Dave Veale interviews Don Khoury, Founder, Boston-based Body Language TV as part of the Leadership Unleashed series of interviews with leaders.
As a rule of thumb, strong leaders are effective communicators. They have a clear understanding of how to convey and interpret meaning as they communicate with colleagues, employees, customers and the general public.
Published Thursday June 3, 2010 in the Telegraph-Journal
Dave Veale interviews Jennifer Darling, President, Darling Construction as part of the Leadership Unleashed series of interviews with leaders.
So how does a woman break into the male-dominated construction industry and end up running the number one residential construction company in New Brunswick?
Jennifer Darling is a thoughtful and direct leader. She sat down with me and shared her thoughts on making tough decisions, who inspires her and the lessons she has learned in running her business.
Darling Construction is a Saint John-based company specializing in residential housing and has more than 50 employees.
Q: Jennifer how did you get into the construction business?
A: I think it was just a natural progression, really. I started real estate with my husband Scott after I graduated with my business degree. We did real estate together for four years and then I took a leave for children. And I didn’t want to go back full time, so Scott’s father, who owned Darling Construction at the time, offered me a part-time position, which worked out perfect for our family.
And then as the kids got older, my duties increased and I wanted to spend more time working. Bob was getting older and didn’t want to have so many hats to wear, so I bought the company from him.
I think I went back part-time when my son Isaac was two and he’ll be nine – seven years.
Q: In seven years, what is the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
A: When I first started, I would stress out and I would just really worry about deadlines and if someone wasn’t there and how that affected everything else. I would take it home with me and really get worried.
I’ve mellowed and now I just know you really can’t control everything, especially with being in construction.
Weather plays a big factor in it. You know if it rains at all, no one is showing up for work because you can’t work. So you don’t always get to make that schedule perfect and I really let that go.
Q: That was the big lesson for you?
A: Big lesson for me, because I’m a control person.
Q: What are some of the hardest decisions you have to make as the owner of a construction company?
A: I want to keep everybody working. We changed our company around this year. We are doing a lot of homes “in house,” (which means) we did them ourselves.
Some people think that could be stressful, carrying so much inventory. But our goal is to keep our guys working full time. So I think it’s managing to get everybody (putting in) a full time week. Everybody relies on their pay cheques, so I want to make sure that everybody works.
Q: I’m guessing there are probably not a lot of women working in this industry. What are the advantages that you, as a woman, bring?
A: You’re right, there aren’t a lot of women in this field, as I learn every year, when I show up for the (industry) golf tournament. There was myself and my mother-in-law, who is also invited, and then it is men.
But I have to say I really enjoy working with a bunch of men like this. They’re not high-pressure usually. Everyone is pretty relaxed and I think they are open to having a woman to deal with. I don’t think that bothered them at all. They knew I was willing to listen, probably.
Q: Listening is important?
A: Very important. I’ve mellowed - I know you really can’t control everything, especially being in the construction industry, where I think sometimes if a man was in power, they don’t want to admit …
Q: Their ego gets them?
A: Right, they don’t want to admit they have no idea how it’s to be done. Where, I have really no problem telling them.
Q: OK, so it’s about being honest with what you know and what you don’t know. Being very candid with that. Something I know about you is you’re also direct.
Q: So if you’ve got a problem, you’re going to talk to people about it?
A: Yes, absolutely.
Q: I think people in general like that. But I’m guessing that really works in your environment.
A: Yes it does. And again, if I made a scheduling mistake, then I’m very good at saying, “You know what, that was me.” I don’t think men do that all the time.
Q: Is there a person who has been a real impact on you in terms of how you approach leading a construction company?
A: Scott’s dad Bob is who I worked with at the beginning.
I saw how he handled the guys and there was a little bit of just learning and not always telling them.
He was always really good at having them come in the office, having the open-door policy, which I still have as well. I think that’s important. Everyone wants to know they can drop in.
Q: Do you think that approach is typical, from what you see in the industry?
A: Well I don’t really know. I know what some of the subs (sub contractors) tell me about how it is to deal with somebody else and I think it is a little bit different. But I think overall, people that do work with us are fairly happy with the way things go.
Q: One last question: What style of home do you think is the best?
A: I think that is determined by your lifestyle and the stage of life you’re in.
Q: For you?
A: For me it’s a two storey because I want my kids upstairs in bed while I’m downstairs.
Q: So what do you think it would be in your next stage of life?
A: I would probably think a bungalow – less to clean, less to take care of.
Dave Veale is a business and leadership coach and founder of Vision Coaching Inc. in Saint John. Email Dave at Dave@VisionCoachingInc.com or follow him on twitter @dave_veale. Don’t miss any of Dave’s interviews with leaders…get blog updates in your inbox by signing up over here, at the top of the right column ==>
What kind of title is chief love officer?
