Where It All Began
I was born with it, and I can’t be ashamed to say it. After all, I got it from my mother. “What is IT?,” you ask. IT is what was lovingly called the “Gift of Gab” when I was growing up in suburban Cleveland back in the early seventies (if I may date myself for you). Mom loves to tell the story of her little guy strolling through the grocery store with her and saying a hearty “Hi!!” to every person who came within twenty feet of my little domain.
In addition to the off- the- charts extroverted personality, I managed to develop a sense of humor, which was a must in a family of five boisterous boys. A few years later, I had a funny experience as my grandmother, who was driving down the street to our family house, came upon me wandering a few houses away from home. She pulled alongside me and asked if I would like a ride, to which I replied “my mommy said I should not ride with strangers”. OK, so maybe grandma did not see the humor in it, but the die was cast early on.
As I grew into adolescence, my attentions turned to (and not necessarily in this order) music, girls and baseball. As any longstanding suffering Cubs fans can attest to, I suffered through some miserable years following the Cleveland Indians. During this phase of life, I encountered my first taste of responsibility and earning money, in the form of delivering the morning newspaper. Those of you not familiar with that medium (and house phones) may do a Google search. I inherited a route that had been neglected and proceeded to increase the number of subscriptions within two years. How? I learned the value of knocking on doors and asking people if they wanted the paper delivered right to their door. The most frequent request was if I could guarantee delivery before the man left for work, usually about 6:30 am. I made that guarantee and spent the next three years keeping that promise.
I began a lifelong love of the game of baseball, and even tried to play for a couple of years, but I could not hit a lick. Instead, I found competitive swimming more to my liking and learned that dedication, goal setting and perseverance were key components that compelled me to be in the water for three to four hours a day. Also, by way of observation, it seems that everyone’s hair becomes blond when you take in that much chlorine.
Right in the middle of high school, my family moved to the Chicago area, where I finished high school and later attended Northern Illinois University. The art of writing was something that interested me, and as the editor of the high school newspaper (there’s that newspaper thing again…), I thought that’s what I wanted to do when I grew up. So, I began my college years as a journalism major. But that “Gift of Gab” thing came up again and as I listened to the many voices in my circle of influence, I switched over to business and got a Marketing degree.
Early Work Experiences
With a diploma tucked firmly under my arm, I figured that sales would be the best way for me to make my mark in the world. Thirteen years later, I discovered it is not easy to sell things you don’t have a passion for. Cash registers (Google that), envelopes (Google that, too), petroleum wax (Whaaattt???), and eventually, retail men’s clothing. Oddly enough, the last position was the one I liked best but struggled with the most. I was selling men’s wardrobes in the comfort of their offices; it was a dream job, but I was selling out of my own pocketbook, rather than theirs. I could not justify what I thought in my head was steep pricing for clothing. Looking back, I can now see that I was with that company for the primary reason of coming to my faith in Christ. I had two men in my office (David, Jeff) who consistently shared their faith, and I am grateful they did because it is what guides the decisions I make as a business owner today.
In the midst of all this time, I married, had a son, and divorced within an eight year span. When I realized that selling was not for me, I went to work for a friend of mine who had his own painting company. This of course, was a temporary thing, as my intent was to figure out what I wanted to do when I grow up (a process that never seems to have an endpoint). Within a short period of time, I discovered that I enjoyed the physical aspect of working with my hands every day and began to like the process of painting.
That first gig was basic production painting, and I made lots of mistakes as I learned the simplest techniques. After two years, I was hired by a guy whose business model was the complete opposite of the first job; that was high end painting where detail was king. One of my first co-workers here told me that the boss could “spot an ant on the backside of an elephant from a hundred yards” and he wasn’t wrong about that! This guy rode my butt mercilessly for almost two years, and at the time, I hated every minute of it. Truth be told, I wish I could track him down to thank him (Dean, wherever you are, my hat’s off to you) for teaching me valuable lessons about being meticulous, providing quality and giving memorable customer satisfaction. I spent time with two other contractors in Chicago, where I learned other lessons that have helped me shape the way I think about running a business.
How We Got Here
Finally, after ten years of working for others and letting them determine my value, I took a leap of faith and stepped out on my own. Initially naming my business Zenith Decorating (I do love wordplay and double meanings), in 2005, I ran things pretty haphazardly. Within a year, I would marry my wonderful Karen, and she would become a wise counsel in the ways I ran the business.
Karen jokingly talks about how my business was really more of a hobby in the early days, and she is correct. In 2008, we decided to change the name of the company to Cornerstone Painting and Drywall, LLC in order to reflect the growth of the drywall portion of the business, as well as to state a spiritual foundation for it. We were blessed to have grown the business during the economic downturn years and decided to head to Indianapolis in 2010.
One question is always asked of our decision to move from Chicago to Indianapolis – Why? The answer is one that I have found to be more commonplace than I would have guessed, and is the reason so many other middle-aged folks move: to be near our adult kids and their kids. Grand kids! What a glorious thing. We had one grandson when we arrived and now have two, to go along with twin granddaughters. What a joy it is to watch them grow up right before our eyes and to interact with them on a regular basis.
Where We’re Headed
On a professional level, Indy has been great for us. We have had some interesting results with employees, learned what works and what doesn’t. We have parted ways with some guys on good terms (Tommy, Jimmy) and some we had to let go for unfortunate reasons. We have made lots of new friends, acquaintances and business partners. We have partnered with business coaches who have been instrumental in helping us to get the business beyond the “hobby” stage. The challenges of running a business are varied and many: finding and retaining good help, maintaining good relationships with customers, administration issues, cash flow, keeping up with ever-changing marketing parameters, effective networking and finding that sweet spot in life balance (which seems to get trumped by whatever fire needs to be put out next).
Our goal is to grow the business to be large enough to support a staff of twenty well-screened and dedicated folks who understand and buy into our vision. We will become more active in community service and launch initiatives that include our team as a means of giving to the community. Helping those in need is something that is important to us. Currently, we are active in one of our church missions, Circle City Relief, which provides meals, clothing and transportation to under-served individuals in Indianapolis. As a new member of the Fishers Rotary Club, I am excited to be able to extend the reach of service in central Indiana.
I also have a vision of taking the grandsons to Chicago some day and sharing my love of baseball by treating them to my current team, the White Sox. By the time they are about 10, that should hook them, don’t you think?