For Mike stephenson, the first step on the road to success is failure. stephenson is the president of san José-based platinum roofing, a longstanding reroofing compa- ny with about $8 million in sales each year and a list of high-profile clients including Morgan stanley, lam research, Washing- ton Mutual and Marcus and Millichap. but before he ran platinum, stephenson had another roofing company that went belly up. around the same time, his marriage ended. rather than wallow in his misfor- tunes, stephenson said that reaching bot- tom was just what he needed to get on the right track for the first time in his life. “it’s made me a new man,” he preaches. “it’s empowered me.”
since failure has done so much for ste- phenson’s life, he figures it has probably done the same for other people as well.
that’s why one of his staple questions of potential employees is, “tell me about a time that you’ve failed.” stephenson isn’t really interested in the details of the failure itself, but in what people learned from
experiencing it and how they got back on their feet again. plus, he feels that admit- ting failure is an indication of an honest person, another major criteria for employ- ment at platinum roofing.
once employees come on board, they often stay for years, if not decades. ste- phenson credits his employee retention to several factors. he finds various ways to show his appreciation, like regular raises and having an employee of the month. but most importantly, he makes employees ac- countable for their actions, and then gives them the flexibility to do their jobs, without looking over their shoulders. “everyone feels the freedom to do their job the way they see fit, as long as they have the results we need,” he relays.
this combination of responsibility and freedom has engendered much good will with his 50 employees, which, in turn, leads to better customer service, a major priority for stephenson. he spent tens of thousands on a customer survey that laid out exactly
“rather than wallow in his misfortunes, stephenson said that reaching bottom was just what he needed to get on the right track for the first time in his life.
‘it’s made me a new man,’
he preaches. ‘it’s empow- ered me.’”
again — Emily Landes
apartment management november 2008
“but most importantly, he makes employees account- able for their actions, and then gives them the flexibility to do their jobs, without looking over their shoulders.
‘everyone feels the freedom to do their job the way they see fit, as long as they have the results we need,’
what his customers are looking for in a roofing company. he also offers clients a gift card for a free dinner for two if they return a satisfaction survey after the job is over. “the customer is really number one,”
of course, high on the list of customer desires are projects that are completed on time and within budget. stephenson says that only one platinum job ran over last year, and that was weather related.
he believes the key to hitting the target end date is being realistic from the outset and even building in a few extra days for a cushion in case something goes wrong.
he also believes in keeping men on the job until it’s over, and not pulling people off to start another job as the first one wraps up (unfortunately, this is a common practice in the industry). platinum even builds a late charge into every contract; for every day the job goes over, the company owes the client $150.
also desirable to clients is accessibility.
stephenson advises property owners never to do business with roofers who don’t re- turn calls quickly or who take several days to get out to the job site. not only does platinum respond to all customer queries quickly and efficiently, it even operates a 24-hour emergency call-in service. if an owner has a leak, even during a weekend or a holiday, a customer service represen- tative will be available. that rep will pass along the information to the technician on call and within four hours he should be at the property. (the technicians on call are paid regardless of whether or not they receive a call—another way to make the employees happy.) assuming the condi- tions are safe, the technician will be able to go right up to the roof immediately after arriving and begin working on a temporary sealant that will last until more substantial work can be done.
safety is extremely important to stephen- son, not surprising given that he’s suffered burns and back injuries in the line of roof- ing duty. once, in his late 20s, he lost his footing and did a back dive from nearly 20 feet up. he needed to have a plate put in his head, but stephenson feels lucky it wasn’t worse; the doctors couldn’t believe he didn’t have brain damage and told him he should have died. to make sure that no one else suffers a potentially fatal fall, stephenson employs a safety expert and holds weekly safety meetings to be sure the company is always in compliance.
but stephenson doesn’t just want his company to be up to date, he wants it to be sprinting ahead—offering new and in- novative roofing techniques. green build- ing is on everyone’s mind, and platinum offers several options for environmentally minded owners. top on stephenson’s list is coating a roof with white acrylic. this tech- nique can be done on any roof that is still in good shape (platinum will take a core sample to make sure the roof is viable).
the white color reflects the heat and that alone brings air conditioning costs down dramatically. “it’s like putting a mirror on your roof,” stephenson explains. “you can’t beat it.” the payback is only five or six years, depending on the building’s size
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and location. it lasts ten to twelve years, is a quarter the cost of full reroofing, can save old roofs from going to the landfill and reduces the need for new roofing ma- terials. another strategy that can save ma- terials is an inverted roof, where a roof is es- sentially built inside out, with the insulation on top. because the elements never reach the roof itself, it never needs to be repaired or replaced. it’s a lot more expensive in the short term, but for long-term owners it’s a green strategy worth considering.
platinum is so interested in being on the cutting edge of green building that it re- cently joined the u.s. green building coun- cil, which sets the widely used leed green building standards. stephenson hopes to be involved with setting leed roofing man- dates. the council is one of many industry groups and associations that the company has joined, including the national roof- ing contractors association, the better business bureau and, of course, caa tri- county. stephenson has been a member for 25 years; it’s one of the few decisions he made back in the dark old days of which he’s still proud.
but, in keeping with stephenson’s char- acter, he doesn’t spend much time mop- ing about the past. instead, he’s keenly fo- cused on what lies ahead, including grow- ing the company’s client base, increasing sales to over $10 million a year and moving into new weatherizing categories. as usual, though, he’ll be using the mistakes of his past to lay the groundwork for this vibrant new future. “before, i had a very weak management style and now i’m a lot more powerful. i’ve identified what makes suc- cess and then i’ve hired the right kind of people and made them accountable,” he explains. “the sky’s the limit.”
the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of caa-tri-county or Apartment Management. emily lan- des is the managing editor of Apartment Management.
copyright © 2008 black point press. all rights reserved.