It took the stillbirth of one of his children 13 years ago to make Tom DiBenedetto slow down. “The priest was saying prayers, and my cell phone would not stop ringing,” he says. “I realized that my family has to come first. I knew what I needed to do but I never did it, and I didn’t necessarily know how to do it.”
Difficult as it was, DiBenedetto, owner of TDB Construction, in West Nyack, N.Y., created a new vision for his home life and restructured a business that had been “growing fast but not smart.”
Not every remodeling business owner faces such a dramatic and life-altering event. But, says Clay Nelson, veteran remodeler and president of Clay Nelson Life Balance, “I haven’t yet met a remodeler who’s in his 50s who didn’t say, ‘I missed my kids. I ruined my health. My marriage is struggling.’”
None of this is surprising. American life moves at a fast clip, and a recent Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index found that 57% of small-business owners work six days a week (20% work all seven days). Stress-related medical issues are high, and despite recent declines in the rate, nearly 50% of U.S. marriages end in divorce.
With the economy in flux, many remodelers are working harder to sell more jobs. They’re laying off employees and taking on more responsibilities. While finding a balance between work, family, and self — “work-life balance” — is being taken more seriously by employers and employees; in a down market, it may also be the first thing to take a hit.
It needn’t — and shouldn’t — be that way. What follows are profiles of two remodelers who recognize the importance of work-life balance: one who has found a happy medium and one who is still figuring out a way to manage.
“I worked just to survive,” says DiBenedetto who was 22 years old in 1990 when his parents passed away and he decided to start a business to support himself and his brother. “I was hiring subs and had three employees. The office was the front seat of my truck,” he says.
Eventually he got a commercial contract, which lasted two years, renovating a hospital. Then his first child was born. DiBenedetto worked 70 hours a week in what he calls “survival mentality.” “I wasn’t thinking [about] quality of life,” he says. “I figured things would work themselves out.” He took every job he could just to get his name out. “I was making great money, but it wasn’t worth it. I never got to school functions, never saw my son. I wouldn’t say the company was first, but it was in the forefront.”
His “aha” moment came in 1997 when his daughter Brianna died during his wife’s labor. “Her death was much harder for me than losing my parents,” DiBenedetto says. It made him open his eyes to what was important. “My wife and I spent hours discussing what we wanted to do: work closer to home, go to school functions, coach baseball games. We needed proper life insurance and better health insurance benefits. We realized that we weren’t going to be rich monetarily but in other ways.”
DiBenedetto decided to write a business plan. He put down goals and how he thought he could reach them. He also wrote down “the little goals in between that tell me I’m going in the right direction.” He says, “Was that first business plan the type you’d bring to a bank? No. But it was a business plan I could understand. It was what was important to me. I followed it and didn’t veer from it.”
DiBenedetto realized that he needed to hire and delegate. “You can never get someone to replace you, but you can get people who share the same values,” he says. “Everyone who works for me has had the epiphany about how important family is.”
DiBenedetto’s plan called for a 40-hour workweek and no weekend work. The first day of school is an official company holiday. He believes in helping co-workers accomplish personal goals. “If they’re personally happy, they’ll be happy in business. They’re not here for a job; they’re here to make a living at something they feel a part of.”