The Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City, in Arlington, Va., served as a think tank of remodeling-related ideas, issues, and solutions May 17–19 during the 2007 Remodeling Leadership Conference, the annual salute to Big50 remodelers. The theme of accountability — in business and life, and as it relates to employees, clients, trade partners, and oneself — struck a clear chord with the several hundred remodelers and other attendees who shared challenges and strategies, networked with peers, and returned to their businesses recharged and refocused.

“I learned a great deal, the speakers were excellent, and the whole package was first class from beginning to end,” says Gary Grobeck, a member of the 2007 Big50 class and president of Grobeck Construction, in Omaha, Neb.

“The conference was incredible,” said fellow 2007 Big50 Robin Burrill, co-owner of Curb Appeal Renovations, Keller, Texas. “Some of the best speakers we've ever heard, and getting to meet more people in our industry is truly invaluable.”

ASKING QUESTIONS Keynote speaker Sam Silverstein kicked things off with a presentation called “No More Excuses.” He laid out strategies for being accountable to yourself and to others, and for helping others do the same. “Be prepared for other people's excuses,” he said. Know what you can control in your sphere of influence, what you cannot control, and develop a plan that will help you “work around” the latter.

Attendees socialized, brainstormed, and celebrated one another's achievements.
SmugMug Attendees socialized, brainstormed, and celebrated one another's achievements.

Silverstein engaged the audience's input, at one point asking why some had done so well in the current market. “We planned for it,” said one remodeler. “We invested in people,” answered another. Silverstein urged attendees to set aside time to think and plan strategically, to identify “the right things for you,” and to “do the right things consistently” — daily, weekly, monthly.

Later in the first day's program, speaker John Miller delved deeper — and often humorously — into the topic of individual accountability, warning against relying too heavily on others. The No. 1 myth of accountability? “Too much emphasis on the team,” he said. “We hide behind the team.”

Miller calls his approach QBQ, for “the question behind the question.” (He has a best-selling book by that name, as well as a newer book called Flipping the Switch: Unleashing the Power of Personal Accountability.) In essence, the QBQ approach advocates problem-solving and conflict-resolution by asking questions such as, “What can I do today to improve my skills in this area?” and “How can I let go of things I cannot control?”

Miller was “outstanding,” said several attendees. Said one, “I found his presentation to be just what I needed to hear at this moment.”

THINKING AHEAD Speakers confronted pressing topical issues as well. John Abrams made a powerful call for greater social and environmental responsibility in a time of dwindling natural resources — a reality, he noted, that growing numbers of homeowners take into account when they're considering remodeling.

“Think of our work as the cathedral builders of the Middle Ages,” said Abrams, author of The Company We Keep and founder of South Mountain Co., a $7 million employee-owned design/build company in Martha's Vineyard, Mass. Just as those builders knew they would never see their work completed, “we need people who can think beyond their own lifetime,” in terms of creating sustainable companies and communities.

Other speakers included Jim Bearden, who used parenthood as a platform for modeling accountability; Bob Gray, who provided dazzling demonstrations of memory recall and whole-brain thinking; and three of the industry's most respected remodelers (all former Big50s) in an interactive panel discussion about inspiring accountability from employees and trade contractors. Our thanks to Halsey Platt, of Walter H.B. Platt Builders and Cabinetmakers; Mike Denker, of Hopkins and Porter Construction; and Jim Strite, of Strite Design and Remodel, for their generous contributions to the panel.

MARK YOUR CALENDAR The Remodeling Leadership Conference will return to the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City May 4 – 6, 2008. Stay tuned to REMODELING for details.