Volume 41,   Issue 3                             March 2006

the Business

A Reputations Value
Lyle R. Hill


My friend Lou owns a very successful car dealership in the western suburbs of Chicago. He’s an interesting guy with unusual insights. On the wall in his office are three plaques that have been there for as long as I can remember. The first, made of dark walnut with gold leaf letters, simply states: “LEAD, FOLLOW, OR GET OUT OF THE WAY.” The second plaque, a brass-plated piece with black gothic letters. Says: “You’re only as good or bad as your reputation; you must work hard to build it and harder still to maintain it.” The last one, a pewter-finish plate with etched lettering, reads: “Never Expect To Get More Than That For Which You Are Willing To Pay.” The plaques pretty much sum up the story of Lou. He leads by example, he believes in dealing fairly and his reputation is outstanding.

A few years ago, Lou decided it was time to build his dream house. He had been building it in his mind for many years and now it was time to turn his dreams into reality. It would be built to his very exacting requirements using only high-quality materials and reputable, experienced tradespeople. It was to be the last house that he would ever live in, and he wanted it built right.

As a very practical, reasonable, down-to-earth guy, Lou went in search of an architect with similar traits. After several months and dozens of interviews, Lou concluded that his search was in vain. And on more than one occasion Lou was heard to say, “Don’t they understand that I know what I want … that it’s my house, not theirs … that they aren’t going to live in it, I am?” 

Ultimately, Lou purchased a “plan-in-the-can” design from one of the many architectural mail order firms around, modified it himself and paid a struggling young architect to clean up the drawings and prepare them for permitting purposes. I remember bumping into Lou in the local hardware store one day during the architectural search phase of the job and him remarking, “I’m amazed that anything ever gets built.” 

Then came the search for the general contractor. Lou took recommendations from a few people in the trades and ultimately issued drawings and specifications to three potential general contractors … Hoover Home Builders, Conrad Construction and Beaver Brothers Builders. All were considered decent, competitive organizations. When the bids came in, the prices didn’t seem too far apart, but the terms and conditions, as well as the clarifications and qualifications, were all over the place. As Lou would later remark, “It was almost like they were each working off of a different set of drawings.” It confused Lou a bit so he decided to call each one in for an interview. 

The first to be called in was Hoover Home Builders. After the standard questions were covered and Lou reached a point where he understood the proposal, Lou asked Hoover about the quality of his work. 

Hoover was quick to respond, “I was a foreman for O’Toole Construction for over 15 years before I started my own business; you didn’t last 15 years with O’Toole unless you were one of the best.”

Next came Conrad Construction, a good-sized firm with a lot of jobs going up. Clyde Conrad was a polite gentleman who answered Lou’s questions satisfactorily. Finally, the question of quality came up to which Conrad proudly stated, “Our motto is on time and on budget and just so you know, some people have told me that they think we’re as good as O’Toole.”

The third bidder to be interviewed was Beaver Brothers. Billy Beaver came in alone for the interview with Lou … Bucky was busy that day. Ultimately, the matter of quality and reliability came up. As he began to answer, Billy got a little misty-eyed and then said, “My brother and I have but one goal and that’s to one day earn a reputation as being one of the finest home builders in the area.”

“You mean to have a reputation like O’Toole?” Lou questioned.

“Exactly,” replied Beaver.

Lou moved into his dream home about a year later. It was all that he had hoped it would be. It had cost a little more than he had originally planned for, but not too much. And it had taken a little longer to finish than he had hoped for, but not too much. And he was particularly happy that he had gone through the interview process to decide whom to use to build his dream home. You see, O’Toole did a beautiful job. 

Lyle R. Hill 
is president of MTH 
Industries of Chicago.


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