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Bench Strength

Gary T Smith New

My last article spoke about training and developing your team. This month I would like to take this idea a step further and talk about training and developing your successor. Let's face it, most contractors and erectors are independent, privately held companies. We do not typically have layers of management. In many cases, there is only one guy-the guy-at the top.

Many of us built our companies from the ground up. We started with next to nothing. We are proud of our accomplishments. We work hard; we live well; we send our kids to college and encourage them to get real jobs. So what happens to our companies as we age, as we consider retirement?

Unfortunately, all too often, I hear about an otherwise healthy business that is closing because the owner got sick or passed away. Or, in some cases, successors inherit a healthy business, but have no idea how to run it. More often than not, they run it into the ground.

Succession planning is a serious subject that does not just happen one day. Training and leadership need to be a part of your regular operation and daily routine. To put it another way, think of any sports team. The good ones all have a good bench. Sure the star quarterback gets the glory, but a winning team always has a strong No. 2 in reserve.

I am blessed to have two young partners. We have established a culture that no one is irreplaceable and that it is everyone's job to train their replacement. This applies to everyone in the organization, not just the partners. The foremen are challenged daily to make the most of the team assigned to them. We believe we are only as good as the team around us.

So how do you build bench strength? Active participation in organizations like the Metal Building Contractor & Erectors Association (MBCEA) is crucial to the development of your team. This year's annual conference (April 30-May 2, Bahia Resort, San Diego) will offer several tracks of classes. We will have classes geared to business management and others geared to project management. I encourage you to bring one or two (or three) of your key guys. Spend a few days together networking and learning with your peers in the industry. Use the travel time to get to know each other better, to discuss what you learned and how it relates to your company.

Taking a foreman or a superintendent with you to the conference is a powerful message and motivator. It is a critical step in building tomorrow's leaders. The conference committee is so committed to this concept that we have signifi cantly reduced the price for second and additional attendees from one company. We have put together a stellar package of classes and speakers with an underlying focus of best practice from the MBCEA Network. Topics will cover:

  • IAS accreditation and a workshop on how to prepare
  • Contract negotiations
  • Dealing with confl ict on the job site
  • Development of an erector from HR evaluation to job-site documentation
  • Job management through communication and documentation
  • Health care
  • Understanding the profi t and loss statement
  • And even mobile technology and how it can improve on-the-job communications

Tom Gilligan, president of Butler Manufacturing, Kansas City, Mo., and vice chairman of the Metal Building Manufacturers Association (MBMA) will speak on the state of the industry.

Jerry Gaston from Nucor Building Systems, Waterloo, Ind., will speak on the millennial generation. Representatives from ATAS International Inc., Allentown, Pa., will educate us about transpired solar collectors. People from Silvercote Inc., Solon, Ohio, will challenge our readiness in preparing for ever-changing building requirements and energy codes. And Chuck Howard, president of Metal Roof Consultants, Cary, N.C., will speak on re-roofi ng. WOW! These are all shining examples of our members coming together for the good of the MBCEA.

Speaking of tomorrow's leaders, I want to shine the light for a moment on Mike Reynolds, president-elect of MBCEA. If any of you have ever watched the Metal Buildings Institute (MBI) Quality and Craftsmanship Training Videos, you have seen a young Mike, working as a foreman. Today, Mike leads Systems Contractors Inc., which is an award-winning, national erector based in Thornton, Colo. Recognized throughout the industry for his extensive knowledge and expertise in both structural steel and pre-engineered building systems, Mike currently serves on the erection and safety advisory panels for several pre-engineered building system manufacturers, as well as the board of directors for the Steel Erectors Safety Association of Colorado, MBCEA and MBI.

Mike is a wonderful success story for our industry. At a young age, he chose to get involved with MBCEA; to invest the time to participate, to learn, to network. The company he worked for supported and encouraged his efforts. Today he is the major owner of that company and is developing tomorrow's leaders. He frequently says, "My participation in MBCEA has brought in millions of dollars of work for my company. The return on the investment is huge."

As 2015 gets underway, I encourage you to think about your bench strength and what you are doing to develop tomorrow's leaders. I hope to see you at the MBCEA conference in San Diego. I assure you, you don't want to miss it.

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Gary T. Smith is president of Thomas Phoenix International Inc., Eastampton, N.J. He proudly serves as president of the Metal Building Contractors and Erectors Association and chair of the Metal Buildings Institute Apprenticeship Committee. He is an outspoken proponent of training and education for the metal building industry. To learn more, visit or email