Ep. 123: Owning Your Journey with Randy Blount of Blount Contracting

Randy Blount, Blount Contracting, WW ClydeRandy Blount, president of Arizona-based Blount Contracting grew up around the construction industry, helping at his family’s business during high school and college. When his dad received a cancer diagnosis, Randy was thrust into a leadership role at a young age. 

Now 10 years later, we’re getting the scoop on how far the company has come and what’s in store for the next 10 years. 

Randy joins host Missy Scherber to discuss:
  • Learning from your mistakes as a young business owner
  • Handling critical conversations the right way
  • Examining your profit margin and leaning into your niche 
  • Being well-read and applying those lessons from great leaders
  • Finding a mentor to be candid with
  • Investing in your people

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Show Transcript: 

Intro:

Welcome to CONEXPO-CON/AGG Radio where we bring you boots-on-the-ground perspectives from construction business owners and industry experts about their successes, challenges, and whatever else is on their minds.

Consider them your own personal mentors on technology implementation, equipment solutions, business management and more, enabling you to apply their expertise to your business.

Held every three years in Las Vegas, CONEXPO-CON/AGG is North America's largest construction trade show. For even more ways to connect with the industry, visit conexpoconagg.com/connect. We've got another great guest on the show today, so let's dig in.

Missy Scherber:

Thanks for joining us for another episode of contractor conversations on CONEXPO-CON/AGG Radio. I'm your host, Missy Scherber.

We'd love to learn more about you, our listener, so we can better align our future episodes to your wants and your needs. Please take a short survey at conexpoconagg.com/radiosurvey by May 31st, 2021 for a chance to win $100 Amazon gift card.

Missy Scherber:

Joining us today is Randy Blount, president of Blount Contracting based in Arizona. Randy grew up around the construction industry helping at his family's business during high school and college.

When his dad received a cancer diagnosis, Randy was thrust into a leadership role at a very young age. Now, 10 years later, we're getting the scoop on how far the company has come and what's in store for the next 10 years.

Well, Randy, thank you so much for joining us today. We really appreciate it.

Randy Blount:

Thanks. I'm excited to be here.

Missy Scherber:

We shared a small preview of your background, but for those who don't know you, tell us a little bit more about growing up around the family business and how that has led to your role today.

Randy Blount:

I think there's probably thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people across America who can relate to my experience. My father worked in the industry, was a general superintendent most of my life, and so it's probably frowned on today, but at the time it was pretty normal.

I was in the field with my dad in the summers probably as early as 12. I think my mom probably just needed to get rid of me because I was a boy and getting into a lot of trouble. So started grade checking and I think I may have mentioned this on the BuildWitt Podcast, but I finally knew how to drive a manual transmission because I learned on a water truck and turns out that's different than a manual transmission.

So, some of the things that are really cool about that is I have such an appreciation for the guy who's at the end of the shovel.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

Like my dad he really wanted me to earn that. Not only did he want me to work in the field but he wanted to make sure that I had to work harder than everybody else.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

And he did move more dirt with the shovel than anybody else faster. And so lots of respect for the guys that are on the ground. I learned to grade check and read plans at a really early age.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

And that's been a huge asset as I do plan reviews and constructability, I can really visualize what your plans mean and see issues really quickly.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah, yeah.

Randy Blount:

That was fun. I also got to see kind of the industry it's matured a little bit. My dad was on the job site fights and it was kind of normal, believe it or not. It happened quite a bit.

And so interpersonal communication I think has improved. It's got ways to go. So early on around the industry, graduated high school at 17, worked with my father for about a year helping him estimate. In the evenings and put together change orders and billings with my mom. And then during the days and the summer and for about a year I worked in the field.

And then I decided to go do mission for my church and I went on a mission for two years.

Missy Scherber:

Awesome.

Randy Blount:

And it was a great experience, I learned so much, huge invaluable skills there one of which was just I got to serve in another country. So, a ton of respect for America and what we do well.

And also I got to see what other countries do well. Came home and I started college and was working with my father. Kind of the thought was I was going to go to college and help him grow the business during that four or five years while I was at college.

And then he got sick. I was 21, it was just before 22 he got sick. He ended up getting cancer and he fought cancer for about 26 years and then actually beat cancer, but I often say cancer took his life because his health was just never the same afterwards.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

Because he ended up having a heart attack and passed away when I was 26.

Missy Scherber:

Wow.

Randy Blount:

And so my thought of ... My degree is in Agribusiness Finance of all things. It's funny when you're job introductions or when I meet with my peers and some type of group with owners or executives and it's all construction majors for the most part and then it's me Agribusiness Finance and probably always get some funny looks. But I got my construction education from the field and I got my finance education from school and it's been a really good mix for me.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

So, at 26 was when I was put in a position to take over the business. It was scary, really scary because my mom's entire retirement was in the business.

Missy Scherber:

Wow.

Randy Blount:

But I feel like I was, I don't know, well equipped but I had some really good basics that I could build off of and then I just made a ton of mistakes and learned from them and didn't give up. So it's probably-

Missy Scherber:

You're the only one that has led young and made mistakes.