Dave Veale interviews Chris Nadeau, CLO, Evolving Solutions as part of the Leadership Unleashed series of interviews with leaders.
That’s the burning question many have pondered after their first encounter with Chris Nadeau, CLO and co-founder of New Brunswick-based web development and social media company Evolving Solutions.
‘One of our core values is to lead without titles,’ says Chris Nadeau, Chief Love Officer and co-founder of Evolving Solutions. ‘I wanted no titles for people in our company because I felt everyone was just as important and titles got in the way. But I talked about it with others and they thought I needed some sort of title, so I said, ‘Well, I’ll be the Chief Love Officer then.’ ” Read the rest of this entry »
Dave Veale interviews Ralph Stephen, President, Royal Lepage Atlantic as part of the Leadership Unleashed series of interviews with leaders.
Watch the interview…recorded on Dave’s flip-cam:
‘Leadership is not a quality. It’s a state of mind.’
This sentence jumped out at me when I looked at Royal LePage Atlantic’s website.
The real estate firm is a market leader with 230 agents and 10 offices in Atlantic Canada. Spend a short time with Ralph Stephen, president of the company, and you quickly learn he strives to role model this “state of mind” on a daily basis.
In our interview, Stephen candidly describes the recent challenges in the real estate market and, as a leader, making tough decisions to overcome these challenges.
Q: Ralph kicked off our interview by describing the importance of being a “servant leader.”
A: A lot of the leaders that I would have known when I started 20 years ago would have approached the world from a very different perspective. They would have been more, let’s say top down, militaristic. “Here’s what we need to do and here’s how you’re going to do it.”
There is a disconnect between that leadership style and what people are looking for today.
I think people are looking for those folks that are interested in helping them get to where they need to go and that is how I would define my leadership style. I would be more of a “servant leader.”
I get up every morning wondering what is it that I can do to add value to my organization. “How can I serve my organization?” rather than “How can the organization serve me?”
I think that servant leadership might mean different things to different people. What that means to me is that there is a little more reciprocity in my relationships so they are a lot more whole. That is the way I would describe it.
Q: Can you give me an example?
A: My leadership team effectively runs my business on a daily basis. They don’t check in with me on an hour-by-hour basis wondering what they should or shouldn’t be doing.
If you have the right people in those positions, you have trust and that becomes the foundation of your relationship. So my role then becomes more of an adviser: What is it that I can do to add value to that manager in that particular branch, or the president of that particular company?
Q: You’re kind of bumping up on what I would describe as a holistic view of the person. Is it all business or do you find there is a nice blend of business and personal? If someone has an issue, are you open as a leader to understanding what might be slowing them down and might relate to something in their personal life?
A: From what I have discovered over the years, every individual either wants a personal investment or a professional investment. It is incumbent upon leaders to understand what people are looking for.
I might be talking with a particular individual who wants to further themselves professionally and they want to know how I can help them do that.
Alternatively, I might be talking to somebody that has everything they need professionally, but they might need a sounding board for somebody to talk with about some things they might be going through.
As leaders it isn’t really about us; it’s about what that person requires at that particular time.
Q: And that’s where trust comes in, in a big way. So what are the challenges with that? What are you finding really challenging about this approach to leadership?
A: The biggest challenge would be the time and effort that it all takes “¦ I can tell you one thing for sure, once you have a relationship that’s based on trust, you can accomplish absolutely everything.
Q: The last year has been difficult across the board. There have been challenges for your industry, the real estate industry. What is the toughest decision or decisions you have had to make in the last year?
A: We went through some tremendous years of growth over the last ten years and the reality is, like any other business, we hadn’t expected that growth to stop.
We had set a proper foundation in place. We were moving forward and the trajectory is going (up). All of a sudden, the revenue tap shuts for three or four months. Then you realize, we better take a look at our business.
It has been a gift – because had we not been given the opportunity under the circumstances that we faced – it would be a couple of years before we reorganized our business model.
When you talked about the toughest thing, it always goes back to the people side of the business.
Because of my strong core value of stewardship, the very thing that inspires me to move forward every day is not only for myself to do well, but also for those around me to do well.
I never really thought I would be in the position where I would be asking people to either retire early or having to lay folks off.
My grandfather on my mom’s side and my grandfather on my dad’s side both ran businesses that employed generations of people and never laid anybody off. That was how I viewed myself as a corporate citizen, as somebody that would continue to provide employment to people as long as they wanted to be employed.
The reality of that is quite different and I was faced with having to make some decisions, which I found to be very tough.
I had to make some tough decisions for a few folks for the good of the many, and that allowed me to continue to move forward without really violating one of my very strong core values.
