Business owners should define their purpose first

Figure out what your ‘future perfect’ looks like and then decide where you want your business to be

I am the second-generation owner of RSV Building Solutions. RSV was formed by my parents, and then transitioned to me where our staff built not only a profitable company but set the region’s standard of excellence in design-build construction. RSV becomes involved early in the process, helping small-to- mid-size owners and tenants define and achieve exactly what they want, on time and within budget, and avoiding costly false starts.

About a decade ago, it looked likely that the third-generation leader would be someone outside the family. I insisted upon a thoughtful process with plenty of time to identify and prepare my successor. I joined a business group with about 25 CEOs that meets monthly, providing a safe sounding board of independent analysis and perspectives. My successor, Debbie Marcoulier, was assigned to a similar group of business leaders.

Together, we made a seamless transition, where Debbie learned and earned the role of president and CEO, and where I now operate as chairman supporting Debbie, mostly with complex construction challenges. The transition became official two years ago although it was gradual and intentional as roles and responsibilities shifted.

Through this transition, there are important life lessons that I feel compelled to share with many in the construction industry – in all business really.

The first question is to determine where you are going as a person. What does your “future perfect” life look like? Truthfully examine where you are, and where you want to be five, 10 and even 20 years from now. What are you doing to enjoy life? What do your daily activities look like? Be clear, be specific and get people who will be brutally honest to assist you.

The next question is to determine how to harness your company to align with your personal “future perfect.” Nothing is harder than staring yourself in the mirror and asking what is the right approach to your business. This is not a question to answer quickly. Your business is something far bigger than stacks of sheetrock and spreadsheets.

Knowing the many good-hearted and caring people in construction, many likely will respond that their business purpose is to provide outstanding customer service, quality products, great jobs for their employees and to make a difference in their community.

Why then, do so many of us tend to chase that elusive next project, where you’ll agonize to get the work done, stress your hard-to-replace staff, endanger your quality and reputation and struggle to eke out a margin, if at all? Your purpose suffers multiple losses by working 60 hours a week or more to rescue a stretch project that threw your business into chaos.

Sure, we all still operate from a fear of “PRSD” (post-recession stress disorder), causing some to chase any available project even though they don’t have the staff or resources to deliver with quality. Sure, that next project might make it easier to justify buying that next piece of equipment or spread out fixed costs over more volume. But the pursuit of growth at all costs may end up costing you exactly what you want most from your business.

RSV was a solid performing company under my leadership. We pursued standards of performance and quality that are still rare in construction. We maintained our staff through the recession and enjoy long-standing relationships with staff and subcontractors. Our commitment to people helped us endure the slow times, and caused us to look past a few opportunities in the good times.

But it wasn’t until I began receiving candid feedback from fellow business leaders who challenged me to define my “future perfect” that I understood that my purpose goes far beyond running a successful company. It includes the absolute joy I experience when interacting with my grandkids and family, my desire to participate meaningfully in our wonderful community and pursuing my love for flying. It includes shifting my purpose within RSV to helping staff thrive rather than finding solutions myself. Plus, it has stirred within me a passion to help other small business leaders make important decisions earlier in their careers.

Remember, your business exists only to meet your personal “future perfect” needs. In construction, our businesses rarely have real value and can’t be sold. Harness your company to meet your needs as they change throughout your life. Certainty, peace and joy will be the result of all this hard work.

Ron Frederiksen is chairman of RSV Building Solutions. He will be the keynote speaker at the Southwest Washington Contractors Association Construction Executives Summit Feb. 15, 2018, in Vancouver.