I was not yet out of college and already knew I wanted to live a better life. And I realized the only way to achieve that was to build one for myself. I was in my last semester at the University of West Florida and preparing to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology. While I enjoyed all that entailed, having lived around the water all my life, there were very few job opportunities for a young person with that degree. Every summer between semesters, I worked in construction doing everything from heavy equipment operator, asphalt paving, building custom cabinets, and concrete form carpentry. I was comfortable with the industry and knew southwest Florida was going to be a good market. Though a college degree was not necessary to work in construction, I had learned a few things in my years of summer employment. It seemed to me it was better to be the one in charge. Or, as one person told me,
“It is better to be the hammer than the nail.”
That meant I needed management training and business skills along with practical construction knowledge. So, I did some research and found that the University of Florida offered a degree in Building Construction. I believed that the skills and the education I could receive from UF would open doors to achieving my career goals. This was my first step toward building my better life.
After graduating from UF with a construction management degree, I came home to Naples and began a job search. I landed in the office of Hank Krehling, owner and operator of Krehling Industries. Hank was successful, hard-working, hard-nosed, and demanding. He taught me my first hard lessons in managing a construction company. I began as an estimator in the drywall division and soon became the Vice-President managing that division. When Hank told me he was selling the parent company, my brother Rex and I bought the drywall division in 1986 and named it Wall Systems, Inc. of Southwest Florida. It was a leveraged buy-out, and as long as I owed him money, Hank insisted I stop by his office every day and give him an update. Hank continued advising and overseeing my management for a couple years. I never regretted any of the time I spent with him.
The southwest Florida area was changing and bringing new opportunities. This led us to quickly form a General Contracting division of Wall Systems that we called Professional Building Systems. We soon became known by the acronym PBS. PBS Contractors, LLC was officially established in 2010. As the company grew to accommodate the needs of a rapidly evolving community, we also added a luxury home building division, Distinctive Homes. Knowing we needed help with this new endeavor, we consulted who had been one of the founding partners of Naples Lumber, Dick Greenwell. He decided he wanted to be part of our new design/build team. Dick was talented, highly competent, and well respected. He continued my construction business owner education that was started by Hank Krehling.
Eventually, Dick purchased Distinctive Homes from me and continued the business while keeping his office in our building. After Dick retired and closed Distinctive Homes, PBS began to work in residential construction, although it had started as a commercial general contractor. My brother, Rex, retired, other partners sold their interest, and I became the sole owner of PBS Contractors. There were years of challenges and sacrifices for me and my family. The Great Recession knocked us to our knees, as it did many other construction firms. But my team and I persevered and built back better and stronger. Then came COVID. Managing lockdowns and masking and supply chain issues and a host of new guidelines required new and evolving strategies to keep PBS in business. But again, we kept at and emerged smarter and better prepared to face current and future construction challenges.
Just as the Naples and surrounding community developed and matured, so did I. I began to reevaluate my concept of building a better life. It was not enough to think only in personal terms. I had not achieved any success by myself. The people I surrounded myself with both at work and in the community were all important and vital to any achievements. I realized that the idea had to be revised to building better “lives.” So, the PBS purpose statement became, “We build better lives for our team, our clients, and our community.” There was much discussion in the leadership team about the three groups and their order of importance. It was decided that it was appropriate to put our team first. If the people who work for PBS are taken care of, have good jobs, can provide for their families, and are respected and fulfilled in their work lives, then they can and will be dedicated to building better lives for our clients. Whether it is a beautiful, comfortable home for their families and friends or an attractive, well-designed, practical workspace for their employees to be at their most productive, the PBS team can help build that environment and life experience.
Our community is also important. This is not just a place where we work and make money. This is our home.
We live here. We raise our families in southwest Florida. Our children attend the schools, play in the parks, and participate in sports and the arts. The natural environment matters to us. We boat and fish and enjoy the beaches. We hike and bike, and garden. The quality of the water and the air, the health of the beaches and woods and preserves and wildlife deserve our attention and our care. Our PBS team is encouraged to volunteer and to be a part of building a better community.
As part of a Vistage professional peer group, I was privileged to hear the speaker David J. Friedman. He is the author of “Fundamentally Different,” in which he said every organization has a culture with a set of rules, rituals, and guidelines. The book inspired me, and I brought the five members of the PBS leadership team together to discuss our culture and guidelines. I asked what was important to us and what behaviors did we expect from the people around us and of ourselves. We initially had over 200 ideas. We began to review and organize our thoughts and narrowed them down to 50. After much discussion, we decided on 28 behaviors we wanted to see implemented with our team, with our clients, and in our community. We called them our Fundamentals.
We printed our Fundamentals in a booklet named the PBS Way. Every team member gets a copy, and we give them to clients and anyone who expresses an interest. Each week a fundamental is discussed in every meeting. Every week a team member is assigned to write and share a reflection on the meaning of the week’s fundamental and how it can be implemented. Everyone is encouraged to comment on the reflection. A couple examples of the Fundamentals are “Practice Blameless Problem Solving” and “Take Responsibility for Achieving Results”.
I initially worried that the Fundamentals would get stale, but what I had not anticipated was how differently each person relates to each fundamental. When new people join the company, they bring fresh perspectives. The Fundamentals are the guidelines to our purpose statement, and our PBS team recognizes this. I cannot count the number of times I heard people say that we must follow a particular fundamental in solving a particular challenge because it is consistent with our purpose to build better lives.
Time passes, and PBS evolves and improves. I am now nearing retirement age. I realized that I needed a succession plan. With our purpose statement in mind, my team and I began a journey looking for a person who could and would uphold the ethics and standards of the company and honor the culture built by our Fundamentals. We found that person. In December of 2021, Tim Dupre became the new President and CEO of PBS Contractors. For the first six months of Tim’s tenure, I focused on Wall Systems and my family. I gave Tim and the PBS team space and time to effect the transition to new leadership. However, I am still around, still working, and involved in the company. Though my role has changed, Tim and I are partners through this transition and will work together to grow PBS into an even better, more resilient organization.
And I plan to retire in 2030. My wife, Katie, is retired from Florida SouthWestern State College. My son, Dan, is my partner and head of Wall Systems. My daughters Rachael and Emily have homes and children, and careers in Naples. I have been blessed to know and work with so many talented people over the years. My community is the best place to live and work and retire. My plan for a better life was not just realized. It, in fact, became a wonderful life.