Bob Clark is Founder and Executive Chairman at Clayco, a design-build company with more than 30 years of experience in the industry.
Those who have been around me long enough know that I have built Clayco on one simple foundation, the golden rule: Treat people the way you want to be treated. This goes for every relationship I cultivate in my business, from my senior staff to our clients, competitors, contractors, and employees of all ranks. There are several keys to the success of our business model, yet I will be the first to tell you that at the end of the day, everything comes down to the people and effective relationship management.
Building Long-Lasting Relationships
It goes without saying that subcontractors are vital to the successful completion of our complex design-build projects. However, there is an intricate art and science to developing and maintaining these relationships. Common sense in business will tell you that communication, respect and setting clear expectations are integral to these relationships — that is all true. What is less clear are the things leaders need to be doing on an interpersonal level for subcontractor relationships to truly thrive.
My dad, Harold Clark, was a great mentor in this area. I witnessed him talking to his painters, his clients, his suppliers; no matter who he spoke with, they were all treated with the same level of respect. He had a large painting contracting business and knew firsthand how general contractors mistreated and abused their subcontractor relationships. That’s why he coached me to use this as a competitive advantage.
For my first couple of years in business, I spent many breakfasts and lunches with the subcontracting community. They became great friends, mentors, connectors and partners for me, and I will always value the relationships that I’ve built over the years as integral to my business success. Making the time and effort to establish your own relationships with subcontractors will help provide a competitive advantage over leaders at other firms who do not make the same effort.
Surround Yourself With Talent
The second key to our success is to hire the best and the brightest. All the subcontractor/supplier partners we work with appreciate working with smart people on a day-to-day basis. When you bring together teams of top-quality people, everyone knows that the job will get done well and they can rely on one another to bring the high-level quality that we all want to achieve.
In addition, this level of trust and respect between people produces healthy supply chains, the lifeblood of most businesses. Having a certain humility can result in tremendous benefits. Building relationships with people where you’re on the same level creates mutual partnerships between businesses and subcontractors. With that understanding and respect come expectations for a higher level of service.
As one example, at my company, we are trying to raise the bar on safety, diversity and inclusion. It’s particularly critical for us to have trust, to avoid an eye-rolling “here we go again” attitude when we make changes that align with raising this bar. I find in my conversations with subcontractor leadership that when they know why we are demanding a higher expectation, they are more willing to board the ship with us. This understanding only comes about when both sides trust the other’s expertise and judgment.
Quality Breeds Quality
The third and final key is about being selective about where you apply your craft. This way, the subcontractors know that they will be working with great clients regularly. Having that stamp of quality over time means that they then treat you with the same respect that you treat them.
Just as subcontractors respect your expertise in changing how you do things, they also know to expect high-quality work. Not only does it make working with one another easier, but it also yields quality results. Showing passion and engagement in the work you do always produces better results — which is good for you, for them, and, of course, for the clients.
Naturally, this network of relationships and mutual respect would not have been possible without thoughtfully building up those initial core, powerful relationships in the first place. Looking back at those lunchtime meetings and the advice my dad gave me years ago, I’m gladder than ever that I put the work into my early relationships. It genuinely pays off every day.
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Bob Clark is Founder and Executive Chairman at Clayco, a design-build company with more than 30 years of experience in the industry. Read Bob Clark’s full executive