"On the Job with...." is a weekly Sunday Inc. series, spotlighting area business owners and executives. Today's interview is with Chad Warbington, owner of Shutters Plus Inc.
Armed with a mechanical engineering degree from Georgia Tech and 10 years of corporate experience with Procter & Gamble, Chad Warbington became a small business owner and is navigating the waters of the recession to find his niche in the custom woodworking business.
Q. What led you to your current position? Why did you want to operate your own business?
A. I worked for 10 years at Procter & Gamble as an engineer and production manager. It was a great place to work and I owe a lot of who I am today to P&G, but I've always had an entrepreneurial spirit. As my wife and I were searching for direction as to whether to move and pursue moving up the corporate ladder, we were led to stay in Albany and "put down roots" and start our own business. It was a huge step of faith to leave a secure job to start your own business, but we've never looked back and never doubted our decision.
Q. Do you have a role model or mentor in your career?
A. My mom and dad were integral parts of shaping my life growing up and even now as an adult and I've learned a lot from their values that I saw at home and their work ethic. As an adult now, I try to have men in my life who sharpen me in areas like being a husband, father and spiritual leader of my home. I have several key relationships with older men in our church who pour into me as a young adult and I appreciate their wisdom and Godly example.
Q. What is the biggest lesson you as a business leader learned from the recent recession?
A. During a recession, I have learned that you cannot pass up any leads for a potential job. The days of sitting back and just waiting for a customer to come to you are over. Even if that means driving a further distance, making uncomfortable "cold calls" or diligently following up on estimates. Also, we get a lot of business through personal connections and word of mouth and during a recession your customers have got to be your biggest megaphone.
Q. If you could turn the clock back on one aspect of technology -- examples e-mail, automated phone systems, cell phones, PDAs, etc. -- what would you most like to see go away?
A. Automated phone systems are very impersonal and frustrating. I hit zero immediately anytime I hear an automated system answer my call. I just want to talk to a live person. It's unfortunate that businesses think they are saving money by not have a person answer the phone when they are losing out with frustrated customers trying to navigate their automated phone options.
Q. What is your favorite work-related gadget?
A. I have a high precision laser measuring device that speeds up my ability to measure jobs quickly and is extremely accurate. Customers are amazed at how fast I can measure their homes and give them an estimate. If I ever forget the laser and I'm estimating a job, I feel like I'm going back to the stone age when I have to use a tape measure.
Q. What was the last book you read? Do you have things you read daily or regularly?
A. The last book I read was the new book by President George W. Bush called "Decision Points." It was a great book and gave me a lot of insight into the key points of his presidency. On a regular basis, the Bible is a regular part of my reading diet and I normally have two to three books on my bedside table that I may rotate reading before I fall asleep each night. I'm bad about getting 75 percent finished with a book and then losing interest. I start a lot of books but finish few.
Q. I'm up and going by? And what is your morning routine?
A. I'm up at 5 a.m. every day. I'm a morning person, so I love getting up and in the shower in the morning, brewing some coffee, reading the newspaper and my Bible all within the first hour of the day. I'm in the office by 6 a.m. and I'm getting ready for the activities of the day before my employees come in at 7 a.m. By 8 a.m., I typically am out of the office and starting my day full of appointments with customers.
Q. Favorite hobbies or activity outside work?
A. Outside of work, most of my activities revolve around my family. I work a lot of hours in my business so whatever time I have left each day, I'm with my wife and girls. I coach them in basketball and soccer. I'm very involved at church and at their school. We do a lot of miscellaneous activities like riding bikes, camping, fishing and doing yard work together. I pay them five cents per pine cone or stick that they pick-up, so they are always anxious to help out in the yard.
Q. If you could take back one business decision you made in your career, what would it be?
A. Early in my marriage, I made a business decision against my wife's better judgment. I thought it was a no brainer and it was a perfect business opportunity, except that she did not agree with it. Needless to say, the business opportunity went sour and we went through a few months of some rough waters. Thankfully she forgave me and now she is a valued business partner even though her thinking and skill set is different than mine. A woman's intuition is priceless.
