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By Erica Sweeney
April 3, 2017
Greg Hoberock is adamant that he’s not a model construction entrepreneur. But, looking at his career as founder and CEO of hth companies, it’s hard to not put that label on him.
“I’m a guy that had an opportunity presented to him, and I answered the door,” he says.
Associated Builders and Contractors recently named hth companies 2016 Contractor of the Year, and Hoberock accepted the award, which he calls the “best honor ever bestowed upon me,” at ABC’s 27th annual Excellence in Construction Awards gala in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The company also received the National Safety Pinnacle Award.
Chuck Goodrich, the 2017 ABC national chair, said in a news release that hth is “truly an ambassador for the merit shop construction industry.”
“hth companies embraces advancement through innovation, demonstrates world-class safety performance, and focuses on the well-being of their workforce,” Goodrich said. “Their remarkable success in recruiting top talent into the industry and helping each employee develop to his or her maximum potential draws needed attention to the highly desirable career paths construction has to offer.”
In 1984, Hoberock founded hth as a mechanical insulation company with a couple of partners and initially served as the company’s sole employee. Today, hth, which is headquartered in Union, Missouri, has 600-700 employees and a daily presence in 16 states.
“Everybody dreams,” he says. “It was never my plan to be this big. It just happens.
I remember the first time I billed $1 million in a year, I thought it was absolutely the top, couldn’t be any better. Today, if we don’t bill $1 million a week, we’re losing money.”
Most construction entrepreneurs start businesses with the hope of success. The path is a rocky, but rewarding one, full of challenges, risks, and hard work. But, in the end, each entrepreneur builds his or her own livelihood.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about two-thirds of all small businesses survive two years after being established, and about half are still around after five years. However, new businesses in the construction industry have one of the lowest survival rates at 25.4 percent over 10 years.
The biggest challenge affecting small construction companies, Hoberock says, is access to cash.
“That takes down more construction companies than anything,” he explains. “If you’re working on a 10 percent margin, profit and overhead are held up for a year before you get it.”
Plus, construction is a risky business, and not all business owners can handle the pressure. To succeed in the industry, Hoberock says entrepreneurs can’t be afraid to fail and can’t worry too much about what they can’t control.
“You can lose it all tomorrow when you personally guarantee all your bonds,” he explains. “Everything is at risk every day, and a lot of people can’t stand that. But, you have to be able to and have to be willing to fail. You can’t take the risk away so don’t worry about it. Focus on the things that you do well. If you do that, the things that you can’t control will take care of themselves.”
Despite the challenges, longtime construction business owners say the industry is entrepreneurial by nature. Though it’s difficult to quantify, many start out in the industry as a one-person business and then grow.
Larry Lopez, 2017 chair of ABC’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, says the industry fosters entrepreneurship and because a four-year degree isn’t necessarily needed to begin a career in construction, starting a business is open to anyone.
“Folks can step into a role to grow and make something,” he says.
Bringing the minority construction business community together is the diversity committee’s major focus, Lopez says. They are hosting a Diversity and Inclusion Summit on June 19-20 in Washington, D.C. And, the committee plans to add a mentoring component to support those in the business.
Lopez is an entrepreneur himself. He founded Green JobWorks, a Baltimore-based construction staffing company, in 2011. The company also offers demolition and abatement work and commercial cleaning in the Baltimore, northern Virginia, Washington, D.C., region.
So far, Lopez says, “It’s been adventure.”
Lopez says being a successful entrepreneur in the construction industry depends on patience, vision, commitment, and teamwork.
“You have to have a vision,” he explains. “You have to see the big picture and have a path. My success comes from my team. If I didn’t have them and a lot of other people, we wouldn’t be who we are. You have to be humble and embrace that. It takes a village to make it happen.”
Success takes a “steel backbone” and recognizing opportunities when they arise, Hoberock says.
“Opportunity knocks every day everywhere,” he explains. “And, you have to answer the door when opportunity knocks. You can’t be afraid to answer the knock and see what’s behind the door.”
And, he says, “It takes an incredible amount of hard work. Starting out, the hours you have to put in are phenomenal.”
Responding to customer needs has kept hth going strong for more than 30 years, Hoberock says. Over the years, they’ve expanded to offer scaffold erection, industrial cleaning and maintenance, welding, pipefitting, confined space rescue, and more.
Believing that you’re right is the best mindset for an entrepreneur to have starting off, Hoberock says. But, as businesses grow, entrepreneurs usually can no longer handle everything themselves and have to give up full control.
“There are a million ways to get from point A to point B,” he explains. “You lay out your route, and you should stay on that route until someone proves to you that it’s not the right direction. Then, somewhere along the line, you have to accept the results of others.”
Giving up some control can be tough, Hoberock says. Everyone approaches tasks differently, and strong leaders have to hire people and be willing to accept outcomes instead of processes.
“You have to trust them to do as good a job as you would have done,” he emphasizes. “But, you have to be willing to let people fail. I always say, ‘I’ll give you enough rope to hang yourself, but I won’t give you enough rope to hang me.’”
Throughout his career, Hoberock says he’s mentored several construction business owners. He says everyone in the industry needs someone to serve as their sounding board, but not necessarily a model to follow.
“Look for someone who will challenge you,” he suggests. “You don’t need someone you can follow. You have to do it yourself. You set your mind to what you want to do and push forward everyday.”
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