Wember has been providing Owner’s Representative services for over twelve years, and although it’s been a roller coaster, that’s ok. I like roller coasters. I thought I would share some thoughts as I reflect:
- Don’t send the email. In 2006 we were in a position to take on a program of three buildings for a new client, we were very excited. When the RFP came out the program changed from $20 million to $120 million and we knew we would not be able to compete or service the projects. In a rage I wrote a scathing email to my future client, luckily I deleted it and wished her the best on the project and gave a simple explanation on why we would not be able to submit. Three months later my contact called me telling me that we were awarded the projects and would be part of the program management team who was managing the remainder of the $120 million dollars. I refer to this as my $20 million dollar email.
- Don’t be a jerk. Thinking back to eleven years ago, at the that time, we received a lot of referrals for new work simply due to the fact the owner’s representative market was small and, as we heard from clients, many of the competitors let this new found position go to their head. At one point, we simply could get work because we treated people with respect. If you find yourself in a position where your business has grown to a point that you can be more selective in the jobs you take on, remember to decline work as graciously as you accept it.
- Be nice to everyone. I have hired my former boss to work on projects, seen young professionals’ advance quickly, and furniture sales representatives serve on governing boards of directors for projects. When I started Wember I also ran a small rendering company. At a trade show, an architect informed me of how much she hated my work. Two weeks later that architect submitted a proposal on one of my Owner’s Representative projects. While I remained impartial in my Owner’s Representative role, it was awkward for her, to say the least.
- Greener pastures turn brown. When we started in 2003 private development was on fire with the dot com’s spending exorbitant amounts of money on T.I. and new space. When seeking to secure projects in the public sector, the door was wide open and we walked through. Come 2008 the private sector was at a standstill and all the prodigal sons returned to the public sector. My clients had vivid memories of “who was there when they needed them.” We earned their trust and respect and stuck by them always. Don’t forget the people that got you started when new opportunities present themselves.
- People leave. I know that this is a silly thing to say from someone who has an MBA, but I had false expectations on employee and client relationships. Just because I put my heart and soul into company, and sacrificing so much to make it successful, doesn’t mean others will be as excited or committed. The reality is that it is a job, and although many people do theirs well, people move on for a variety reasons–that’s business. Similarly, as you build relationships with board members, directors and colleagues, they too move on from their positions, often causing a setback for your business.
- You win some you lose some. As much as we want every project to be a success, the fact is not every project will be a winner financially or relationship-wise. I have come to the conclusion that we need to walk away from a project with one person from the client side that will sing our praises, identify them and make sure you give them the extra attention they deserve. We won’t make everyone on a project happy, that’s just reality.
- Public sector employees work their butts off. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how impressed I am with the people that we represent. It’s easy to sit back and complain about the public sector and how wasteful it is, yes, that does happen; but, don’t believe that people are not giving 100% of themselves and more. I assure you that the people that we have worked with go above their job description role every day.
- This is fun. I am not saying this is easy, but it is fun. If you are in the industry remember that your client thinks of you as a sort of superhero. How else could they expect you to design and build a large project with zero mistakes? If you are not having fun you should change jobs, life is too short.
- Pick up after yourself. I remember my first meetings as an owner’s representative for a public project. The meeting was over and I was going to hang back and have a few follow-up conversations. As soon as the design team departed, my client began picking up chairs and tables, even the Town Administrator and Directors. I watched the design team leave and proceeded to get off my butt and pick up the room. This same event has played out countless times and is part of our philosophy, we are there at the beginning and till the end, and, we don’t leave a mess when we leave.
- Be patient. If you told me it was going to take me ten years to get to eight employees and a diverse portfolio (Wember at the 10-year mark), I would have laughed at you and said, “I can do it in three years”. When building a business from the ground, you will experience leaps of progress as well as sleepless nights. Remain patient and have faith in your abilities. Setbacks, like, projects going on hold, “dry spells”, and the economy, are all part of the mix. Do the best you can and work hard.
~ Paul Wember, Owner’s Representative