Q. Best thing about your job?
A. I love the freedom of working for yourself and setting your own direction. As a small business owner, I don't have a lot of the red tape that I had as a manager in the corporate world. I can make fast decisions and the chain of command is very short.
Q. Worst thing about your job?
A. The buck stops with me. I can't call in sick or take a vacation and hope someone else does my job. I have no one to blame but myself when things go wrong. In a corporate setting, someone will cover for you and you can always deflect blame to someone else or give a lot of excuses. At the end of the day in my business, it's just me. That can be a lot of pressure sometimes.
Q. The most beneficial course I took in school was?
A. Before we had kids, I enrolled at Albany Tech and I took some Auto Mechanic classes at night. I rebuilt an engine from the ground up and learned so many other useful automotive things. Our lives are so dependent on cars for transportation that I have benefited from knowing how a car works and how to do some basic repairs.
Q. What would be your dream job if you were able to pick a position outside your current career path?
A. I would love to teach high school Calculus and coach football, just an assistant coach, not the head guy. I made all A's in my calculus classes at Georgia Tech and now I could add some real world application to those derivatives and differential equations.
Q. Finish this thought; "on the first anniversary of my retirement, I see myself...
A. I don't see myself ever truly retiring. I love my work and my business. Maybe I will slow down and cut back my hours as I get older or maybe I'll still be struggling with time management when I'm 90 years old. Unless I'm physically unable to work, I will always own some type of business venture and work.
Q. What is the one trait a strong business leader cannot afford to be without?
A. A business leader must have vision. Helen Keller once said, "The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision." Stephen Covey says that "we must begin with the end in mind." As a leader, you have to form a vision for where you are going and then everything is filtered through that vision. Without a vision, you just depend on popular trends and fads that can give you a distorted version of success.
Q. Crystal ball time: What's your call on when the economic recovery for our area will be in full swing?
A. Unfortunately, I think our local economy is behind the recovery as compared to some of our neighboring cities. Over half of my business comes outside of Albany so I see a lot more building and growth happening in Valdosta, Tifton, and even in Dothan, Ala. The number of homes being built in those areas are increasing every month and they seem to be recovering well. Albany may be a year or so behind due to some of our major job losses and also due to our own lack of vision of growth. Albany has to focus on being a "pro-business" community and we just have to play catch-up now.
Q. What kind of music might I find on your list of most played on your iPod?
A. Toby Mac and Audio Adrenaline. They are old contemporary Christian bands that are still performing awesome Christian music for today's younger generation. I listened to them in high school and they are still playing today 20 years later. That's amazing. I wonder how many people they have positively influenced during their music careers.
Q. What do you think is the biggest change Albany will see in the next 10 years?
A. Downtown Albany will be a vibrant place in 10 years. I can see new restaurants, retail businesses and cultural events drawing people to downtown. It has gotten some bad press in the last few years because of some very bad decisions and I think it has reached the bottom. The real estate prices downtown are extremely low and all we need is some new blood and some new investors and it will start the trend upward. My business is located downtown and I own multiple properties downtown so I'm ready for it to improve.
Q. What was the best vacation you've ever taken? Why?
A. For our honeymoon, we went on a seven-day Southern Caribbean cruise. We got bumped to first class on our flight to San Juan and we were treated like a king and queen. I've never flown first class since. We were newly married with no cares in the world and we had an awesome time. We have a lot of memories that we still talk about today.
Q. What are the biggest changes you have seen in your specific line of business over the past few years?
A. A big change in our industry has been the increase in cheap imported products from China. As a local custom manufacturer, I have to continually look at what value I'm giving the customer by making their products locally versus them buying a cheap imported product. I can't always beat the lower prices from overseas, but I can give the customer better delivery times, better quality products and better customer service. I strive to give our customers the best overall experience possible and I have been able to compete with the cheap imported products with that philosophy.