For a couple of days, or maybe weeks, Iíll try to update that certain amount of lost time due to the demise of my internet connection last fall. Using stories, anecdotes or whatever you choose to call them, Iíll try to re-acquaint and fill in some of the gap for a while. Your patience with this self-promotion is gladly accepted. Although I must caution Ė sending e-mail is chancy at best. Try the guestbook instead.
Try as I might, and after half a dozen false starts, Iím finding it embarrassingly difficult to replay the work scenes in words that took up most of my waking hours over the past few months.
I suspect that I know why. It has to do with the heartache part of things, the closed eyes and head grasping ugliness that the ownership of a business can bring to pass. In its most naked form, putting your working talents into the form of a business is putting your dreams on display. You jump up on that giant boulder that is a public and unforgiving pulpit and declare, ďHere is my vision. My dream. Iíll be pleased to articulate it for you and after Iím through, Iíd be just tickled if youíd hand over that check weíve been talking about.Ē
Throughout the years that Corporate Partner Stu and I have run this little show, one thing has always been very clearly understood. The thing that makes people start companies of their own hand. And you might hear all sorts of reasons about why individuals form their own business, that they do so to make more money or provide a unique service or all sorts of blather, but let me tell you. Deep down they do it because they want the freedom, the independence. They want out from under the yolk of someone elseís vision. Doesnít much matter if itís a large corporation or government work or just another small business. If you feel chafed and coerced and want out, itís the big motivator.
Maybe a brief re-cap is in order.
1. Itís 2001, and Stu and I are humming along in our little world. Weíve got a couple dozen regular clients, we pull in a fairly predictable amount of work, we bid jobs, we do the work, we get paid. The company is a real company, there are taxes and insurance and all the usual stuff. I handle the admin and bookkeeping as well as the field work, Stu does the schmoozing (he is a wonderful schmoozer, is our Stu) and field work and all the little stuff. We live large in 2001.
2. In 2003, one of our semi-regular clients known as the Benefactor tosses a large bone into the fray. Building a City. ďTake it and run with it boys,Ē I remember him saying. It being a long term (and I mean right up to retirement) project that will alleviate the uncertainty of bidding random jobs and periodic building downturns, we make the commitment. Finish up all the other stuff. Bid a farewell to the other clients. Head north to the new City.
3. In early 2003 the City is basically a big empty stretch of dirt. The overall sculpting of acres of land has been accomplished despite the best effort of the Benefactors son-in-law, who has been installed as the general superintendent. If you can picture Billy Carter as ambassador to Iraq, you can picture son-in-law as a superintendent of construction.
4. Stu and I start building a fence around the perimeter of the place (it being a gated community, it seemed like the thing to do), building some of the outbuildings and the first house or two. Some things become immediately clear. Firstly, the Benefactor is not just taking our prices and running with them. He is turning them over to the Project Manager (another oxymoron title for a person who is one of the most obnoxious pieces of shit I have ever encountered, particularly if you take into account that his actual experience with construction comes chiefly from Home and Gardens television) and the Manager is in turn shopping our price to the far ends of the earth. This, obviously, prunes away at our available funds.
5. For reasons laid out in the previous entry, doing construction on the Shore is expensive, it is time consuming, it is not a little frustrating. It wasnít just us, it seemed that every company and trade up there would come to the same conclusion Ė get our little task done, bill for it and get the hell out. Expenses and the nightmare of having no real management on site. Everything taking twice as long to accomplish as it would in a more urban setting. More pruning.
6. Stu and I found ourselves coming in to do the really skilled work on a building and having to basically re-build the shoddy stuff that has gone on before us. You know, the stuff we priced ourselves out of in the first place. More time added to the project. A little more pruning.
7. By October, it had gotten to the point where Stu and I had to have a serious conversation. Between a political morass between the Manager and Superintendent who were both competing for power by undermining the position we had, an indifferent Benefactor and a desperate money problem on our part, we were in danger of just having to cave and fold up. It was causing some serious problems between Stu and I, and we both regretted them since we had always gotten along famously. But the project was basically wrecking our company and there was no getting around it. Something had to be done.
8. Stu volunteered to talk to the Benefactor at length. Heís always been close to the man and can usually charm him into seeing the sun in the middle of the night.
9. The Benefactor meets with the two of us and makes an offer. ďLook boys, I donít want to lose you from this project. I need you up there. I understand that youíre losing money and thatís not necessary. Tell you what. Iíll pay you both a lump sum every week for your salaries and expenses and you do what you can. If you can get the basic buildings done by June, Iíll throw in a bonus.Ē And he named a figure for the weekly stuff and while it wasnít half-bad, the bookkeeper in me wasnít about to bite at the first lump of bait tossed in the pool. I got the feeling that Stu would have jumped at nearly any offer and I canít say as I blamed him, but the spinster side of me wanted to get to a computer and fire up some figures before I said okay.
10. And finally, we counter offered and he said yes. Typed up an agreement and everything. So where are we now?
Where we are now is in the hired lackey state. They call us Lead Carpenters but they might as well append that to say troubleshooters. We show up, we fix stuff, we offer advice to the Super and Manager (rarely taken, unless they mull it over and find a way to claim it was their idea in the first place), we take the Benefactors check on Friday, and we go home. Thatís pretty much it. No chance for profit, no sweeping authority, no vision. The company still exists but we donít really work for it. We work for someone else.
You know, itís petty for me to rant about this. I make a comfortable living, there are people who would envy the reasonable solidarity of the agreement we have worked out with the Benefactor. The very fact that I can afford to spend time writing on this forum ought to say something about my standard of living.
I keep waiting for the Benefactor to wake up. And either toss his son-in-law out the door (not likely) or the Manager (ditto) or get to the month of June and realize that his ďBoysĒ didnít, or couldnít get the basic buildings done. There are three of them, and one isnít even out of the ground yet.
Trust me, thatís the last of my weeping and wailing on this subject. Weíre on cruise control until June. On a daily basis Iíll see the vision gone sour and hate it, swing hammers and curse the day we looked at this project as anything worthwhile.
And I never cared much for cruise control, either.
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