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Contractor Points Out The Need For Innovation

By Scott Costa, Publisher, tED magazine

Sunday morning at the NAED National meeting, and just when you think another cup of coffee is the jolt you need to help wake you up, its actually a panelist during the roundtable discussion on the future of the industry who does more than a hit of caffeine could ever do.

David Witz, President and Owner of Continental Electrical Construction Company (they did a number of large projects in the Chicago area, including the Art Institute’s Modern Wing, U.S. Cellular Field, McCormick Place and the BlueCross BlueShield Headquarters Building), was asked where this supply chain is still in the dark ages.

“Everybody has been playing too much defense. It’s time to step back up to the plate and start taking some swings and taking some risks and be willing to fail as we work with partnerships with contractors.  Be open and honest about what you are trying to do.  We have to do something differently. Everybody cut back, everybody downsized.  But with that comes responsiveness. I think it’s time to invest in our businesses and take some chances. We’re looking for innovative solutions. We are looking for someone to come along and say hey, this is what we are going to do in the marketplace and it’s not just business as usual.”

There’s that “I” word again, innovative.  And you can say that it’s just one comment from one guy, but the truth is we have been hearing this, and writing about this in tED magazine, for a number of months.  And I happen to think that one “guy” who happens to run a major electrical contracting company in Chicago is probably someone we should be listening to. 

After all, he is your customer.

“The question of why should I innovate continues to come up to me,” UnLeashWD President and Founder Dirk Beveridge told me last week. “We have had the same model of going to market forever.  The status quo is what is expected.  We almost need to shock people into helping them realize that this world is changing faster than ever before and it’s not going back.  We have been conditioned to manage for the short term and that is acceptable.  We need to create the relevant, sustainable business for the next generation and the next 100 years.”

Beveridge believes generational changes, along with changes in technology, has this industry in need of innovating before it becomes too late.  “These changes in the generation and these changes in the competition are impacting our economy.  We have to help them understand that this shift is in fact impacting our business,” Beveridge says.  “We have got to get beyond quarter-to-quarter and year-to-year.  We need to be relevant and sustainable for the next generation or two.  That shift will force us to look at our business differently.”

Beveridge also points out it’s not a business’ responsibility to innovate and make major changes to compete in the new business environment; it’s the responsibility of the people who are working there. And it should be the people who work with you who will help you innovate for the future.

“We automatically jump to Grainger as someone who is innovating.  I am tired of talking about those companies.  It’s the people in those companies who make the decisions to innovate.  Not the company,” Beveridge says.  “We have to look around the room and acknowledge who on my team are ready for this.  Some are, and some are not.  We need to strategically surround ourselves with people who are willing to change.”

Beveridge also points out that the old, reliable excuses for how business needs to be done has to change before it is too late.

“As soon as we say it is a relationship business, we are justifying that this is still business as usual.  We are in a customer-centric business.  We need to be obsessed with our customers.  Relationships are a part of it.   But this is not just a relationship business,” Beveridge says.

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