Randy Blount:

No, not at all. And if you think you're going to start a business and not make mistakes, you are terribly mistaken.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

It's a part of the journey and the process. It's learning how to embrace those and learn from them and then be forgiving and willing to let others make similar mistakes so that they can grow.

Missy Scherber:

I think it's so-

Randy Blount:

That's probably the reader's digest of it.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah no, I think it's fantastic that you're bringing up the point of embracing mistakes, embracing the pain and make it part of the journey. I think there is this unrealistic perception when you are a young leader and when you do start a business that it's just going to be hard but simple and it's just not. But those were your greatest ... Our mistakes have been our greatest source of strength and it sounds like it's been the same for you.

Randy Blount:

Just in life in general when you make a mistake and most often the biggest mistakes are the ones you learn the most from because the consequence is real and you're like, "I don't want to go through that again."

And so my dad was alive. I remember he was sick and so he wasn't doing a whole lot of business but we needed to get paid from this job. And he said, "You need to write a letter to this company. We need to get paid from them right away. We're due this money and they've been paid by the owners so go take care of it."

20 something year old writing a letter to a president of a company that at the time was doing about 150 million a year. So not a small company.

Missy Scherber:

Wow.

Randy Blount:

Yeah, but I missed the tone so bad. It was a very threatening email. I though I was like I'm an attorney, I'm going to go get this money. And I'll never forget, I had to come to that executive's office and just put my tail between my legs because I was just so off on the tone of my email and it was handled so wrong.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

I'll never forget, he told me, he said, "If you ever have to write an email like this, pick up the phone and talk to somebody first."

Missy Scherber:

Yes.

Randy Blount:

And so it's just stuck with me. There is this ... Email is a very efficient tool but most of those tough conversations never go well over email.

Missy Scherber:

They never do and I think they're easy to misunderstand. We almost lost one of our biggest clients due to me feeling like instead of collecting money and continuing to build a relationship, that I was like a collections agent and a police officer trying to get our money and get paid.

And as a contractor every penny matters, right? So, you want to go after it but yeah, I had the wrong tone and I had to do kind of a similar situation. But I learned so much from that moment of like you said, having to go and apologize and then they end up mentoring me through having difficult conversations like geez.

Randy Blount:

Yeah, they don't give you that class in Construction 101 or do they?

Missy Scherber:

They don't, like how to collect money properly, and I think you just brought up a great idea for our workshop for CONEXPO 2023. So, I really spent a lot of time listening to your interview with Aaron Witt of BuildWitt. And I really want to encourage our listeners to go listen to that because you really, for an hour, you dove into your story, the details of your story going from a young leader to a growing company and growing the business significantly, which we'll talk about in a minute here and then eventually being acquired by a larger company.

And I loved the way you told your story in that interview and Aaron did such a fantastic job kind of painting a picture of how you've handled the last years as a leader. But there were some big takeaways for me from that interview and I was hoping today that we could focus our time on some of the takeaways and the further questions I had from listening to that interview.

And that's starting with you being a leader at such a young age. I think a lot of our listeners can identify with that. And this is kind of a loaded question and a big question, but knowing the lessons and mistakes, how do you lead young well? What are some tips you would give young leaders? One big one you just gave that is very important is be aware of your tone when you're collecting money from clients.

But how do you lead young well? And this is something I want you to talk about because I don't want to see young business owners come into this industry all gung-ho and then get burned out and get burned. So tell me about that season. You became a young leader, you had naysayers, what's this young guy going to do? So many of us can relate to that. How do we manage that season of leadership well?

Randy Blount:

It's funny. I've always looked a little bit older and so much so that my mom loves it because there's been several times I've been pegged as her husband.

Missy Scherber:

You're funny.

Randy Blount:

And so it's funny how when you're young you don't want anybody to know. I can't tell you how many meetings I was in that somebody said, "How old are you?" And I said, "Well what do you think?" They'd say, "I don't know, mid 30s." And at the time I'm my early 20s and I'm like, "Yeah, close enough, close enough." And kind of just left it at that because we're so worried that because we're young there's no respect, right?

Missy Scherber:

Right.

Randy Blount:

I would think a few things. One, if you're growing a construction business, most of us come from a place of loving the work.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

We love grading or laying pipe or whatever that trade is that you love. And so that's why you're usually there. And then you're trying to make a good living for your family doing it and for your employees. Don't be afraid to be well read, or in the case of many of us contractors, well listened, right?

Like put on an audio book while you're driving that 45 minutes every day to and from a job site or an hour and learn from some other great business leaders and say how do I apply this. I know Jim Collins for example.

Missy Scherber:

Yes.

Randy Blount:

He has this book Great by Choice.

Missy Scherber:

Yes.

Randy Blount:

Still among one of my favorites. And I read that and he talked about developing a hedgehog concept.

Missy Scherber:

Yes.

Randy Blount:

The idea there is find something you're passionate about, find something that you can be world class at, and that drives your economic engine and then just go do that.

