On the Job with Tracy Hester

Photo by Barry Levine

Photo by Barry Levine

"On the job with..." is a weekly business feature on business owners and executives in Southwest Georgia. Today's interview is with Tracy Hester, development service manager of Albany and Dougherty County Planning and Development Services.

Q. What was the first thing you spent money on when you received your first paycheck?

A. Wow, that was so long ago who would remember? As I remember, my first real paycheck came when I was around 13 years old; I worked at a Texaco Service Station. For those that do not know what that is, you used to be able to get your tires changed, oil changed, grease job, windshield washed and gas for 35 cents a gallon all at the same place all while getting a smile and green stamps to boot. Green stamps are another story. My first paycheck was spent on new converse tennis shoes or an alligator shirt as I remember. The tough decision was whether to buy white or black shoes; we had such a large selection.

Q. What's the single most effective technique you found over the past two years for keeping employees motivated?

A. My views for motivation go a lot farther back than two years. I was self employed for many years in the commercial construction field before entering the public sector. I feel if you provide a clear objective to your employees and place them in a position to make decisions and give them a sense of responsibility and ownership, the motivation will follow. Most importantly, give your employees a voice, let them know that they are a vital member of the organization and your success as well as their own depends on the quality of their performance. Money is short term motivation, ownership and pride in a job well done is for a lifetime and it carries over long after the work day is done.

Q. What was your first job?

A. Although I answered the first paycheck question above, my first real job was growing up on the family farm in Tift County. Anyone who grew up on the farm or around agriculture knows the job market starts when you are old enough to walk, drive a tractor or move irrigation. It starts early and lasts until you can't. So I guess you could say my first job was helping to feed America and build my character.

Q. What led you to your current position? Why did you want to operate your own business?

A. I guess I should answer the second question first. As long as I could remember, I wanted to build things. When my family moved to Albany in the 60s we moved into an area that was being constructed as a new subdivision. I would go out after school or in the summer time to the site of these new houses being built and do what ever the old guys would let me do, mostly pick up trash or stack lumber. On this one occasion, this old guy (Mr. Bullington) was starting a new house and asked if I would like to help build the most important piece of the job, without hesitation I jumped eight feet high and shouted yes not knowing that meant digging a hole for the out house. Anyway, watching these guys build something which has a lasting impact gave me the will and the want to be like them and leave my mark for other to see. My goal and drive was to own and operate a construction company which I was able to do and fulfill my dream to leave that mark which lasted for many years and still does to this day.

Now, how I got to this point in my life. Owning your own business is rewarding and fulfilling but has its hazards as well. Living the American dream sometimes comes with a price and in my case it was divorce. Being a workaholic and losing parts of your life will make you rethink your priorities. Making the decision to sell my company to my partner and move on to something else was a difficult decision. Not knowing what I would do or where this might lead me, the one thing I was sure of was it would include construction in some way. As fortune would have it for me and at the devastation of others the Flood of '94 came along. I applied for a temporary position as a building inspector to aid in the recovery with the City of Albany, never intending to make this my new career path, and the rest is history as they say. Several promotions and a lot of process changes, hundreds of hours of continuing education and numerous certifications landed me in the position of Development Services Senior Manager/ Building Official and is my current position today.

Q. Do you have a role model or mentor in your career?

A. Role model without question, my mom and dad influenced the core of who I am and how I believe life should be lived. My dad worked hard to provide for our family and my mom was always there to instill a belief in my brothers and sister that family was the most important thing in life. No matter how much you had or did not have, family and friends would be the thing that you remember for the rest of your life and would have the biggest influence on who you would be or might become.

As for a mentor, I don't know that I could name an individual. So many people helped me as I was developing my career path and to name one would be a mistake. The older generation and the experiences they share would probably be the mentor I would offer if I had to narrow it down.

Q. What is the biggest lesson you as a business leader learned from the recent recession?

A. Having worked through the recession of the late '70s and early '80s, I feel the pain of the business community and understand the challenges that confront them. Being vigilant and creative is the answer. Finding new ways to approach the same old business and reinstate the commitment to quality and interest in being the leader in your field. Most important, remember why you are in business in the first place.

Q. If you could turn the clock back on one aspect of technology -- examples email, automated phone systems, cell phones, PDAs, etc. -- what would you most like to see go away?

A. This one is easy. Anything that takes away from face to face interaction. Email and text messages sure are convenient, but too many people are using these devices as primary means of communication and the skill to interact and converse is fast becoming a lost art. My pet peeve.

Q. What is your favorite work-related gadget?

A. The old-fashioned telephone and the chairs in my office.

Q. What was the last book you read? Do you have things you read daily or regularly?

A. Not much of a book reader, I spend a lot of time with tech and code related manuals or legal documents, that when I am not at the work place I spend all my available time with the outdoors and family.

Q. I am up & going by? And what is your morning routine?

A. My day starts around 5:30 a.m. in somewhat of a slow pace. Even though my work hours are from 8 to 5, I am usually at work by 7 to 7:15 to get the day started. I enjoy the quiet time and it allows me to get things done that are not doable after the phone starts and the customers arrive. The long drive out of the country to the big city is ramp up and reflect time to get the day started.

Q. Favorite hobbies or activities outside work?

A. I enjoy fishing with my daughter, playing with the dogs and horses and just being with friends and family. We visit Tallahassee and Panacea, Fla., on a regular basis and just enjoy the seafood and beach scene.

Q. If you could take back one business decision you made in your career, what would it be?

A. I think we all have regrets and second guesses in our personnel and professional lives, but I am not sure I would change anything in my professional development other than maybe rethink the sell and departure from business ownership. I don't regret the move I made but often wonder what life would be like had I stayed with my original career goals.

Q. Best thing about your job?

A. The people I work with and the ability to assist the public with their development needs. Being able to network with others throughout the state and be part of the code processes that establishes the life safety standards in Georgia.

Q. Worst thing about your job?

A. Not being able to help someone in politics.

Q. The most beneficial course I took in school was?

A. The general business course and the drafting classes I took when I was in high school have been the most beneficial courses I remember taking because it gave me the basis for the career path I followed. And, the public speaking class that I truly hated.

Q. What would be your dream job if you were able to pick a position outside of your current career path?

A. I would have to say being a farmer or having something to do with the outdoors would be on my list but I guess being a private pilot and flying around might be fun too.

Q. Finish this thought; on the anniversary of my retirement, I see myself...

A. Starting that dream job.

Q. What is your favorite tradition?

A. Sunday morning breakfast and FSU football with my daughter.

Q. What is the one trait a strong business leader cannot afford to be without?

A. Credibility, honesty and commitment to their vision.

Q. Crystal ball time: What's your call on when the economic recovery for our area will be in full swing?

A. Unfortunately, what I see as recovery to any noticeable or stable condition may be some time off. More than a year or two at best.

Q. What kind of music might I find on your list of most played on your iPod?

A. Well, if I had one you would find the oldies ('50s, '60s) and good ole country.

Q. What do you think is the biggest change Albany will see in the next 10 years?

A. Regrettably, I think the loss of industry will continue and the loss of population unless the economy takes an upswing really soon and the return of good old fashion business sense takes its place in politics.

Q. What was the best vacation you've ever taken? Why?

A. Disney, 1996. Yeah, that's right. We went to Disney World. One of the few times that all the family was able to vacation together.

Q. What are the biggest changes you have seen in your specific line of business over the past few years?

A. The progression toward green construction and an enormous change in the codes to conservation and energy savings.