By David Tyson. Shortly after dissolving a partnership that did business as a subcontractor building and designing decks for home builders, I got a call from one of the home builder's superintendents asking me to build the decks on the new homes he was building. With an $1,800 loan from my father for tools, I headed to the muddy subdivisions of Charlotte, N.C., to begin my new enterprise.

In time I stopped working for builders and eventually got to the point where I could pick and choose the jobs I wanted and who I wanted to work for. I learned the remodeling business by doing it. I was selling, designing, and dealing with materials, labor, and collections. I learned bookkeeping and taxes by trial and error. I did the construction part during the day and met with clients, designed, estimated, or paid taxes and bills at night after family time. I didn't know any better, and I just keep on plugging away at making a living.

The big move

Today, my production manager, Tom, who once ran his own remodeling company, handles the day-to-day operations of the field management and dealing with clients and subs. Finding someone who handles the production like I did and can show clients that we really care about their projects -- and who also cares about our profitability -- is very difficult. Once I found a competent production manager, I could start to concentrate solely on the other side of the business.

But divorcing myself from the hands-on production has taken many years to accomplish. My new role is one I'm still getting used to. When I started out in the business, there was a great sense of accomplishment after a full days' work. I had built something that homeowners would enjoy for years to come. I took a lot of pride in the work my hands produced and I miss that part of the job. There are days I'd rather be in the field than behind the computer screen.

Today I spend my time meeting new clients, designing projects, estimating, and selling, with the usual visiting of all the jobsites during the week. I am a doer, a problem solver, and a customer satisfier; and now I can concentrate those efforts on new and existing clients while my crew handles the daily production.

I was always the person to go to when a problem arose in the field. Sometimes this took a site visit to find the resolution. Now, my production manager has instructed the lead carpenters not to bother me, but to call him instead. If Tom needs me, he knows how to reach me.

Trust in the team

If a good production team is in place, the owner should stay out of the way and let the staff run the job. My production manager and lead carpenters would just as soon keep me out of the field these days. They want to produce the work and they want me to produce the next job. This has freed up my time to concentrate on new clients and work on the business.

My biggest challenge is to keep the same high level of personal service, quality work, and complete customer satisfaction on a day-to-day basis without being on each job all day. For 20 years we have thrived on referral business because we always deliver more than expected, in both service and quality. I have always chosen the clients I know I can work for. Now, I have to make sure we all can work for that client.

--David Tyson, CR, is president of David Tyson Inc. in Charlotte, N.C.