Damon Bennett emphasizes hiring from the top downCanadian Contractor
Putting a team together for his new company, Damon knew where to start: a key hire to supervise the business issues.
Hiring from the top down made perfect sense for Damon Bennett’s new company. Damon’s a very busy man, after all, a recognizable face from his years as Mike Holmes’ site supervisor on television. He still appears on television from time to time, and travels the country as a product ambassador for several top brands of building materials and products. However, at the end of the day, he’s a real builder and contractor. Damon’s new firm, Bennett Building Company, is taking on work for this spring. He knows he needs good hires in order to make the company a success. I talked to Damon in between his cross country trips about the challenges of finding the right people.
What was the first key position you wanted to fill, and what were you looking for?
I needed someone to help me run the business, and I was willing to pay for it. It actually took me some time to find the right guy who could work with me on the business end, but I found him. He’s going to be an integral part of my business in terms of doing estimates, taking care of timelines, all the stuff I’m not going to be able to do because I’m going to be building. I wanted someone mature. When you’re dealing with hundreds of thousands of dollars, even millions of dollars, you need someone with maturity who knows how to navigate that, to make sure the trades are paid, and that the money is going in the right direction.
Why was a business supervisor so important at the early stages of your new business?
The easiest thing for contractors is the work. We love it, but the business end is the thing we struggle with the most. We’re not paper pushers, we’re not number crunchers. And it’s more than just estimating. I needed someone who was good on site, good with homeowners when I’m not there.
What are the types of things that can go off the rails fast?
More businesses close in this industry because of the mistakes made on contracts. It ends up killing the contractor at the end of the day because when you make a mistake on a house, it can cost you tens of thousands of dollars. You can’t expect the homeowner to have discussions like that again after he signs a contract.
I’ll give you an example. A couple of years ago we were doing a passive house with ICF. Our estimator didn’t include the rebar in the quote. He assumed it was included in the ICF price. Suddenly there was $40,000 of rebar that we had to eat. There was the profit, gone. We put a year into that job and we were out forty grand. It’s a terrible feeling. When contractors get themselves into trouble because they didn’t do the contract properly, that’s when they give up. That’s when corners get cut, that’s when relationships go sour. Whenever the contractor isn’t making money, he doesn’t want to be there. It shows in his work, his work ethic, and the time he shows up.
In addition to your key man overseeing the business aspects, what are looking for with your crew hires?
Construction is the easiest thing to get into, but good employees are the hardest thing to find. In construction, you’ve got to work the employees in order to know and feel how they’re going to function for you. You have to rely on your gut and decide over a couple of weeks if they’re a fit for your company. Having a piece of paper doesn’t tell you a lot about a person; it just tells you where they worked.
It sounds like a probationary period for new hires
That actually happens a lot. I’ve even had guys for two days and had to let them go. You know right away if they’ve lied on their resume, for example. You really have to weed through people in order to find that right employee. Not everyone can do this job well. Unfortunately, a lot of employers just resign themselves to the people they have.
How did you find these good people?
For me, just by meeting people. It was as simple as that. Before work, after work, meeting people, discussing business ideas with people, figuring out where I was going. I was in the TV thing for ten years, working in a bubble and not really work with the other trades. I lost all of my contacts. I had to re-build those relationships and contacts, and to be honest, it was a struggle.
Once you find a good fit, what happens next?
Every employee has to feel needed in that company. If you don’t include them as part of the team and they’re just there as employees, they’ll always be thinking there’s someone behind them waiting to take their job. That’s the worst way to treat them. Treat your employees with respect. Ask them for their ideas and comments. You want to see them get better than you. That’s the way I’m looking at my employees.
This post is part of our series “Your Next Great Hire”. Read previous installments….
How Paul & Janna Lafrance mine for gold when they look new new hires
Paul Lafrance Part One: Matching music, passion and creativity with a career in renovation
Naikoon Contracting expands high school bursary programs in North Vancouver