Volume 42, Issue 12 - December 2007

the Farnady Files

Keeping the Commitments that Come First
by Dez Farnady

Not everyone who needs a second job has one and some people who have second jobs don’t need them. A lot of second jobs involve charitable work that can become self-promotional. And then there are some who take this charitable moonlighting and make it a lifetime commitment. 

It is hard to get close enough to some people to find out what’s below the surface. I was fortunate enough to be the exception among suppliers and had the opportunity to get close to a man named John Carney. 

John was the driving force behind a glazing contracting firm operating under the name Midwest Plate Glass. The company is long gone now but, while it was around, it did some pretty good business. Starting from scratch with his partners, a couple of ex-glaziers, John maintained a sales volume comfort level between six to ten million dollars a year. But it is not the size of the business or how he ran it that made him special. 

John started his career as a hard-drinking salesman who went from selling windows to contract estimating while by his own admission, being mostly under the influence. He would refer to himself as being “a drunk.” 

By the time I met him he had been dry for at least 20 years. As a recovered alcoholic, he never considered himself any more than a sober alcoholic living dry from one day to the next. All the time I knew him, even after retirement until the day he died, he stayed sober and continued to spend a great deal of his time helping others to kick the habit. As an active member of AA and various groups organized to provide help to anyone who wanted to recover from alcoholism, the problems of addicts became part of his life. 

Taking Time to Do It Right
John’s attitude toward estimating was an interesting one. His company did a lot of school and hospital work. That is not so easy in California. All school and hospital construction was under the supervision of an agency known under various names, once called the Office of the State Architect. All plans were reviewed by that office and had to be approved before they went out to bid. Then, during construction, everything had to be submitted and approved all over again. It took moving heaven and earth if you wanted to make a change. 

A lot of contractors chose not do school or hospital work at all because the battle with the bureaucracy was so expensive and time-consuming. Some contractors would bid a school job as high as possible figuring that if they got lucky, there was enough in it to fight the fight and still make money. 

John’s philosophy was different. He said if you take the time to figure it right, consider all of the expenses and put on a fair mark-up, you have a good chance for a good job. The guy who square-foots it in a hurry can get low and lose his shirt and the guy who throws a lot of money at it will probably not get it. So he was able to get a lot of these jobs and make money on them. 

But he also had a few tricks up his sleeve. He submitted his shop drawings with lots of errors. He said so long as they were paying some guy to check plans to find mistakes there was no reason not to give him some work to do. When the drawings came back with red marks all over them, he would have the draftsman correct about half of them and re-submit them. This time when they came back sometimes even the mistakes left behind were not found. By the third submittal everything was cleaned up and the plan checker was pretty familiar with the drawings and probably had tired of looking at them. 

Taking Everything in Stride
John had lots of battles in his life with booze and his heart—with multiple heart attacks plus all the troubled souls in his various AA groups—so work did not have to be a battle. What John took in stride others thought were battles. He was happily married to the same lady for at least the last 20 years of his life and his daughters—he had several—loved and respected him. I know that for sure because two of them worked for him for several years, one as a project manager and the other doing drafting. 

I was fortunate that we had the opportunity to break bread frequently and, while he wouldn’t even drink tomato juice for fear that he would get Snappy-Tom or some spiced-up bloody Mary mix by mistake, he would not object if I had a cool one. So in memory of one of the good guys, I know he would not object if I raised a glass to toast him. Bless you John wherever you are. It was a privilege to have known you. 

Dez Farnady serves as the general manager of Royalite Manufacturing Inc., a skylight manufacturer in San Carlos, Calif. His column appears monthly. Mr. Farnady’s opinions are solely his own and do not necessarily reflect those of this magazine.

© Copyright 2007 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved.
No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.