Q: Who for you has been a big inspiration, in terms of defining who you are and how you lead?
A: My uncle Mike. He rose quite quickly through the insurance industry and went on to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company – Aetna, Inc. (NYSE: AET). I guess that’s really who shaped my leadership or helped shape my philosophy on leadership – the need to look after people as you are looking after yourself.
Published Thursday May 6, 2010 in the Telegraph Journal
Photo: Paul Darrow, for the Telegraph Journal
Dave Veale interviews Bob Ferguson, Vice President, RCI as part of the Leadership Unleashed series of interviews with leaders.
Watch the Interview:
‘I had a young family and an extended network of friends that I’ve come to cherish here in Saint John. It’s a great place to raise kids and I didn’t want to lose that. I took a position where I could deliver the value to the organization, but maintain my residency here,’ says Bob Ferguson, vice-president, member sales and services, for RCI.
Bob Ferguson can answer this question in the affirmative.Ferguson is the vice-president, member sales and services, for RCI, the world’s largest vacation exchange business with over three million members worldwide.
In North America, RCI has more than 1,500 employees – over 300 of them right here in Saint John. The regional headquarters are in Indianapolis, but Ferguson is based in Saint John.
Ferguson believes profitable businesses are built by people with job satisfaction and a healthy work-life balance, from the senior executives to employees on the front lines of service delivery.
I began our interview by asking him about the guiding philosophy that motivated his decision to be based here, rather than Indianapolis.
Bob: I had a young family and an extended network of friends that I’ve come to cherish here in Saint John. It’s a great place to raise kids and I didn’t want to lose that. I took a position where I could deliver the value to the organization, but maintain my residency here.
Dave: You have five different locations across North America and you are running the sales division from Saint John. How do you do this?
Bob: It requires a good deal of travel, so I spend about half of my time here and half in Indianapolis. Even though we have locations elsewhere, most of the work gets done in Indianapolis and Saint John. I certainly do a great deal of work virtually – on the phone, webcast or video cam. I’m decked out with pretty much all the tricks of the trade.
Dave: You knew you were ambitious, you want to see success in the organization and you want to be hands on. At the same time, you want to have balance. You’ve got a young family and family is really important to you. So, how does that happen? How do you make sure you don’t get out of balance?
Bob: It’s about quality and not quantity. The quality of the time that I spend at work and the quality of the time that I spend at home. I tend to focus of the quality of the time versus the amount of the time.
Dave: What is the biggest challenge to identifying those boundaries or retaining them or honouring them?
Bob: You need to realize that you are not needed in every circumstance, right. Some of this comes down to basic leadership.
Good leadership is about clear direction, it’s about delegation and it’s about good time management. It is about the ability to set clear expectations for yourself and for others.
Dave: I’m going to change gears here. What makes your contact centre unique?
Bob: I think we are unique because we understand the value of people. I know that sounds somewhat cliché but for us it is not just a slogan or just a saying. It’s a culture we try to strive to adhere to in the organization “¦
We look at it from an engagement perspective. We may be the leaders of the organization, but a handful of people can’t do it by themselves. You need collaboration and you need a force of will to get it done and that doesn’t happen by just a dictatorial style. People need to be informed, they need to be engaged and understand the common challenge. And we strive to make sure that is clear.
Dave: How do you go about making sure people are valued?
Bob: A lot of (what we do) is not revolutionary. For instance, as the vice-president of the organization, I (visit the) front line associates on a regular basis and ask them what they think about what we are doing. It’s not that we don’t trust the mid-level or front level leaders but for the organization it is important that we hear straight from our front-line associates.
Dave: I’ve heard you guys do a really good job of acknowledging when people are doing well. Could you share an example of that?
Bob: Here in Saint John, we closed down the contact center (for the day), bussed 400 people down to our cruise ship terminal and had a celebration. It was a celebration of the work and the effort of our vacation guides, our front-line associates and the work that they do to send our members on vacation.
We are big believers that happy people make happy customers. If people love what they are doing, that it will extend into the experience that they have with our customers.
Dave: Last question. Who has had a great impact on you and who you are as a leader?
My mom is probably a major inspiration in my life. When I was six, my dad passed away and she had a house full of kids on her own and she did really well. She raised six kids, brought them up and they all became successful on their own.
Certainly I drew on her capability to overcome adversity and remain positive. I don’t think I could have done what she did.
So for me, I will always be in awe of perseverance, ability to overcome adversity, a capability to see beyond the moment and keep striving toward the goal.
Dave Veale is a business and leadership coach and founder of Vision Coaching Inc. in Saint John. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears every other Thursday.
Published Thursday April 22nd, 2010 in the Telegraph Journal
Photo of Bob Ferguson: Cindy Wilson, Telegraph Journal