It’s graduation season, the annual rite of passage when high schools, community colleges and universities send their students out into the world. Esteemed scholars, alumni and celebrities will don gowns and mortar boards and pass along their wisdom to auditoriums filled with anxious graduates ready to start new chapters in their lives.
In the precast concrete industry, we’ve already celebrated a memorable graduation. At the Precast Show earlier this year in Orlando, we honored Mike Loy as the first graduate of Precast University (see page 40). Mike will forever hold the distinction as the industry’s first “Master Precaster,” and he’s a great role model for all production employees who aspire to leadership positions in the plant.
We didn’t have a commencement address filled with wisdom for Mike. He’s been in the industry for more than 25 years, so he’s already handled just about every imaginable situation that can develop on a production floor. But in the spirit of the season, if we had an auditorium filled with anxious precasters ready to make their way into this challenging, competitive, amazing industry, I would offer this humble advice in my commencement address to our future precast industry leaders. Like many such speeches, it takes the form of a list – in this case, a list of things we should all stop doing (both future and current leaders) if we want to succeed in the years to come. The list comes from a blog I wrote last month (see precast.org/blog for more).
1. Stop living in the past. You are forging into the future, and the good old days of the mid 2000s are gone. The construction industry took a major hit between 2007 and 2011, and it is a new world now – leaner and even more competitive. We need to accept what we have and make the most of it.
2. Stop depending on others to fix industry problems. Fix them yourself. Think about what you can do to benefit your company and the industry as a whole, whether that’s a hard look at quality, branching out to provide products that specifiers may not consider “precast” products, or aggressively promoting your business using the sophisticated tools and technology available today.
3. Stop believing everyone in Washington doesn’t have a clue except “your guy” in Congress and realize there is a huge, systemic lack of courage and leadership in the United States Congress. I have close acquaintances with opposite political beliefs, but one thing we can agree on is that the situation in Washington is dire. Apathy is no longer an option if we want a productive government that truly represents the needs of the country and its people. So let “your guy” know that you want real action and measurable results instead of political posturing.
4. Stop waiting for the phone to ring. Thomas Friedman, a New York Times columnist, has a mantra: “Average is Over.” He believes that “Everyone needs to find their ‘extra’ – their unique value contribution that makes them stand out in whatever is their field of employment.” I couldn’t agree more. In the precast industry, average has been over for some time now. If your company doesn’t find its “extra,” whether that’s thinking of complete solutions, investigating new markets and products, stepping out of its comfort zone and the traditional jobs it bids, or making the business easier to find* you’re in danger of becoming average.
*Hint: That’s no longer the Yellow Pages.
5. Stop thinking you’re “just” in the precast concrete business. Look at your current products and think about complete solutions by identifying the peripheral products you can provide. Specifiers are more likely to go to the one-stop shop. Make it easy for them. You are not a precaster. You are an expert in an extremely important niche of the construction industry, and you are the “go to” person when an engineer/architect/specifier wants to know anything about precast.
6. Stop blaming the economy. The economy isn’t going anywhere in a hurry. It’s what we have, so rather than sit back and complain, take action and make your business the most attractive, highest quality complete solution it can be – and then get out there and promote it in every way available.
If you do these things, I would tell our future leaders, you will be as well equipped as anybody for a long and fruitful career in the dynamic world of precast concrete manufacturing.