And I think we may even have talked about this with Aaron but so often in those early days as a leader were so focused on revenue, how do I get more work.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

That it hurts us sometimes. And this podcast isn't long enough to go through why that can hurt us, but growing revenue quickly with retainage, with collections, even just that alone can create cashflow problems that often lead to making poor decisions, right?

Missy Scherber:

Yes.

Randy Blount:

Instead of saying this is where I fit best, the decision is how do I collect money and how do I fix this cash problem. Hey, I'll take a 10% discount to get paid early. Well industry statistics is saying most of us are making between 5% and 10% when it's all said and done.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

So sometimes we make bad decisions. So I'd say one is be well read, listen to some people. If you haven't listened to that book by Jim Collins Great by Choice, Extreme Ownership by Jocko, that great book, one that I really love.

I think I put this on that survey is it's called Leadership and Self-Deception.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah, I have never heard of that book. Tell me about that one.

Randy Blount:

Currently there's two and they're from the Arbinger Institute. One is Leadership and Self-Deception and one is Anatomy of Peace. So, I would say go listen to Leadership and Self-Deception, maybe we could follow up in a few months to just talk about it.

Missy Scherber:

Let's do it.

Randy Blount:

But the idea here is that as leaders often we are deceived a little bit of ourselves. We don't see our blind spots, our weaknesses. We'll put ourselves in these boxes where we think, and I can give a good example of this. There's an idea called The better-than box, right? Where we think that we're better than somebody for some reason.

And it sounds like no we don't do that, but then you start looking at for example in industry somebody who's a little bit older instantly thinks that somebody who's younger ideas aren't good, right? Because we're better than them because we have more years of experience.

And man, some of the best ideas have come from new perspective, right?

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

Like come from that guy who is early in the crew and he hasn't piped forever and he maybe asks the question like, "Hey, why do we do it this way? Couldn't we do it that way?" And you're like, "Yeah, we totally could. That would be faster and better. Why don't we?"

Missy Scherber:

Absolutely.

Randy Blount:

So I'm kind of rambling here a little bit. But I think be well read and apply those lessons is a really good way to make it through young leadership.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

We talked about this, Missy you're probably better at this than most men are, but men, I kind of talked about this on Aaron's podcast a little bit, but men we're just bad at talking to people.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

Being a business owner is tough. It's a lonely spot.

Missy Scherber:

Very.

Randy Blount:

Just like the guys who are running the jobs are making mistakes, you are too. But you feel like if you admit that or you talk to anybody about that, you're weak. And men we don't like to be seen as weak, right? It's just this inherent quality that's in our DNA.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

We don't want anyone to see us as weak. And so the fact that you don't have it all figured out or the fact that you're having a tough day you don't want anybody to know, so I'd say find somebody that can mentor you.

There is plenty of people in this industry. You mentioned the person that you had had a tough conversation with mentored you. There's plenty of people who are in their mid 50s who are at a point in their career where they want to do something more than just build and make a living.

And they want to have an impact on the industry and just try and say like, it can be very informal, but man, "Hey, I would love to have somebody to teach me some stuff."

Usually it's flattering and most of those individuals will have no problem doing it.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

And we put together a board. It was an advisory board for our company. We weren't a big company. We were doing about 30 million a year, so kind of mid size company.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

We had two previous CEOs of multimillion dollar companies. We had a vice president of a multi-billion dollar company that were willing to sit and it was just that. It was like, "Hey, I'm young in the industry, I respect you guys a lot, is this something you'd be willing to do?"

We did pay them for their time but it was not a lot of money. And one of them actually just said, "Hey, instead of paying me will you just donate what you would pay me to my charity?"

Missy Scherber:

Wow.

Randy Blount:

And so it worked out great. And then you kind of have just a sounding board.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah. I think you're bringing up such an important point for men and women. Leadership is a very lonely place. And you struggle to share your failures and your mistakes because you don't want to be, like you said, seen as weak or incompetent or maybe we're not the right ones for the job.

But it's so important to have what we're trying to develop as just mentors and coaches in our corner that we can have those kind of conversations with. And obviously I have an easy, like you said, I have an easier time doing that than Trevor who's like, we'll go out to a mentorship meeting with her, mentor and he's like, "Don't bring that up." Like, no we have to, it's safe here to be open and I loved how you talked about that on Aaron's podcast.

I think that was a really packed answer. The first thing you brought up was to be niche. And I think a lot of ... and the hedgehog concept from Great by Choice, the book by Jim Collins. We just read Good to Great.

Randy Blount:

Yeah.

Missy Scherber:

Great by Choice was going to be my next one but I'm fascinated by the other one you recommended on leadership and what was that?

Randy Blount:

Self-deception.

Missy Scherber:

Yes, Leadership and Self-deception. That's interesting because it would be valuable to see our blind spots. But tell me a little more about being niche because I know we struggled with this when we first started and a lot of contractors do. You take all the work and you're all over the place and you're doing so many things and you scale the company from 10 to 12 million to 30 million by making this aggressive choice to be niche and this hedgehog concept of finding those few things that you do world class.

