Monday, August 9, 2010

You Can Get There From Here

In an old joke the great classical pianist Arthur Rubinstein is asked, "Pardon me, sir, how do I get to Carnegie Hall?" He replies, "Practice, practice, practice." This advice would be well-taken by anyone wondering how they can reach their goals, whether personal or business.

For one member of Remodeling’s Big50 class of 2010, his journey in life and work confirmed the truth in Rubenstein’s apocryphal wisdom. Chris Wright, the owner of WrightWorks in Indianapolis, spent years accruing the skills for success and then building a business that is now swamped with repeat work and referrals; a business that has won three regional and one national CotY awards, and two Chrysalis awards this year… sort of the remodeler’s version of getting to Carnegie Hall.

Before he started WrightWorks in 1998, Wright benefitted from a series of powerful role models: His grandfather and father, who instilled a competitive fire and an expectation of excellence in him; his first manager at Federal Express, an ex-Marine and police officer who was a strong and principled leader; a martial arts instructor who helped him understand how to be the best person he could be, and who also hired him as the school’s program director. Here Wright learned the connection between belief in what you’re selling and the success of your sales process.

After leaving the martial arts school Wright partnered with his cousin, renovating older homes for sale to low-income families. This is where he learned to love the process of revealing the beauty of an old, neglected house. While working on the low-income projects, Wright met a designer who was starting his own business. This was the impetus for launching WrightWorks, and together they did small projects like kitchens and bathrooms. Today they collaborate on large six-figure projects.

Like many startups, Chris felt that “It was all about the craft – if it’s perfect when I’m done, I’ll be successful.” Business realities got in the way, though. “I got beat up. If there’s a mistake to be made in the business, I’ve made it.” He floundered because he didn’t have a strong financial background and had no frame of reference for pricing his work – so he’d just shoot in the dark, with unpredictable results.

Over time, he’s come to believe that business skill is equally important to the craft. “I have a deep respect for the people who have put in the time and effort to systemize every part of their businesses,” he states. As he matured, he realized that “If I build it right but don’t make money, my clients aren’t going to care.” In other words, a great reputation wouldn’t matter if he was out of business. Today his mantra is that “it’s either going to work for all of us, or it’s not going to work.”

“The relationship with the client has to have balance. There has to be mutual respect and appreciation. Problems usually happen when there’s an imbalance in the relationship.” Wright has grown very sensitive to that, and “when an imbalance starts to creep in, I know when to step in and try to bring it back to where it needs to be.”

Wright is also sensitive to the fact that the home is a very primal thing. “Your home is your cave…it’s an extension of who you are.” And when a contractor comes into your home and “tears the guts out, they’re kind of tearing away part of who you are.” Being sensitive to that fact is “very, very important to my success,” Wright believes. It’s equally important to develop a team of people that share this view, and Wright is quick to credit his team – which includes his vendors – for their contribution to the success of his company.

At the core of WrightWorks is a set of values that enshrines hard work and personal accountability. In a way these were the “directions” Wright followed that led him through each stage of his career to the present – a highly-regarded company that thrives even in a weak economy… a path worth following if you’re just starting your career.

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