7 years. SEVEN YEARS!
It feels like such a long time ago, but it also feels like yesterday that Trinity was born.
We started with humble aspirations. It was October 14th, 2014, and I had just been let go from a large Chicago based general contracting firm. The story is likely different depending on who tells it, but the short of it is I was working 7 days a week and our company credit cards weren’t clearing for on the job purchases. Owners who believe they have no accountability to their people don’t like being challenged. I didn’t care about offending anyone, and that ended our relationship.
Several weeks later, Trinity was born, and we took a small client with us. For the next several years, we built small restaurants with relatively simple finishes and construction methods.
I’ve always believed that values are the driving force behind everything humans do. Values are unalterable. We all have preferences about work, clients, family, and friends, and they help direct our interactions. But preferences can change. They are flexible. Values, however, are rigid. They define who we are and how we make decisions. Trinity’s values have always been our driving force. The rock that gave us a standard to go to, a reason to make a hard decision. It’s always been who we are. We started with three core values. Excellence in all we do, Honesty with all we encounter, and Accountability to ourselves, and partners. These three simple words have helped get us here, and I couldn’t be prouder. It’s also thru however, that at various times throughout our history, we have not lived up to our own expectations. My biggest lesson over the last 7 years, is that when we do live and breathe by those words, we do better. We they slip in our decision making, we usually fail.
In the early days, it was pretty easy to live our values. We had few employees, great reoccurring clients, and unlike many small construction companies, we ran it like a company. We paid our bills first. We overbought insurance so we could take jobs in bigger developments, like Austin’s Domain. We invested in branding and communication tools for our clients to see what was happening on their projects even when they were far away. We worked hard. We did good work, we told the truth easily because all conversations were pretty easy to have, and because we had good clients who paid their bills, it was easy to be accountable to them and ourselves.
As the market became aware of us, we began growing. Restaurant operators, retailers, office managers and ice cream shops all wanted us to build their buildings. Most of our clients will say it’s because we keep our word. We follow through. We admit mistakes and tell the truth, even when it’s not becoming to us. It’s all part of who we are. Many times, it completely sucks. When we make mistakes, there is no sugar coating it. We own it, it hurts, and we learn from it. Complete recognition of a problem is a great part of our value of accountability. When we minimize issues, it’s easy to not allow the lesson to have as great of impact.
As time went on, we grew bigger and more complicated. More employees meant more diverse thoughts, behaviors, skills, and work ethic. Growth challenges your value system. More expenses mean the need for more revenue. There’s always revenue to be found in places that don’t align with your values. It seemed like a constant challenge to do work with people we liked working for. When bidding a job, I had to decide if the company, the contact we would be working with, and the job were representative of who we wanted to be. Many times, the answer was no, but the lure of the work causes a lot of pressure to take the job. When you’re growing fast, you can lose sight of what got you here and end up working with or for someone that’s the antithesis of everyone you admire, and everything you value.
And when you do, it always goes bad. Every single time.
Small business owners and leaders are driven to succeed. To grow and hire more people. To test new ideas and overcome obstacles. We are constantly faced with decisions that have two bad choices of varying degrees. But no matter how complex the problem, or how outstanding the perceived reward, if the answer or the job or the client does not align with your values, the result will be catastrophic.
I can cite example after example of the benefit of sticking to what you believe in business. When Trinity started, I had two minority partners. The first left to pursue other opportunities early on while we were still wondering if it all was going to work. The other didn’t share our values. For years we grew slowly because of our misalignment on the company direction. I struggled with not being in agreement with the clients and jobs he wanted to pursue. When I finally chose what was right for Trinity and our values over a friendship, I let him go. The next year, we exploded. I quickly discovered that people who share your values will seek you out, and they’re loyal.
Many times I’ve been drawn to a fancy story about a new concept or store that is expanding in Texas. After reaching out to see if they need a contractor, I can usually tell if they’re likely to appreciate their partners or not. If they’re likely to be accountable to their mistakes or be honest with us in our dealings. Often, I get the feeling they won’t, but the lure of the revenue or the ability to say we’re connected with some fancy brand allows me to meander down the blissful road of hope into a bad relationship. It never works. Maybe for a while, maybe until there’s a conflict, but most of the time you realize you made a bad decision when it’s time to get paid. It’s easy to lose sight of what got you to a particular place when you are trying so hard to get to the next one.
Now, after many tough lessons, we choose our clients and projects based upon their alignment with who we are as a company. It was initially a scary thought. So many people seem to be trying so hard to be what everyone else and the world wants them to be. The constant signaling of corporate brands in the marketplace is exhausting. I often thought being vocal about something I believed in or supported would turn away prospective clients. But it turns out, our values are universally accepted. People want to work with others who want to do their work well. They like it when people tell them the truth, even if it’s not what they want to hear. And they like others who are accountable for their mistakes. Now we celebrate our mistakes as much as our successes, because without one you can’t have the other. People like that too. Good people don’t expect us to know everything, they just want us to admit it and try to figure it out.
Now we seek out others like us, and they seek us out. Our work product is better, our cash flow is better, and we’re having more fun than we deserve to. We’re growing fast, but with a controlled plan. All because our mistakes and the lesson that came with them forced us to fall back to what started us. Values.
I am tremendously proud of our people. They are amazingly hard working, kindhearted, funny and good human beings. They love our country, our state, our company, and our clients. They treat each other well and go out of their way to help our trade partners when they need it. They live honorable lives and set a great example to everyone they encounter. God and their families made them that way. That’s why we hire values and train skill. We can’t teach people to be good, but we can teach them to be good at construction.
I started Trinity by believing in something bigger than any one person and surrounding with people who shared my beliefs. Along the way, we lost sight of that. We became average. It was a risk to decided that no matter what the result, we were going to be us. When we did, everything fell into place. That’s my biggest lesson of the past seven years. And one I wish I would have learned sooner.
I look forward to our future and the ability to chart our own course as a great builder with great people.