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Mike Campbell Featured

9:33am EDT July 22, 2002

Most executives return from vacation to a Monday morning desk piled high with papers and a voice mail box full of messages.

Mike Campbell was greeted by three of his top employees, who told him they were leaving to form their own company.

The 1998 incident gave Campbell the chance to do what he does best: Build and rebuild.

"In the short term, it was a bit of a problem, but actually, when those things happen to small businesses, it's really a blessing in disguise," he says. "You have to look at it as an opportunity, not a tragedy, to your business."

Within six months, he had reconstructed his Campbell Builders Inc. staff by moving some employees around, promoting others and bringing in new people who are still with him.

"Because of that, we're better off today than we were," he says. "I've seen people just get devastated by it, and you can only feel like that for about 24 hours. Then you've got to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and put your thinking cap on and start making things happen. The real fun of it all is in the struggle."

Those who know him say Campbell's success comes in his ability to focus on a distinct plan for all his goals.

Take, for example, his involvement with the Central Ohio National Association of the Remodeling Industry. Campbell became board president of the association in January 1998 -- shortly before the exodus of his employees.

"When you have a board of 13 or 15 people, you need some leaders on there to really help direct and to focus the direction. He is very good at that," says Executive Director Shari Bates. "He requested a survey and we made 220 personal phone calls to discuss what people wanted. From that, we got our vision consensus of what the membership was looking for: consumer awareness and networking. Everything we did that entire year focused around those things.

"He even helped us brainstorm a new tag line for our association, 'providing professional solutions,' which is really what our association is about."

His efforts won him the 1998 Local Chapter President's Award from the national association.

Chuck Rieser, senior partner with CRB Consulting Ltd., calls Campbell's focus the reason for his success in business.

"He set goals early in life, I think, and he always has been driven to attain those goals," says Rieser, who has known Campbell since the two were students at Bishop Hartley High School.

"He's a perfectionist, and I guess that's probably the main thing -- down to painting our dorm room in college so it would look nicer," Rieser says. "Most of us wouldn't have taken the time to do stuff like that."

Campbell has a simple focus for his $1.8 million business: "To make a profit, period," he says.

He's done that by finding a niche for his 20-year-old company: restoration of property damaged by fire, smoke, water, wind and vandalism.

"The rebuilding of the house is a major part of the program," he says, "but what you're really trying to do is help those people with a major tragedy in their lives."

His work repairing damage to a guest house on the property of Alexis Jacobs, president and owner of Columbus Fair Auto Auction, led her to hire him to build a freestanding garage as well.

"When you find someone who's very good and they're honest and they do what they say they're going to do, it's very important," she says of Campbell, who won the Better Business Bureau's 1999 Business Integrity Award.

Campbell's work also has resulted in his company receiving the Big 50 Award for outstanding business practices and work quality from Remodeling magazine and a place among the top 500 remodelers in the United States as listed in Qualified Remodeler.

Campbell's 15-employee, Canal Winchester business also renovates old buildings. Problematic jobs are his specialty.

"I'm always interested in solving building problems," he says. "I pride myself in being able to identify and find out problems where no one else can. It's like working on a car -- you start taking it apart to where it's good and start from there."

He ought to know. He spends some of his free time working on his 1964 GTO, a 2000 "millennium yellow" Corvette and a 1954 street rod Chevrolet pickup truck.

"It's a love affair," he says. "They're just big boy toys."

He sees himself in a transition in his life now that his two sons are off to college.

"For the last zillion years we've been involved in school stuff," he says.

"It's like that 'You turned 50; what are you going to do with the rest of your life?' thing -- it's very true," he says.

He and his wife, Victoria, like to travel, especially west of the Mississippi River, and he's looking into yet another building idea: Partnering with Habitat for Humanity to provide learning experiences for students.

He'd also like to explore another avenue -- becoming a chef.

"I'd like to work in a really good kitchen just to see if I could survive," says Campbell, who particularly enjoys grilling or smoking meals and taking whatever fresh ingredients he can find to make a creative recipe.

Meanwhile, he'll continue to focus on his business with a goal of allowing him more time to work on his hobbies and community contributions.

"What I'm trying to do here is to work myself out of a job," he says matter-of-factly. "I'm setting up people in place, systems in place, so things happen automatically. I'm developing the infrastructure for things to happen.

"That's the only real barometer I have, other than financial, of how I've done as far as building a machine." How to reach: Campbell Builders Inc., 833-1943 or www.campbellbuilders.com

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.