I want to talk about your three answers a little bit more in detail. Let's talk about that one first. Tell me about that decision? Why did you decide to go for this hedgehog concept that you're speaking of?

Randy Blount:

Somewhat it was rooted in this, with a finance background as I look at the margins we were making, they just weren't enough.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

And I know that sounds like well duh, and everyone wants to make more money. But it was more than that. It was like it's not enough for the fact that there is an extreme amount of risk in construction.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

The industry was okay with ... Like I said, most survey show subcontractors can be within 5% and 10% margin after everything, right? Not just towards marginal job but after you apply overhead and taxes and interest, expense.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

And I was just like, "Man, this isn't enough."

Missy Scherber:

It's not enough.

Randy Blount:

Exactly.

Missy Scherber:

Too hard.

Randy Blount:

It's hard and then it's also ... well no wonder we always talk about we need to be better at mentoring and training. We just don't make enough to really invest in it.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

There's always that saying that people say it is don't invest in your people and that's the worst place to be. But anybody who's really in the contracting industry will tell you finding the time and capital to do that is just extremely hard, so we all do it a little bit.

But we could all do it so much better. So, that was kind of the catalyst, how do we make more so we can be better?

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

And we just started looking at stuff like what type of jobs do we make the most money on. And that brings up another conversation. Just maybe a plug for BuildWitt, I'm an advisor there and we're working on some of these, a leadership 40s, small to mid sized companies to learn some of these things.

Missy Scherber:

Awesome.

Randy Blount:

So be on the lookout for that here. Hopefully July, August you'll see some stuff coming out on that. But we started looking at stuff like is there a certain type of project that we're more profitable on?

So we do data center work. Do we make more money on data center work? We do multiple things, do we make more money there? And is there a trend. And so one is like what type of work do we make more money on. Is there a different type of delivery method? Is there more of a hard bid approach where we do well or is it more of a negotiated work or design build work.

And then there's the scope as well. And so we talked about on his podcast, but we kind of had stepped away from utilities because at the time there was so much competition and more risk and more headaches. We joked that 80% of our headaches at that time were coming from utilities, and they were only making up for about 3% of our profit.

Missy Scherber:

Interesting.

Randy Blount:

But why are we doing this?

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

Since then we've kind of created a hedgehog concept just for utilities on like okay when do we do best on utility work? And so we still do do it, it's just much more focused.

Missy Scherber:

Got it.

Randy Blount:

I think that's the first thing is trying to look back and say where have I been successful, what types of jobs. And you need to do that on a regular basis because if you're starting out and you're new you may not have enough data to say, "All right, this is our hedgehog concept."

But start that process of where are we good and then I think knowing what drives your economic engine is part of it but then also where are you passionate.

Missy Scherber:

For sure.

Randy Blount:

So we talked about how we really like geo technical work, contracting work, you're doing something with the soil whether it's earth retention systems shoring or foundations or tunneling. We really like that because there's a problem to be solved and we get to participate in that.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

But the makeup in the [inaudible 00:24:13] of your company needs to be that way. There's some guys who just really love to move dirt and they can move it fast and efficiently and that's their hedgehog concept. We're going to move dirt faster and more efficiently than anybody else and that's really cool.

You see some of those jobs and you're like, "Man, that's a great company and they got it figured out."

Missy Scherber:

Yeah. So the big takeaway I'm hearing from you in this is for those that are just starting especially when you're young, so we're just diving into job costing now at seven years and I'm like, "I wish we would have started doing this years ago."

Randy Blount:

Yeah.

Missy Scherber:

In the early years focus on your passion but also watch the profitability because sometimes your passion will lead you maybe astray a little bit. You know?

Randy Blount:

Yeah.

Missy Scherber:

Or into too many different directions. So one, what are you passionate about? But two, don't ignore what's profitable.

Randy Blount:

Exactly.

Missy Scherber:

I think that's great advice. I also think being well read is important like you said. But then talking to other people, what an important thing that you're bringing up and the plug for BuildWitt is welcomed and appreciated and excited because Trevor and I have been talking and just who is here to help us? Who's here to help us lead and to lead well a construction company because it's so different and is it always going to be the school of hard knocks for us has kind of been our question.

Randy Blount:

Right. Definitely the hard knocks are good because they give you that experience that drives that business.

Missy Scherber:

For sure.

Randy Blount:

But yes we're working at making the dirt world a better place.

Missy Scherber:

I love that. I love it. Another thing you brought up was your mother. And I think that's an important thing to talk about, her role because I am a big believer in one of the ways that we do make the dirt world a better place is through diversity.

Randy Blount:

For sure.

Missy Scherber:

And tapping into half the population during this labor shortage and really focusing on women and leadership roles on site and behind the scenes and giving both those roles values.

So tell me quick about your mother's role at the company, how critical was it, how did she lead behind the scenes.

Randy Blount:

Yeah. Well real quick, just a plug for women in construction, I have three daughters.

Missy Scherber:

Awesome.

