President’s Corner: Leading Through The “What-Ifs”

President's Corner : Business Intelligence with Dave Frame
April 7, 2023
By Dave Frame

As p-h-c business owners, part of what we sign up for is the “opportunity” to survive the ups and downs that affect our companies. At times, it can feel like a rollercoaster. That is why it is so important, as company leaders, to have strong systems and structure in our businesses so we can withstand whatever is ahead.

Taking over my family’s business at age 26 opened my eyes to good times and bad times. I’ve realized tremendous success, and I’ve lived through 1983 and 2008 – years that I was told would “build character.”

Not only did they build character, but they provided valuable lessons on preparing for the future, and now I’m passing those lessons onto the younger generation at my company, including my children. Given the talk that a recession is coming (some say it is already here), it looks like some of the real-life insights I will be sharing over the coming months will be those I learned during economic downturns.

Most younger folks haven’t led a company through a recession, so I focus on teaching them how to prepare for “what ifs.” We look at expenses and our equipment. What trucks aren’t moving? What are we not getting receivables on? Do we have a vehicle that hasn’t been on a job site for three months but still has good value? If so, let’s sell it.

Thinking Ahead

We also look at what our plan will look like if things slow down. We make group decisions with all the techs about how we can keep everyone on the payroll and not make layoffs. Perhaps we would rotate techs so everyone still gets 30 hours over three days a week.

We look at our credit lines and equipment lines. You hope you don’t have to use them, but if you’re growing, you’re going to. Or you may need to rely on them to get through a tough month. (Just get them paid up before the end of the year!)

The key is considering all these options before we get into slow times. Of course, leadership also means making difficult decisions. If all the plans you put into effect still don’t keep your financial statements in the black, analyze where cuts may need to happen. Consider employee performance, history, and attendance. Where is everyone with certifications? Who is equipped to multitask? Those all factor into the equation.

Listening and Collaborating

As a leader, truly listening is key, and the older I get, the easier this is for me. When I was younger, I was just so eager to get things going perfectly on steady ground that I didn’t listen as well, and I didn’t consider all sides of an issue. Now I stop and listen to what everyone in the company is saying – across all levels.

It’s also important to collaborate with those outside your company – advisers such as accountants, bankers, and attorneys – before things get slow. My accountant knows the pulse of my company as well as I do because I talk to him that much. Keep in touch with them when things are good so they’re able to provide sound counsel if and when things go south. A crisis is not the time to start the conversation.

Establishing a Culture of Transparency

We have new employees coming on, and – even in the busy summer months – we talk openly about what things will look like if we do slow up. If nothing else, it strengthens our relationships among the team. At the end of every year, our entire company meets to discuss our strengths, the divisions that need improving, where we need to spend more money, or perhaps some expenses we need to cut.

I like progress, so having to tighten things up in a down year is tough for me. Educating my team on the numbers and making decisions together is key, though. Our techs are instrumental in providing input on where to invest profits for the future, like new equipment needs. Better yet, as a leader, I suggest you go out on the job sites and watch so you can see what equipment they’re struggling with; perhaps there’s something on the market that can make their jobs easier, keep them safe, and make your company more profitable.

Envisioning Our Future Workforce

As your PHCC—National president, one of my goals this year is to become a more inclusive organization and ensure that everyone is represented in our future workforce. This is a delicate topic that needs to be out on the table. My personal opinion is that this needs to start at the apprenticeship level, because apprentices move on to advance their careers and may even someday become business owners. We need to ask ourselves: Why are we not attracting a more diverse crowd? Are we not targeting the right issues? Should we be casting a wider net when it comes to getting information out about the opportunities in the p-h-c profession? PHCC needs to be what the world looks like now.

As a member of the Federated Insurance Board of Directors, I know its diversity and inclusion committee is gathering a lot of good data on this topic that will be helpful for PHCC to review. The PHCC Board of Directors had some very worthwhile discussions on this during its recent board meeting and strategic plan review. Through conversations like this – and the ability to tap into best practices that other organizations have adopted – I am hopeful we will make a lot of progress in this area in 2023.

We always say that PHCC means not having to reinvent the wheel. That’s true for our association business … and for your business!

PHCC—National Association President Dave Frame is CEO of Bob Frame Plumbing Services, Inc., a fourth-generation family business in South Bend, Indiana.

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