Everything I know about business, I learned from Mike Mulligan
Mike ran a small excavating business, many years ago in a big city (I don’t exactly remember which one) and then ended his career in the town of Popperville. He interacted with countless customers and worked alongside other contractors, where he was on sites that varied from residential houses, to large commercial projects. Along the way, Mike learned many things about running a successful business and I thought I would share them with you.
Always Be Looking For New Opportunities
Mike was never afraid to move outside his comfort zone when it came to work. He started out doing small excavating jobs for small house foundations and branched out to larger commercial projects. Many of his friends warned him not to jump into that arena, but Mike wanted to challenge himself with bigger jobs and see other parts of the country. Because he was willing to venture outside of his comfort zone, Mike found, what eventually became his niche, in tract home development. This proved to be very lucrative for Mike and it was where he made his name in the excavating business. Mike would have never discovered this, had he not been willing to take a few risks along the way.
Keep Your Overhead Low
Mike was fanatical about taking care of his steam shovel. He took such good care of it, that he even gave it a personality and named her Mary Ann. Mike learned early on, that if you can keep your overhead low, there is more profit potential at the end of the job and more money in your pocket. He noticed that his competitors, were always buying new fancy trucks and other equipment and had huge monthly overhead burdens to maintain. He knew this, because they would complain about it down at the local coffee shop, where they would gather before the work day started. This especially became apparent, when the economy went south and all the guys with the big fancy equipment were the first to go under. They simply could not sustain the monthly cash burn when times got tough. Mike always survived the lean times, by keeping his overhead to a bare minimum.
Mike could flat out sell. Whenever Mike had to beat out a competitor for a job, he was usually able to sell the client on himself and his services better than I anyone I knew. The key for Mike was relationships. He knew that without a good relationship with the customer, there was little chance for winning their trust and ultimately the contract for the job. While some of Mike’s friends in the business relied on heavy handed pressure tactics or scripted sales pitches, Mike always focused on building the relationship first and then the job followed second. This philosophy paid big dividends for Mike, not only for his business, but also in his personal life, as he developed many close friendships over the years with many of his clients. Mike also was a student of the art of selling. If you went to his house, you would see many books about business and on selling in particular. Mike had a student’s mindset his entire life and it showed through his ongoing success in selling.
Nobody could outwork Mike. Mike’s philosophy was to give 100% of himself when he was on the clock and when it was time to work, that’s exactly what he did. Early in his career, Mike noticed how some guys would milk the clock or simply work at a slow pace. There was one experience in particular, that had a profound effect on him. He was in his steam shovel on a new job, digging a foundation and filling trucks at a rapid clip. So fast in fact, that the trucks could hardly keep up. When coffee break rolled around, a supervisor came over to him and said, “slow down! You’re going to work us all out of a job and you’re making us look bad to boot!” It was then and there, Mike figured out, that men who worked, were divided into 2 groups. The ones who looked for reasons not to work and spent their lives mastering the skill of “Time Killing” and the second type of man, who is only at peace with himself, if he is working at his highest capability and giving his all, at every moment. Mike knew then and there that he was and always would be, the latter type of man.
Start Early – Finish Early
During his career, Mike was often the first one to the job site. He was also, out of bed before sunrise, planning and preparing himself and his equipment, for the day ahead. Starting his day early, made Mike feel successful, even before he started his actual work. He enjoyed the early, uninterrupted time to himself with his thoughts, as he sipped coffee on the porch or the garage, while he read a few pages of inspiration or philosophy and said a quick prayer of thanks and gratitude, for his many blessings in life. Getting started early, with a proper mindset and then working hard throughout the day, enabled Mike, to blow the whistle earlier than his counterparts. He knew a successful business, also required plenty of time away from his machines and the job. Leaving the job at a reasonable time and making time for rest, play, family and friends, was key to real success for Mike.
Know your numbers
Spending most of his life behind the controls of his machines, Mike would devote many hours, thinking about the numbers of his little company. He understood that his business, did not exist, if the dollars did not add up at the end of the week with a profit. Equipment, labor, insurance, materials, taxes and all the other countless costs, must be accounted for, if he wanted to succeed. Understanding this aspect of his business, motivated Mike, to keep meticulous records and job logs. He never left a single site at the end of the day, without recording all of his time, expenses and what he accomplished. This habit assured Mike, that when it came time to send out the bills, that he was being properly compensated. Keeping records, also gave Mike the peace of mind, that he was actually making money. Often times, his friends would lament, that they didn’t know if they were making money and Mike never wanted to work with that type of anxiety and uncertainty.
If you find yourself in a hole…..
At the end of his career, Mike learned his most valuable lesson. Mike was struggling to find work, as his equipment was hanging on by a few threads and he was no longer able to compete with the younger guys. Out of desperation, Mike made a deal that would be his last, as well as the last hole he would ever dig. He agreed to an all or nothing contract, to dig a cellar hole in one day. Many of you know how the story ends, as he finished his working life, with a new fulfilling career as a janitor, down in that very last cellar hole.
We all find ourselves in a hole that we have dug ourselves from time to time. It’s during these times, that Mike Mulligan can offer one last point of inspiration. Throw a couple logs in the stove, make a fire, grab a cup of coffee and welcome a friend or 2 to come visit you…. down in your hole. And if you’re lucky, maybe a warm apple pie!
In closing, there is one other story that many of us have heard about Mike that I feel needs to be addressed. Mike claimed that he and his machine, could dig more in a day then a 100 men could dig in a week. Over time, this became a motto of sorts for Mike and he would boast about it when trying to sell a job or talking shop with the boys down at the coffee shop. I always took this claim at face value, because Mike knows his numbers better than anyone, so I had no reason to doubt him, right? Well, I decided to crunch my own numbers.
Assuming a group of 3 men rotating between picking, shoveling and hauling, can dig 10 cubic yards of dirt in 1 day. (essentially, an 8 foot x 8 foot hole, just over 4 feet deep) So, let’s further assume, we have 30 teams of 3 men each, which equals 90 men and then 10 additional men, working in support roles or filling in as extras. That gives us 30 teams, producing approx 10 yards of material each, per day, which is, 300 yards a day and 1500 cubic yards in week. This would be the equivalent of digging a 50 foot x 100 foot hole at an 8 foot depth, which could then fill, 100 modern tri axle dump trucks over capacity. So what does that tell us about Mike’s claim that he can do all of that in a day?
Mike is full of $#it!