Randy Blount:

I have one son and three daughters. And it's interesting the perspective that's given me. My oldest daughter is just very mature, assertive and kind of has that leadership ability. It's just natural for her.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

And it's funny, a young man who might be wired that way is instantly kind of pegged as a leader and then in her case you hear things like bossy. And it's just interesting how maybe sometimes in construction if we're being super honest with ourselves, sometimes we let kind of that stigma stick with women where a woman is great at her job but for some reason we feel like instead of saying she's an awesome leader or a project manager whatever, we might say, "Man, she's real bossy or whatever."

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

So we do have some maturing to do there. I think, and Missy you can speak to this probably better than me, but I think we're moving in the right direction.

Missy Scherber:

Yes.

Randy Blount:

We're seeing progress there and that's exciting. So my mom she started it in the background doing book keeping and helping with change orders and the regulatory side of the business. She's never necessarily been the one who's always out there in the field doing the work.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

But she's got this and this is where she's been so valuable. We always talk about, you've probably kind of heard this, but there's kind of this field versus office mentality in most companies.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

And she's always been able to remind everybody those guys out there who are working, everything we do in the office is for them.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

It's all about us making their lives easier because they're the ones that are driving an hour to the jobs, they're the ones that are starting at 4:00 in the morning, and ultimately they're the ones that are making or losing us money.

Randy Blount:

Really 75% of most construction company's cost are occurred in the field.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

So, she's been so great at that. And then she's become just this jack of all trades. She's actually going to retire this year. So, it's exciting, we're excited to let her kind of sense into that new part of her life.

But everyone will tell you she's kind of the answer to any question. She's the specialist of nothing but knower of all.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah, and I'm so glad you're bringing that up because a company as successful as Blount and that you've been acquired, it's amazing to hear there's a woman behind the scenes who built a strong team to serve and support your field teams that got it there.

And I think it's so important that we tell those stories, that women who lead behind the scenes and in the field, they can create powerful companies as well. And I like what you said about your daughter and is she bossy or assertive. I think we're coming a long way as an industry. We do still have a long way to go.

I go to the trailers and there are some trailers where they still want to work with Trevor. They're just not ready for a female to come in and look at plans and talk about an upcoming job. But at least we're making progress.

So knowing you have three daughters is exciting to me. What's something we could do better as an industry? And again, we're making progress but to make it a better place for your daughters.

Randy Blount:

Well I think one of the things that it's kind of always seen as maybe a challenge with women is what is that going to look like. I think a lot of times men still feel like well they're going to start a family and so how committed are they?

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

And I think that sometimes is this underlying, and I'm being super vulnerable here because I'm speaking out loud and maybe I'm saying things that others won't say.

Missy Scherber:

I appreciate it.

Randy Blount:

But I think sometimes that's this underlying fear is well are they committed, are they just going to be a mom and what does that look like? But most statistics show women don't usually leave the workforce. Do they need more flexibility? Yes they do.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

The perspective that they give is worth that flexibility.

Missy Scherber:

Wow.

Randy Blount:

Like there just seems to be this difference, right, between DNA and how we see and look at things.

Missy Scherber:

I'm just writing this down Randy. I had to write that down because that is one of the most powerful statements of diversity that I've heard in my two to three years of being passionate about diversity is that the perspective that women bring to our industry is worth the flexibility. And I think that's powerful because you brought up in your interview with Aaron millennials are smart. They see shorter shifts in corporate and they gravitate towards that.

And I think women are smart as well and they understand the societal expectation to manage the household and the kids and the daycare drop-offs and all of that.

And so they might knot look at the construction industry and you just put it out there, the most powerful approach we can take is to be flexible and is construction shifts, instead of this standard 10 to 12 hour expectation, are shifts worth talking about in the workforce development conversation so that more women and more millennials are drawn to this industry.

So thank you for being vulnerable because that was a very powerful statement in a vulnerable moment. I know I threw you a curve ball with that one.

Randy Blount:

We use this thing called photogrammetry in construction. We take pictures to create topographies. Most people agree seven perspectives is what creates the most accurate, at least seven perspectives is what creates the most accurate image.

And so what I tell people is in Arizona we have cactus, right? And imagine if you take a picture of a cactus from straight up or from just one side. You don't see the whole picture.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

And so where diversity really gives us this advantage is just like in photogrammetry it gives us the whole picture and then it empowers us to make good decisions moving forward.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

And so I think that's where I think having greater amounts of women and all ethnicities really helps construction mature and be more innovative.

Missy Scherber:

Well Randy I want to kind of divert here. That was a great conversation about diversity and I'm so thankful for the insight that you gave us. I want to divert here to business growth because it's important, I think, as we are in a, what I would call unsure economy or things are changing in the economy quickly with the shortage of materials and labor, you kept the company afloat during an economic downturn and managed to in six years go from 12 million to 38 million dollar company, which is astounding and just huge props to you and your teams.

Walk us through that time period in the business and what challenges presented themselves and how you handled the challenges differently than others might have to make it through that recession.

