect and help them where we can. After all, someone did it for us.

As business owners and hiring managers, these are my recommendations for helping our next class of leaders:

If a letter is sincere, respond.  I tell the applicant that I wish we could make the hire, but unfortunately we cannot.

Give words of encouragement, if they are deserved. If their resume looks solid, and most of the time it does, I tell them there is the just right job out there. They will just have to be patient in finding it.

Make a suggestion for another place to seek work. I suggest they consider modifying their job search. Because of the economic cycle, perhaps they should consider something that may not fit exactly with their degree but will sustain them for the next two or three years until the economy heals.

Make time to meet them. You might be surprised how much it will benefit you as well.

We do this because we care. What if this young person was my son or daughter? How would I like someone else to react to them?

During these times, while we are all looking for those projects that are scarce, we also have an obligation to help those around us do the best that they can. Maybe next time the shoe will be on the other foot. Will you pay it forward?

A while back, I mentioned our desire to explore Building Information Modeling (BIM), a database which catalogs a structure throughout its life cycle in real time 3D. We felt the system would provide a value-add large enough to merit hiring someone to manage our efforts. I’m pleased to say we found the right fit.

William Byrd, a graduate of Auburn University’s Building Science program, has a long history with modeling technology. His father, the manager of a steel manufacturing company, brought home drawings of machine parts that his shop was building.

William learned the basics on their home computer, and found a passion that led him to complete his senior thesis in Construction Information Technology using BIM.

I asked him to put together a list of what BIM can do for a construction company in terms of customer benefits. Here are the areas he thinks will be most useful:

Presentation. Owners, investors and contractors can see their building taken from a 2-dimensional plane to a model. They can now “walk through” a structure that has yet to be built.

Collaboration. For architects, general contractors and owners, working together on a model gets a conversation flowing. Through BIM, all parties can begin their partnership earlier. This saves time in the long run by avoiding costly changes or mistakes.

Forecasting problems. Constructing the building virtually can aid in finding problems in the design or the constructability of a project.

Record Keeping. With a complete model, an owner can see what exactly is hidden behind a wall or a concrete slab. In renovations or repairs, this can be invaluable.

It is our belief that BIM will drive efficiency in the construction industry in the same way that AutoCAD (and equivalents) revolutionized how drawings are completed by architects and engineers.  We’re confident it will give us the edge in both negotiated and hard bid work. We’re pleased to be early adopters.

I will ask William to check in occasionally, sharing thoughts on BIM upgrades and tips from along the trail. We look forward to sharing our experience.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email

Several team members from our company were invited to attend the 2011 World of Concrete and Masonry (WOC) in Las Vegas earlier in the year. For those not familiar the WOC,  it features hands on events, a chance to network with peers in the industry, interactive demonstrations and competitions, hundreds of exhibits from suppliers from around the world and education programs by leading professionals in the trade.

One of these classes was “Troubleshooting and Repairing Concrete Cracks”, taught by Kim Basham, a leading expert in the industry. Reviewed the causes cracks in both structural and non-structural slabs such as thermal expansion, subgrade settlement and even earthquakes. Nonstructural cracks caused by such things as plastic shrinkage, plastic settlement, crazing and corrosion of embedded materials.

A few things to consider when working with concrete to help minimize cracks:

• Weather conditions (especially wind and substantial temperature changes during the pour) will affect potential cracking.

• Slump loss, plastic shrinkage cracking, crazing, changing set times are also effected by weather.

• Control joints and expansion joints should be well thought out before the pour.

• Saw cut early, at the end of the day after a pour and before you leave the job.

• Temperature during placing, finishing and curing operations should be considered.

• When the temps are low air entrainment cannot fully protect freshly placed concrete against freezing temperatures, another whole set of problems for newly poured concrete.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email

According to the EPA, it is estimated that a staggering 800 million square yards of carpet is sent to U.S. landfills each year. That is enough to cover New York’s Central Park every two days.

Fortunately, the carpet industry has begun to realize that there is no need for all this shag and nylon to go to waste. Recycled carpet is a growing trend, thanks in part to the Carpet America Recovery Effort . While only 6 percent of carpet waste was recycled in 2009, that is triple the amount from five years earlier.

