To create a company that outlives its owners, the owner needs to learn to let go
As I finish reading “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose” by Tony Hsieh, founder of zappos.com, his message is loud and clear. You can’t be successful without a vision, core values and a great company culture.
I don’t know if those words resonated with me when I was starting the company, but those are key reasons why we are still thriving today. When I started Sun Design 23 years ago at 18 years old, I have to admit, I did not hire an attorney or an accountant. I didn’t write a business plan, nor did I have an MBA.
I, like many others, started the business because I liked carpentry and enjoyed working with people. I also followed the in footsteps of many others, in that I often worked seven days a week though the early 90s.
I would work in the field during the day, run appointments in the evening, and then do estimates at night. If I was feeling really energetic, I would run around and put flyers on mailboxes late at night.
I watched many remodelers go out of business as I was starting out. I started realizing that so many people who started out like me, that loved their craft, also struggled in other areas of actually running their business.
After five years of wearing all the hats, I was fortunate to run into a friend from high school, Bob Gallagher. We spoke occasionally about business and where he was in his career.
After hearing my challenges of wearing all the hats, he decided to come to work at Sun Design and take over some of the responsibilities — including accounting, marketing and office management — and help with other things like selling.
Over the next several years, I transitioned out of the field to production management, then sales, then sales and design management.
By dividing up the responsibilities it allowed for improvements, and each time we were able to carve out more responsibilities and delegate, we would hire a person with those talents. That process allowed us to focus on our strengths, and propelled double-digit growth over the next decade.
During the growth we would constantly look at our existing processes and systems and look for ones that did not work any longer. Along the way we learned about transition management. There were a few times we made too many changes at one time. One example is when we had gone from 15 employees to almost 30 employees in one year and we had to work on what Sun Design’s Culture was going to be. We now have 6 designers and 16 to 20 jobs in construction, with 45 employees.
The growth has required us to create standards for our drawings and how we implement jobs.
There have been several transitions over the years that, looking back, were major milestones for Sun Design and also myself.
One was creating a vision years ago that included a BHAG (or a Big Hairy Audacious Goal). That is where I realized that I loved the idea of being part of a company that would outlive me, that would grow beyond the talents I had. It would benefit the employees by providing them room to grow and advancement in the company. And it would benefit our clients by not losing our learned lessons, systems and process that are lost by so many remodeling companies that cease to exist.
I realized at this point that I had one last transition, so as of the first of last year Bob has taken over as president of Sun Design. Looking back at our company vision, I couldn’t be happier to see everyone in the company step up to support each other and how everyone in the management group has grown from the recent transitions.
My role in the company is now founder and chairman. I look forward to the coming years to see Sun Design fulfill its vision and I look forward to working on new projects and strategic initiatives that help achieve it.
Just like a plane flying to its destination, it is not a straight line to the goal. We have veered left and right, but the vision helps us straighten out again. I look forward to the next 20 years as we see this industry improve and evolve.
Craig Durosko is the founder of Sun Design, a Burke, Va.-based design/build firm he started in 1988. Sun Design has won more than 70 awards over the past 20 years for design, customer service and business success, including being recognized by Inc. magazine as one of America’s Fastest Growing Companies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.