Randy Blount:

It was a really, really hard time.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

It was hell. So, anybody who went through that time will tell you it wasn't easy and so when I talk about the things we did, just know it was hard.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

I think one of the things that you should be doing right now as you look into where is the economy going to be is looking at how do I make the business stronger. And so most contractors, you have to be careful, I paint with such a broad stroke but I think most would agree that it's very common for prosperity to equal cars, boats, houses, those kinds of things, toys.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

And like you said, it's an unsure time.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

So, really taking the prosperity and investing in a business is important. I heard the saying that is take care of the business and then the business will take care of you.

Missy Scherber:

Wow.

Randy Blount:

Make sure you're investing in the business and you're putting it before your own wants, not your own needs but your own wants. And then later the business will be able to take care of you.

We saw that in mine and my wife's life. We never really took draws out the business and we really just continued to invest into the company and then by doing so we had good people, we had processes, we had world class job costing and accounting so that we were in a position that we knew our cost and we were able to drive a lot of profitability.

Missy Scherber:

Got you.

Randy Blount:

And even when it came time, we had buyers looking to acquire us, they weren't scared of anything because everything was in order. And so we could show them that. So I'd say one of the things that I think happens is too often we don't know our cost, so use prosperity this year to go out and find somebody that can help you to create job costing to make sure that you have some systems in place so you really know what am I good at? If you don't have a hedgehog concept now, a big part of determining that is what drives your economic engine and you need job costing to do that.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

So invest in the business now, maybe hold off on that car or that Razor or that Moke and take those profits and say, "Let's go implement some more systems. Let's build some cash reserves. How much does it cost for the business to run for three months?" So, let's probably try to have some savings in our savings account, does the business have something that it could run for three months in case ... People are paying, I think industry wide, are paying pretty quickly right now. But as things swing usually that slows down a little bit.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

Can you afford to make payroll for four or five weeks and some equipment payments. So, I'd say biggest thing right now is get strong, right? Prepare for do we know it's going to be a downturn and how bad it's going to be? No, we don't.

Randy Blount:

But every seven years on average there's been a downturn. There's a standard deviation meaning that number of years that it takes for that downturn is, I think standard deviation is three years. Don't hold me to that one. Meaning that it's usually within a seven to 10 year period or a four to 10 year period that there's a downturn, we're due.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

Maybe overdue. So do I want to cast fear on everybody, no. But knowing that let's prepare for it.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah, absolutely. And I think you're casting wisdom on you've been through that season and it's possible there could be another one. How do we make better decisions as business owners and learn from someone like you who's gone before us. And I think you're hitting the home run on a frequent conversation between Trevor and I as I always want to invest in the family and let's do the cabin or the boat and he's like business, business, business, all the cash back into the business.

And as hard as that's been for me, I really learned that it's been valuable for us and to have cash reserves and I don't think enough contractors are talking about having that conversation. What are cash reserves? It's important before you build the lifestyle, you build the cashflow and the cash reserves and it's not new everything on site and in the garage. It's being slow and steady wins the race. So, thank you for that.

And I think you also said another good point earlier is invest in your people. And if you don't have a lot of profitability, how are you investing in your people. Talk about how important that is to you at Blount.

Randy Blount:

Well I think it looks different for everybody. There's a lot of little things you can do. Example, twice a year we have a boot voucher, right? We make sure that all of our guys have a good pair of boots and that they have some type of protection. So, we require it to be a hard toe, it doesn't necessarily have to be steel toe but make sure they have the proper PPE.

Get them the right tools. There's always this kind of well this tool costs this much money. But what you have to start thinking about is how much does my job site cost me if it's ineffective, right? And then start making business decisions based off that.

Culturally you still have to make sure your people are taking care of their stuff and they're being responsible. But get your people what they need, right? And that's one thing we can invest in on is get them the right tools.

Another way is take some time and mentor. So, lots of times I think this training program idea of investing in people is just an elaborate program. For me it's often very simple. We use teams, so Microsoft teams for all of our projects. So there's a chart going on for all of our projects.

And if I see something come across there that I've been through, I just grab one of the project managers just really quickly and say, "Hey guys, 10 minutes conference room. Hey, I saw this is going on in this project, let me share with you what happened when this exact same thing happened to me 10 years ago. This is what I did, this is how come I did it. I'm not saying that's how it has to be done this time, but here's a perspective so that you guys can learn from the mistakes I made."

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

Mentoring can be very informal and it can be easy. Just share some of the mistakes you've made and how you've learned from them. It does a few things, one it hopefully helps them not make that mistake. But two, it also shows it's okay if you make mistakes in your organization because that's how innovation is made, and it's okay to be vulnerable and say I made a mistake because that creates dialogue about how do we fix it. We don't have to hide our mistakes.

Missy Scherber:

I think you're bringing up a huge point, not hiding your mistakes, finding mentors. And I know that's hard to find in this industry and it sounds like you guys might be creating a solution over at BuildWitt, which is phenomenal. But we just started going to the big excavation contractor who's in our area and just saying we want to introduce ourselves, here's who we are, if we can ever support you with the small stuff that you can't get to whether it's demo.

