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Building success Featured

6:18am EDT September 21, 2006
Pam Thomas did not always envision herself in the building business. In fact, the owner of P.A.K. Construction is a registered nurse by trade, although she never put this training into practice.

“I quickly realized nursing was not the career that best played to my strengths,” she says. “I love business. After school, I began working in the accounting department of a major general contractor in Cincinnati. This provided me with excellent exposure to the construction business.”

In 1995, Thomas, a stay-at-home mom for years, was ready to re-enter the work force. Her husband, a self-employed contractor, was in the process of starting another company. The timing was perfect to launch P.A.K. Construction, a commercial subcontractor.

“We now have 24 employees, but we’ve retained the core group and will continue to do so, regardless of the fluctuations in the economy and building industry,” Thomas says.

Thomas doesn’t claim to be an expert at construction.

“I don’t walk onto a job and read the blueprints or prepare estimates. What I bring to the table is general business expertise. I’ve picked up considerable construction knowledge through years of experience. However, I rely on my staff for this technical aspect of the business.”

Smart Business spoke with Thomas about the essential qualities of leadership and keeping customers happy.

What are the most essential qualities of leadership?
Integrity is — and will always be — No. 1. Customers and employees need to know you are loyal and can be taken at your word.

You also must be accessible and flexible. Don’t operate as a rigid task-master — work as a team. The best managers make each employee feel like an integral part of the operation. No one person has to strive to be above others.

It is also essential to be a strategic thinker. Things are not always neat and tidy. We have to look at the project and determine the best way to manage our resources to ensure a quality outcome. This requires creativity and flexibility.

How do you keep your customers happy?
Anyone who is self-employed knows this is arguably the most critical challenge of all. You must retain a strong customer base. You can’t be looking for new clients all the time and remain profitable.

To keep customers happy and loyal, they must know that their needs are important. No client can perceive that they are a lower priority than another, or take second place to your efforts to win over a new client.

Accessibility is imperative. I can always be reached, even on vacations. There is no hiding behind voicemail and addressing an issue two or three days later. That is a sure way to lose business.

We stress to customers that issues are bound to arise, but we are committed to resolving them expediently. This is a value we stress continually throughout the company. When there is a problem, we nip it in the bud.

What lessons have you learned the hard way?
As a result of a few eye-opening experiences, I have learned to admit I do not have all the answers. Sometimes people in leadership positions think they will look foolish if they ask questions. The reality is you end up looking more foolish by making the wrong decisions.

I believe there are three reasons why managers do not ask questions: Pride, lack of confidence and concern of what others will think. You have to let all that go and reach out to those with the knowledge you need.

The only way to overcome these barriers is to constantly ask questions.

How do you get your inspiration?
I have five children who inspire me to be my best self. I also have a friend (who) has encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone, which means getting out from behind my desk.

I previously was reluctant to put myself in front of the clients, but this year I made a commitment to do that. My goal was to diversify my customer base, and that meant I needed to be in the field more.

My husband continually inspires me. So does Kitty Taylor, owner of Commercial Construction Group. It is important to have trusted friends in the same business. They can appreciate and relate to the unique business challenges you encounter.

HOW TO REACH: P.A.K. Construction, (513) 874-4330 or www.pakconstruction.com