When we moved into our new building three years ago, we used recycled carpet manufactured by a Georgia company called Interface . I have been very impressed with it. It looks great and has worn well. Plus it comes in squares, so when you spill something or wear out a particular part of the carpet, you can replace it with a single square rather than an entirely new carpet.

Old carpet also is being turned into a variety of other products, including composite lumber, tile backer board, roofing shingles, railroad ties, automotive parts, carpet cushion and stepping stones.

But the easiest thing to do with old carpet is spruce it up and turn it into new carpet. Every time I walk across the floor in our office, I am reminded that what is now our carpet was at one time someone else’s. And I feel good knowing that we kept it from going to waste in a landfill.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email


Thanks to several social media tools, I have been able to stay connected with increased frequency than before web 2.0.  A couple of years ago we started using several  of these  and the effectiveness of helping with relationships has been very encouraging.  I can count on a brief exchange with someone due to my blog posts, as you see here, on Facebook or on Twitter.  On the other hand, I will say that social media can be a detriment to your time management efforts.

The internet is a large and highly populated space and it is easy to get lost or chasing rabbit trails. I compare it to someone looking into a refrigerator when one is hungry, but not really sure what they want, yet they open the door to see if anything has changed. Some would compare it to insanity; doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time.

But through the use of Social Media, companies can now focus their attention on specific audiences much easier and start topics of conversation with just a sentence.  In addition, you can make people feel more important by personalizing the messages sent.  I enjoy reaching out to old friends to check on their well-being as well as business acquaintances, as I believe that this is a lost aspect of business today.

I believe that the economy is getting better and to me, it more important than ever before to be sure that you’re strengthening and maintaining relationships with your clients and associates in the most efficient ways across multiple platforms.

Listed below are some other blog posts to help you on your way:

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email

It’s easy to get bogged down with the day-to-day activities and then add in family and just life in general. We lose contact with those that are an import part of our lives, whether professional or personal. We are then reminded of them by something that we see or hear.

Through the years, I have made many friends and associates. I am as guilty as anyone whenever I forget to return a phone call or an email due to my own duties throughout the day. It is not intentional. But it takes just a few moments to use what I believe to be the simplest contact tools already sitting on my desk.

These tools are a phone and a pen.

It is a very quick process to pick up a pen and write out a quick note on a company post card. But it can be the make or break for your business nowadays. We live in a highly competitive world and a gesture such as remembering someone’s love of the outdoors and sending them an article out of a magazine that you believe they may find interesting touches their mind and heart.

Returning a phone call is something that I find people are not always willing to do. I make every attempt to either answer the phone as I receive calls or to call back as soon as I am able. It may sound old-fashioned and to some it may be, especially in this hectic, fast-paced world today.

Yet, I strongly believe that a very simple phone call or a quick note can do wonders with business relationships as it breaks the monotony of the interactive barrage. This is not to say that I do not use email or one of the other communication tools such as Twitter or Facebook, as well, but the phone call and the pen offer something many of us may have left somewhere along the trail.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Call an old friend or business associate and catch up.
  • Write a 1-3 sentence email to a business associate and recommend a book.
  • Send a brief note a new business contact and include an article from the newspaper or a magazine related to their business.

 

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email

Making mistakes is common for everyone. We all make them. Admitting to mistakes is not always an immediate reaction. Instead, many try to redirect the blame to others or maybe provide incomplete answers back. I tell our folks at Stewart Perry that they will always make mistakes along the trail and it is a sign of real maturity to admit what may have happened and to provide solutions.

When I visit with our clients, I tell them that we may make some mistakes along the way on their projects and if we do, we will work toward solutions. I have been in the construction business long enough to know that customers, designers and others involved in the property development process also make mistakes. We will try to help them work through these situations as well, just as we wish for them to help us in return.

We make decisions based on the information that we are given and this information may or may not always be accurate. To me, if you accept the error instead of avoiding it, it will start the correction process sooner. The way in which you handle the mistakes can say a lot about the way you do business. Granted we do live in a society where lawyers are involved at every turn and I would think it would be safe to say that has some impact on the methods in which things are handled.