And through that networking started meeting some of the decision makers and owners. And every time we've asked a question or asked would you be willing to spend an hour with me just to mentor us, we're kind of stuck here or there, I have never met anyone that has told us no.

And I think being brave to ask and Instagram and social media we're able to maybe meet non-competitors or there's so many excavation contractors out there and a lot of these owners who have been in a position of leadership so many years to me, and correct me if I'm wrong, they're wiling to share, they're willing to spend that hour of yeah let me share my wisdom with you.

Randy Blount:

I think the great ones are for sure. There is still protectionism in construction.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

And will you be successful in doing that with a direct competitor? Probably not.

Missy Scherber:

No.

Randy Blount:

But I'm with you. If you're aspiring to be somebody, most of those owners would share some time with you. Because for me it's like there's a few competitors in our market who it's not that big of a deal to lose a job to them, right?

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

I respect them. I know that they're paying their people right, I know that they're providing health insurance, I know that they're paying their taxes.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

And it's like you might lose onus competition, but so be it. The ones that hurt is when you get beat by somebody who you know is just not playing fair.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

And so I think a lot of us just want that. We want, hey, if you're going to be a competitor, let's at least make sure it's a fair playing field and that you're treating people right and you're paying your taxes and you're following the environmental compliance issues you need to. So I would agree generally speaking people want to help.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah, and especially now that we can kind of reach across state lines thanks to the digital landscape and shows like CONEXPO. And we went to several of the education sessions there and then went right up to the people after and said, "Hey, can we ask you some questions. We're really trying to get somewhere with our company and here's where we're stuck, here's where we're not. So I think that's great."

So one of the fun ways, I think this was a very valuable session and I'm going to take you up on your offer that if I lead Leadership and Self-deception that we'll do a follow up in a few months and we'll have a conversation on that.

Randy Blount:

We'll do.

Missy Scherber:

But I think I was fascinated by the direction you wanted to go there and I think our listeners will be left wanting to hear more from you just as a young leader and all that you've accomplished.

It really means a lot to us to have a role model and someone to look up to, so thank you for sharing your time today. It was just so valuable, lot of take-homes, lot of home runs.

We like to end it with a rapid fire round. It's just a little fun way to end the conversation. And we're going to start that with what was your first job, which I'm assuming it was the family business. No choice, huh?

Randy Blount:

No, actually my first job ... I'm trying to get this in the right order. It was not the family business.

Missy Scherber:

Really?

Randy Blount:

Yeah. I had two jobs before the family business. One was doing concrete for a friend's family's business. I think my first job out of all things and I'm going to have to explain it, but I delivered salt for a living.

Missy Scherber:

Wow.

Randy Blount:

In Phoenix we have hard water and so all the resorts here go through a lot of salt for their washing machines.

Missy Scherber:

Got it.

Randy Blount:

And so I worked for this company, great guy, he headed this niche company and we would fill five gallon buckets with salt and then we'd load up a truck and we'd deliver thousands of pounds of salt every day.

Missy Scherber:

Wow.

Randy Blount:

At 17 I thought it was the best thing in the world because I got a workout at the same time as getting paid. So, I was thinking it was really cool.

Missy Scherber:

So from salt to cement to dirt, I like the transition.

Randy Blount:

Yeah.

Missy Scherber:

What was your very first car?

Randy Blount:

1977 Chevy pickup truck, long dead unfortunately because short bids cost too much. My dad gave it to me and then he gave me the mortar that had to go in it and he said, "Let me know what weekend you want to put it in and I'll help you do it."

So, he was one of those guys who just really wanted you to learn and at the time I thought it was so dumb and I couldn't believe my dad would give me a piece of junk truck without an engine in it.

But now I look back and it's a very fond memory of my dad and he would teach stuff like that. I know so much that I wouldn't have known if he hadn't been a real mentor.

Missy Scherber:

I love that. And tell me really quick, we'll interrupt the quick rapid fire round, what's the number one lesson that you feel that you learned from your father? He just sounds like such an amazing man who had a lot of influence in your life.

Randy Blount:

Man that's a hard one.

Missy Scherber:

I know.

Randy Blount:

The number one lesson. I'm going to give you two so I'm going to break the rules here.

Missy Scherber:

I like it.

Randy Blount:

One, have a good heart. We can all be rough around the edges and he was definite at times, but he had a good heart. And you don't have to be religious to believe this, I think there's just something in the world that being good comes back to you.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

Just be a good person and have a good heart. And two is, he taught me that there's not that many people that are willing to work that hard and not give up. And so I'm not going to bet anybody on this, but I can work really hard and I know how mentally to push through really hard and tough things.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

That comes from his example and I just I'm extremely grateful for that. I wouldn't be in the position I was today if he didn't help me understand we are all capable of far more than we even understand.

We limit ourselves when something gets hard just saying we can't do it, but we can.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah. I love that. That's so good and just a very, very important principle to carry from start to finish is a clear instruction is work ethic and I think that's one of the things I loved about this industry, my previous career was in non-profits and corporate and this industry is just full of heroes willing to work so hard and that is a competitive advantage, no doubt. So, I love those principles.

