The president and CEO of Suncoast Roofers Supply Inc. was going tomeet with a company consolidator who had convinced him it would bebest to sell his then-$80 million company. But as the flight was about toland, the pilot said they were being diverted to Philadelphia.
It was Sept. 11, 2001, and while the United States would never again bethe same, Tamayo’s professional life also received a wake-up call.
“I had already mentally checked out,” Tamayo says. “I was going tocash out and get out.”
But he was forced to check back in. After a couple of days inPhiladelphia, the prospective buyers got nervous not knowing whatthe future held and backed off the deal.
“I had to really jump back in to the business,” he says.
Tamayo began to reflect on why he was so willing to part with thebusiness a $4 million company when he and his partner bought itin 1995 that they had grown to an $80 million company by 2001.
“The scope of the business, especially on the details side and operational side, was pulling me in a direction I didn’t enjoy,” he says. “Myjob was becoming one I didn’t like. I refocused my efforts andbrought in a management staff to help me on the operational sideand I focused on the strategic side. The four or five years followingthat have been the best of my entire career.”
Tamayo says there comes a point and time in your career when you have to take a look at your strengths and weaknesses. Whenhe did so, he determined that his strengths were on the entrepreneurial and strategic side. “As the company grew, I needed better operations guys to make us more efficient and more disciplined,” he says. “That reallywasn’t my strength. It’s hard to come to terms because, as you are building a business, you can believe your own bullshit of, ‘Itook this company from $4 million to $200 million and can take it to a billion.’ None of that ever happens without a lot of peoplein your infrastructure supporting you. “I wanted to have the people to come in here that could do that part of business better than I could, and I wanted to give themthe freedom to operate without my interference. It was hard to come to that realization because it’s an ego-busting realization.But our company is stronger as a result of that.”
Tamayo took his reinvigorated passion for the business and, with the help of his new team, built it into what it is today, a company that employs 400 and had revenue of more than $200 million in 2005, with $235 million projected for 2006. Two of the biggestkeys to his success have been finding the right people to carry out his vision and successfully integrating acquisitions.
Finding the right people
Surrounding yourself with good employees is not only key to growth, it is vital to the overall success of a company. In Suncoast’searly days, Tamayo looked to other companies to find employees to lure to Suncoast. As the company grew, his focus changedto developing talent internally. “We found it is better to build our own people from within the ranks and give them opportunities to move up in the organization,” he says.
Tamayo says Suncoast built a solid reputation for its workplace culture by talking to employees and finding out what they wanted to achieve. There is a lot of power behind having a conversation with an employee and trying to align your resources towardtheir goals. “That’s really what we sold these people on,” he says. “Not everybody wanted equity. They just wanted an opportunity to dosomething with us that they maybe did not get with the company that they were in. That can be a guy who is a branch managerwho wants to be an outside salesperson. Other companies have a tendency to fit people into a specific area and not give them anopportunity. If another company comes along and offers them an opportunity to achieve their personal goals, then that’s why people move around in our industry. We’ve been able to align ourselves to help people achieve their goals, whether it’s financial, personal or developmental.”
Tamayo says that type of environment can be achieved by simply listening and being sincere.
“I would never hire someone and promise them something that I had no intention of giving them,” he says. “That’s where youestablish credibility and your track record. If you do that with a group of people, then that group of people becomes your bestsalespeople. They are the ones that go out into the trade and solicit other people to come work for you.”
Building trust also comes through what he calls “focus coaching.” Tamayo says he doesn’t believe in company reviews in whichyou sit down with someone and discuss what he or she did well or not so well, and then bestowing a 3 percent raise. Suncoast’sreview process lasts 30 to 60 days and includes a conversation about company, job and personal goals. “Then we try to align the company goals to their personal goals,” he says. “It’s a very in-depth conversation. It’s a very interactive process, and I do it with the people that report directly to me. All the people in our company that have direct reports do it tothe people reporting to them. You get an understanding of what drives people. It’s the best way I’ve seen of managing them.”Tamayo says the conversations usually involve company things but shift to family and personal subjects, as well as what theemployee wants to achieve in the future. “It becomes a trusting and interactive relationship,” Tamayo says. “I have people that say, ‘I want to be a vice president,’ or ‘Idon’t understand business or financial planning.’ We have a university and will devise a curriculum for them in order for them towork on developing the strengths and skills they need to build towards that career they want.”
