MOVING FORWARD IN THE FOG!
While sitting at my desk late one evening in 1995, stressed and worried that Lang Masonry Contractors may not survive, I wrote a note to myself: “You must learn to operate and produce under confused and disorganized circumstances. Like traveling in the fog, you must be patient and persistent until it clears. Chances are, it will never completely clear. Just keep moving forward.” I signed and dated the message, and it still hangs on my wall today. When I get in troublesome situations, I read it to remind me that things have always been tough, but I never gave up back then, nor should I give up now.
I learned early in life that life will be full of difficulties and you should never listen to negative people along the way, even close friends and family. If you listen, negative people will only make your situation worse.
Along with real life experiences, most of the lessons I learned came from listening to others. I always surrounded myself with positive people who encouraged me to continue moving forward in the toughest of times. There are friends, family, co-workers, and business people I keep close and network with regularly. These are the people who never gave up on me or my crazy ideas, no matter how foggy it got along the way.
Here are some experiences I have had throughout the years:
- In 1984, with $600 I borrowed from my brother to buy a truck, I started Lang Masonry Contractors. The business struggled in the mid 1990’s when we had some safety issues. We struggled to survive again in 2003 after the attacks of 9/11, and again in 2010 due to the great recession.
- In the late 1980’s, I had an accountant who talked me into investing all my cash reserves into old coal mines in West Virginia. These old mines produced methane gas and my accountant, along with his self-proclaimed gas expert friend, said we could mix the methane coming out of the ground with propane to make less expensive gas. Not only would we make a fortune selling the gas, he said, but I would save a ton in taxes with environmentally friendly Federal subsidies. I lost all my cash reserves, getting nothing in return but a damn good education about investing in something I knew nothing about.
- In the early 1990’s, I started a day care center. It was a disaster. I lost my tail and closed it three years later.
- In the late 1990’s, I started EZ Grout (now EZG Manufacturing). With the great recession still lingering in 2010, I had lost $900,000 over the previous 18 months. I then hired consultants to analyze the company and give me advice on turning it around. For the $30,000 I paid them, they advised me to close the company down as under the current financial condition, it was not a sustainable business. Thank goodness I didn’t listen and instead kept moving forward in the fog.
- In the early 2000’s, I bought a convenience store. After running it for ten years and losing money every year, I finally sold it at an even bigger loss.
- In the mid 2000’s, I started a steel erection company and ran it for several years. After losing $2.3 million, I closed the doors in 2014.
- In the mid 2000’s, I started an architectural precast fabrication company. After losing $400,000 over a two-year period, I closed it down.
- In the late 2000’s, due to the great recession, general contractors refused to hire high quality mason contractors, so I started Wolf Creek Contracting, a general contracting firm that would bid the total job to get the masonry portion. We then sub-contracted the remaining scope of work to other trades. The company struggled losing money four out of the first five years in business.
- In 2015, I started Malta Dynamics Safety Company, which hasn’t been profitable any of the last three years.
- Over the years, I have bought lots of real estate to use for my own businesses and as investment properties. Renters whose own businesses have closed or who have filed for bankruptcy have caused my investment companies to struggle at times.
Thanks to surrounding myself with good people coupled with the resilience never to give up regardless of how foggy it gets, I survived it all. I have had peers ask me how I always kept a smile on my face during times of adversity. I tell them that part was easy for I had great role models, namely my father and mother. I chose them as my role models early in my career and committed myself to emulating their behaviors. Both mom and dad are always happy keeping smiles on their faces.
In 2017, combined sales at the four main companies where I am majority owner were over $50 million. Lang Masonry Contractors contributed $20.5 million in gross sales. We were also very profitable.
January 25, 2018, I was inducted into the Masonry Hall of Fame by the Mason Contractors Association of America. In my acceptance speech, I talked about the one negative teacher who could have changed my whole career by refusing to give me a recommendation so I could get into the masonry trades. If I had listened to his negative advice, and not had the courage to take the required application to another teacher who did recommend me for the masonry trades, I may have never gotten a chance at a career in masonry.
I also left the audience at my Hall of Fame speech with one piece of advice: as you grow in your career, there will be plenty of naysayers along the way. Stay away from them! Instead, find and surround yourself with positive people who care about your future and want to help you succeed. If you keep the negative people out of your life, and never give up regardless of how foggy it gets out there, you can do accomplish anything you want to in your career.