UCON Up Front: February 2022, by Joe Sostaric, the Conco Companies, UCON President
I’m writing this article as one of my first acts since being elected as the new President of UCON. First, let me say to all that I am deeply honored and humbled to be given the opportunity to lead this great organization.
UCON represents some of the best construction companies that the state of California has to offer. Every day, the companies we represent do amazing projects that help make this state what it is. To build many of the iconic structures, the important infrastructure we use every day, all the way down to the homes we live in often require work to be performed by UCON members.
As someone who has been in the construction industry here in California since 1987, when I travel through this State, I can point with pride at structures that I played a part (albeit a very small part) in their construction. Sometimes the mere sight of a building will conjure up memories, both good and bad, of challenges and experiences associated with building that specific structure. I am sure I am not alone in doing this mental exercise. That is what is great about our industry. We leave a mark. We build tangible things that benefit society.
When I look at my colleagues, my suppliers, my union partners, and even my competitors, a common theme I share is this—although we may not always agree, we have more in common than we have differences. What do I mean by saying this? Simply put, we have all chosen to work in an industry that builds structures society needs. It takes a certain type of person to do what we do. We are an industry of doers. Tell a builder that something can’t be built, and they will find a way to get it done. People in our industry take pride in finding solutions to difficult problems and like the idea of building something tangible. This we have in common. Also, when there are threats to our industry, such as a weakening economy, material shortages that impact our ability to do work, or government regulations that impede the industry, we most often all share in these troubles. When things are going great, the rising tide will lift all the boats.
Too often, though, we focus on our differences instead of what we have in common. My suppliers want to make the most they can when they sell me their products. I want to pay the least amount possible. Employees often feel they are deserving of a bigger position in the company or more money than they are getting paid. Conversely, senior management feels that they have provided their employees with adequate compensation and a position in the company commensurate with their abilities. And finally, people often think their competitors are irrational or unethical because their competition’s way of procuring work is different than the approach they would have taken.
When we focus on our differences instead of what we have in common, we often begin to make business decisions detrimental to our own business. If I think my suppliers are overcharging me and treat them poorly, I give them less incentive to provide good service. When I fail to give my employees adequate opportunities and a salary package that is fair and reasonable for their contributions, they seek out companies that will meet their needs which will serve to negatively impact my company’s ability to meet our customers’ needs. And finally, when I have no respect for my competitors and act out in the marketplace to “punish” their perceived actions, I encourage them to act in the same irrational manner, which can cause the market to spiral downward.
Being a member of UCON and on its Board of Directors has provided me with opportunities to see some of the industry professionals in a different light. As we all know, UCON is just an acronym for United Contractors. The first word in our title—United—points to UCON’s mission statement to unite contractors to solve industry problems for the common good. In business, our typical interactions with union representatives and competitors tend to focus on our differences. Settling a grievance, negotiating a contentious labor agreement, or coming to grips about losing out to a competitor on a project that was aggressively pursued will not typically invoke happy thoughts of the people on the other side. But my time at UCON has allowed me to see some of these same individuals differently.
When you sit on the same side of the table with a competitor and work on issues that jointly impact our respective businesses, you quickly understand that those fierce competitors of yours are actually interesting people with likable personalities and excellent ideas. When I attend a UCON-sponsored partnering meeting with our union business leaders, I leave the discussion with a better understanding on how we meet the needs of our union employees in a way that is tenable to the company.
2022, like most years, will have its share of challenges. COVID-19, material shortages, inflation, government regulations, labor negotiations, and employee recruitment, to name a few, are all likely to impact our businesses this year. If we are to be successful, we must work through these issues together to find solutions that help to ensure the continued growth of all parties. United we stand, divided we fall.