Beyond the Build

Team Building

A Case Study in Adaptability

In these economic times, the fledging days of our business come to mind often. I learned a lot from my experiences. Hopefully, the account I share here can save you some time and trouble…

In 1984, our very first customer had just raised $30 million dollars through an IPO and we were going to build all their projects in the U.S. I was in my early 30s and life was good. We had enough work to last a lifetime – I thought. Boy, did that change! In less than two years, our customer was bankrupt and we were left high and dry. Although we did get paid for the work we had completed, our only source of income was gone.

Fortunately, our overhead consisted of only three people: me, my business partner at the time, and our secretary/bookkeeper/coffee-maker. Through those tough times, I learned an important lesson, the first of today.

Nothing lasts forever.

Just when things were looking bleak, an opportunity with a new project in Florida came along. Three partners shared the job of deciding who would be the contractor. One thought we hung the moon; another felt the same way about another contractor; the third partner had no dog in the hunt. We wanted the job badly and the other contractor felt the same way. Our tug-of-war went on for several weeks.

Somehow, I came to my senses even without the wisdom of experience. I suggested that we split the project up. This seemed like a good idea to all and we ended up building a portion and the other contractor built a portion. That contractor later became a good friend.

I learned then that flexibility needs to remain part of our game plan going forward.  We’ve tried to remember this rule of business. That brings us to the second lesson.

It’s better to have a portion than none at all.

Hopefully, you’re the kind of company that who sees opportunity, even when the whole project seems out of reach. When work is scarce, are you looking for ways to divide and conquer? To me, adaptability is key to survival for companies, organizations or firms. It was and is for us.


Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.