Volume 36, Issue 4, April 2001

Cobbledick and the PM

Do You Have “Plus Money” in the Pocket?

by Dez Farnady

     For almost 100 years, the name Cobbledick-Kibbe was synonymous with the best there was in glass and glazing in Northern California. Nearly 20 years ago, and for almost a century before that, Cobbledick’s contract operations were doing $30 million to $40 million of glazing business a year with incredible profits. Even today, those kinds of dollars are not small potatoes. Cobbledick was one of the biggest players in the game with a reputation for quality to match. It was the goose that laid the golden eggs in the form of some of the top glass buildings in the West, including the Bonaventure in Los Angeles, the Bank of America Tower and the four Embarcadero Towers in San Francisco, just to name a few.

One day a couple of bean counters came along, convinced that they could squeeze more gold out of the goose. So they squeezed until all that came out was goose crap and the goose was dead. When the vultures came to pick over the carcass, as the last of the assets were sold at auction, they were buying goose crap thinking they were getting some of the gold. Old tools, glass racks and even beat up old rack-trucks were bought at prices as if they were the source of the gold.

From the day the doors closed to this day, former Cobbledick-Kibbe employees still represent anywhere from $50 million to a $100 million in glass sales in Northern California. They are plying their trade with nearly a dozen of the top glazing contractors in the area, still dropping those golden eggs with a formula that Cobbledick may not have invented, but certainly perfected.

The formula is simple and for the sake of the story we will call it “PM Power.” Most contract glaziers divide their business operations into two parts: sales and production. Cobbledick divided it into three: sales, project management and production. Traditional glazing contractors require the estimator or sales end to get the job and then fool with the nuts-and-bolts of prepping it for the field. While the sales person is project-managing one job he usually has no time to sell another, so sales go up and down like a yo-yo. When the job he is managing is close to completion, he has to scurry to sell more work to keep the field busy. If the field superintendent project manages, he will not be able to supervise as many jobs as the estimator can sell, creating another imbalance.

The Cobbledick formula allowed the estimator to concentrate on sales. Once the contract was signed, the job folder was turned over to the project manager. The estimator had no further responsibility for the job other than communicating with the PM about how he figured some things and maybe dealing with some change orders with the architect. The primary contact with the general (and certainly with the field) became the PM. It was his job to run and to see if he could make the house and the estimator some money by running it tight and buying it well. PMs issued the purchase orders, followed up delivery schedules, fought with vendors and serviced all of the job-related requirements of the superintendents who ran the men out in the field.

This three-tiered combination allowed the company to maintain a profitable and efficient operation, and maximize the efficient use of the manpower at sales, project management and field production. Because smaller contract glaziers feel they can’t afford a PM, they get stuck if they reach a volume level where both the estimator and the field superintendent are overloaded. At that point, sales volume levels off and additional sales begin to cut into the profits.

To most people, PM means not after lunch but later, more like quitting time. To a contract glazier, PM means Plus Money in the pocket—that’s PM power.