Learn from your mistakes
When Tamayo and his partner took over the company in 1995, acquisitions played a significant role in Suncoast’s early growth.To grow into other geographic markets, they acquired three other companies between 1997 and 1998.
Tamayo says he wishes he could say the company had a big strategy meeting to decide they were ready for acquisitions, but itdidn’t happen that way. The three deals involved people who wanted to get out of the business, and the companies were able tobenefit Suncoast through inventory and geographic diversification.
The initial acquisition involved a company with about 20 employees, which posed the challenge of integrating them into theSuncoast way of doing things. Tamayo looks back on that time as a learning experience. “It wasn’t a smooth transaction,” Tamayo says. “Within 60 days of the purchase, the guy running it quit. They didn’t even havea computer system. When we started to put in a software package, this guy didn’t want to do it. He had like a nervous breakdownthat scared us to death. Eventually, he just left. “Looking back, it was a blessing in disguise. We were stuck without anybody to manage it, so we immediately had to put ourmanagement team in there.”
Suncoast simply underestimated the time it takes to make sure everyone is on the same page. It’s important to understand whyyour new employees joined the company being acquired and to try to understand them as people, Tamayo says. “Again, you have a tendency to believe your own bullshit and that you are such a great company and everyone should want towork for you,” he says. “But not everyone wants to wor k for you, particularly if they don’t know who you are. For example, whenwe took over Polk Roofing Supply, we just assumed everybody understood computers were good, and this was going to helpthem. “We didn’t do a good enough job of explaining it or helping them through the process. We blew this guy up in 30 days becausehe was deathly afraid of it.”
Tamayo says he would do it differently now.
“I would have sat down and showed him how ours worked and listened to him communicate his concerns about it and maybehelped him in the transition more,” he says. “We could have put somebody on staff to do it for him, giving him a longer learningcurve. Instead, we put a lot of pressure on him to do it our way.”
Tamayo says Suncoast did a lot of financial due diligence before the acquisition but didn’t do the same investigative work onthe cultural side. That is no longer the case today.
Initially, the company goes to management and inquires about strategies, philosophies and what makes the company unique andspecial. “You have to have a meeting of the minds on philosophical issues,” he says. “If they are so different, you never get to the financial side. You only get to the financial side when it looks like we share some common visions. “The financial side is a score card. How has your philosophy worked out? How does your coaching strategy work out in wins andlosses? If a coach could tell you his philosophy and you look at his record and it’s 3-12, it’s not looking good.”
Suncoast also has a management team that goes in to a new company and studies every aspect of the business, including theinsurance coverage, benefits and safety program and compares them to Suncoast’s. “We are devising a strategy before we take them over on things we need to help them with,” he says about a company Suncoastis acquiring. “I had my credit department evaluate their credit procedures and our operations people evaluating their operations.”Before going through with an acquisition, which the company has done seven of to date, Suncoast devises a strategy to determine how to assimilate employees.
Tamayo says his staff researches whether the new company is compatible with Suncoast, and if the answer is no, determineshow to make it compatible. “We are committed to not discriminating in benefits to employees,” he says. “We want to make sure those people have everything we have.”
Typically, on the closing date, Tamayo meets with all the employees and lays out what Suncoast is and what its philosophiesare. “By then, I usually have the principal of the company or the person who is going to lead the company with me, and we talk aboutwhat our vision is for this merger or acquisition and what is in it for them, what the opportunities are for them and how this is goingto benefit them.”
After the initial meeting with the new employees, Tamayo has to get them to buy in to the company’s vision for the long haul.
“They are skeptical at first, but we point to our track record and we establish a focus-coaching basis where they can expresstheir concerns individually to whomever their supervisors are,” he says. “They can get personal assurances back on a variety ofissues they need.
“It could be a guy saying, ‘I have a bonus coming. What is this going to do to my bonus?’ We do the deal that is best for them,meaning, if it is best for them to live up to the commitment their company had given them, then we’ll do that for them.
“But if they benefit more under our program, then we’ll do that one.”
HOW TO REACH: Suncoast Roofers Supply Inc., (813) 383-0050 or www.srsicorp.com