And having a good heart to me is what's going to create the next gen of leaders. So those are awesome principles from your dad. Thank you for sharing that. I didn't want to get through the episode and not have kind of some principles to pass down to all the listeners from your father.

So let's finish up the round. If you weren't doing this, what would you be doing?

Randy Blount:

So I have an interesting opportunity. I'm getting to do both right now.

Missy Scherber:

Awesome.

Randy Blount:

In that I guess you're saying if I wasn't doing anything with the podcast or if I wasn't doing construction?

Missy Scherber:

You weren't doing construction.

Randy Blount:

Okay. So, I'm vice president of Blount Contracting still and I work with a great team of people and I report to my president at WW Clyde. And so I get to do construction but they also are allowing me to be an advisor at BuildWitt.

And so I get to do both and what I'm doing at BuildWitt, what I just love there is I'm like you, I'm trying to help this industry I love. It is an amazing, amazing industry.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

We get to do some of the coolest things and we are the unsung heroes of America.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

There are so many people who turn on their light switch, turn on their water and have never once in their life thought about what it if doesn't work?

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

And that's because of men and women all over America doing this great thing and I think we're realizing that we need to compete with other industries now and so we need to mature and get better and that's exciting because if we can fix the things that we have wrong on employee benefits and hours and some of those things, if we can fix those and still have all the comradery and pride in what we build, yeah, there's nothing better.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah, there's nothing that can stop us from having the strongest workforce of any industry. Once they come to the other side there's no turning back.

Randy Blount:

Right. My hope and what I want to hear change is I don't want to hear the guy who's worked in the industry say, "I don't want my son or daughter to work in construction."

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

I want them to be excited about and really proud because there's so many people who when they say that they do construction, there's a little bit of shame in it they felt. That's not the case.

If you're in construction, you are doing a service to all Americans and I want people to be able to be proud of that.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah. I think you bring up such an important point and that's why I love the work that Aaron is doing over at BuildWitt and I think it's amazing that you're supporting that vision is showing what construction really is. It's something to be so proud of and to not be ashamed that you're a driver or an operator or someone who builds the world that our community counts on every single day.

So, I love the work you guys are doing and I think you bring up a great point. I hope every listener leaves this episode so proud of the work they do that society counts on every day.

So, if you could, who is one person you wish you could have dinner with?

Randy Blount:

Man that's a tough one. I think Brené Brown.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

I think Brené Brown because I think the insight she would provide is so different than all the other experiences I've had. And I don't know, I just love what she's doing with vulnerability and the change that she's making, I think it's a lot of things that we need in construction. So, I think Brené Brown.

I'm glad you bring her up. Her perspective would be so valuable to continue to bring into our industry. I'm not sure if you listened to her podcast with Jim Collins, that's where I first learned about the hedgehog concept, so I'm grateful you spoke about it today. But she's a good one, I like it.

So the next question is what is your dream piece of equipment? And I absolutely adore your fleet and the cement way that all your fleet is in. I've been trying to push Trevor to do that for a while and you're an inspiration for sure. But what is the dream piece of equipment to paint gray that you don't have in your fleet yet?

Randy Blount:

Most of the earth moving equipment we have almost all of it is painted gray and it looks really good. There is some specialty shoring and drilling equipment that I would love to see gray.

I would have to say BAUER which makes drilling rigs. I would love one day to be in a position that we own a BG 45 and it was painted gray. And I know that the broad majority of the podcast may not even know what that machine is, but Google it, it weighs more than a D11 Dozer.

Missy Scherber:

Wow.

Randy Blount:

That's a driller rig to give perspective and it's used for a very specialized deep foundation. So, I hope to be in a position one day that we own those and to see it gray.

Missy Scherber:

I love it. And what do you predict will be the biggest disruptor for your business in the next five years?

Randy Blount:

I get to work but also in our division but I also get to work with a much bigger company. And so we get to work on a lot of things within the business. I would say the person who can figure out we're starting to collect a lot of data in construction but I don't think we've as an industry have done a lot of good with the data.

Randy Blount:

I think the person who's able to bring all this data collection that is starting to show up in construction and then apply it in a way that people in the field can make their decisions timely.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah.

Randy Blount:

That's really going to be the game changer. And there's definitely people who are on track to do that. But I think that's going to be a significant change in instruction.

Missy Scherber:

I think that's great. Well Randy, this was just full of nuggets again and I know you're very busy and we really appreciate your time here and we're excited to hear more about what's coming this summer that you guys are working on to empower construction leaders.

Missy Scherber:

And I look forward to our next episode where we're going to do I think a special edition book club.

Randy Blount:

That would be awesome. Thank you guys for including me. I love this industry and just be glad to help any way I can.

Missy Scherber:

Awesome.

Outro:

And that's going to wrap up this edition of CONEXPO-CON/AGG Radio. If you liked the show and think other people should listen too, make sure to subscribe and leave a review on iTunes. We'll be back next time with another great guest. Until that time, be sure to visit conexpoconagg.com/connect for even more ways to connect with the industry.

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