Good leaders in business admit mistakes and move on.

A couple of ideas we try to live by:

• Let’s all admit when we make a mistake and seek solutions and let’s try to have the team support each other.

• Leaders show strength by showing vulnerability. Part of this vulnerability is admitting the mistake.

Nothing is ever perfect and mistakes are sure to be made. Admitting the mistake will be appreciated, strengthen the relationship and in the end, is a win-win situation.

Is this not what we are all striving to do?

 

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email

Are You Saying Thank You Enough?

As the year comes to a close, I wonder what it would be like if more of us said thank you to each other.  Not just at the end of the year, but throughout the year…

I can count on my two hands the amount of times that someone from downstream has thanked us for a material order or a subcontract we have given them over the past few years. Maybe it’s because people were too busy (before 2007)…or maybe they do not think what a wonderful opportunity this would be to build a relationship.

I’m not talking about the obligatory Christmas present or card. I’m talking about genuinely connecting throughout the year to say “thanks.” If you and your business did this, I suspect that your relationships will strengthen more because your competitors are probably not taking the time to say “thanks” either.

Two simple words, expressed in different ways.

From what I have read recently, people who show gratitude have more energy, more optimism, better social contacts and are healthier. We say thank you (a lot) and we try to do it in different ways because we are sincere. It’s who we are. It’s our culture and besides, we enjoy doing business with our customer relationships.

A teaspoon of honey goes a long way to strengthen the relationships for more opportunities which leads to more success.

 

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email

Right-sizing, why did I not have this in my vocabulary before ’07?  Makes sense. We are constructors of buildings and handle the civil management of projects, but the bottom line is that we are service providers. Just like architects, engineers, lawyers, bankers or accountants, all service providers of different sorts.

We need to be adjusting( or at least thinking about) our overhead and other needs such as office space and selling space, if you are retailer, routinely. Constantly thinking about expanding or contracting to “right-size”.

The last three years everybody has been downsizing in the “right size” process but going the other way is equally profitable. In the last 2 months, we have hired two more office team members. Getting ready slowly as the economy heals.

Seems our retail customers are working smarter and as are our office building customers. Getting more out of less.  Some of the retailers are combining the Internet and their stores more effectively. Someone orders on the Internet and it is shipped from a store. Someone does not like their order from the Internet, they returned to the store. The stores provides a retail environment and a distribution center. Be more efficient and right sizing, a double win for the company  and a win for the customer.

Maybe I can be more disciplined in the future:

  • I promise to watch our G&A more closely which is profit spent on something else
  • I am going to try to be quicker with the decision, than I have in the past, to upsize or downsize (a common problem among contractors)

We see many good opportunities in what we have learned. What are your thoughts?

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email

My oldest daughter, Chappell, an economics major at Sewanee, spent this summer learning about microfinance lending; first in Bangladesh with the Grameen Bank and Dr. Muhammad Yunus. Then several more weeks in the Dominican Republic working with the Esperanza Bank (Bank of Hope) making micro loans.

Microfinance is a movement whose object is “a world in which as many poor and near-poor households have routine access to an appropriate range of quality lending and thus help the poor out of poverty.  Most of Chappell’s “clients” were women.  It could be as little as $25, to capitalize a business, to buy food to resell on the street or buy a small fridge from which to sell juice.

A typical day for Chappell involved assisting her host family before heading to the bank to visit “associates” (borrowers) ,meeting with staff members or visits to the countryside to visit to met with the borrowers,  which they tried to do a couple of times a month. On their visits they would collect a small repayment toward the loan and offer suggestions for the on-going business. These loans are not without risk, typically without collateral but with the upside so positive, these lenders have devised different ways to help provide somewhat of a social net to help lessen loan defaults.

A Different Process at the Grameen Bank….similar, yet different.

While they are also involved in the microfinance process, Grameen strives to assist in furthering education of the children of borrowers. One way that they have accomplished this is through the development of their own nursing school.  This is in addition to the already existing pre-schools and elementary schools.

Grameen is a story in itself and is very inspiring. They are led by Dr. Muhammad Yunus, who has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

You can read more about Chappell and her travels at her blog here.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.