Brad Hinkson, of Hinkson Construction, in Bloomfield Mich., underwent a kidney transplant. He had a plan for his company during his absence and recovery, and his employees rose to the challenge.Photo: Fabrizio Costantini | WpN Two months before his 42nd birthday, Brad Hinkson's world changed.
Routine blood tests showed that he had some decreased kidney function and had likely developed kidney disease two decades earlier. The damage was severe enough that he would need a transplant.
Over the next eight years, Hinkson went from being a healthy father of five to a man struggling through each eight-hour day as owner of Hinkson Construction, in Bloomfield, Mich. "From a physical standpoint, it really started affecting me the last six months,"Hinkson says just five months after receiving a kidney donated by his daughter Caryn . "Where it really started to take a toll was on the psychological side. Being the leader of a company, everyone is looking to me — not only my employees but [also] my clients."
When company owners are dealing with illness, divorce, death, or family trauma, it can have serious consequences for a business.
There's the mental and physical distress that such events create: "There were so many days when I was an emotional wreck and lost to the world," admits Denny Conner, owner of Conner Remodeling & Design, in Seattle. Conner endured three years of legal battles before his divorce was settled. "You hit points where you just don't care," he says. "You're emotionally and physically exhausted."
Not only was he on an emotional roller coaster, there were also many missed workdays due to court appointments and meetings with attorneys. "It took up a huge amount of time," Conner recalls.
Although you can't always avoid a traumatic event, you can ensure that you and your company will emerge intact once the drama is done. This includes taking some simple steps — and making some tough choices. "Any change in a person's life is going to be stressful," says Dr. Nancy O'Reilly, a clinical psychologist, author, and the founder of Women Speak, an online resource for women.
At first, Paul Zuch's divorce four years ago had a minimal impact on his business. "I had a good team in place that stepped up and carried some of my load," says the president of Capital Improvements in Allen, Texas. However, a year later the pipeline of work came to a grinding halt. "I was naive and often commented to concerned friends and colleagues that though my personal life was a wreck, thank goodness [that] my business was healthy and doing well," Zuch says.
What he had failed to realize was that the pain from his divorce was spilling over into his business. "My ability to function in my primary role of sales and estimating in the company had been greatly altered by my poor attitude and lack of focus," says Zuch, who soon found his company in serious financial trouble. "I was forced to pull my head out of the sand and to seek advice if I was going to survive this crisis in my company."
Zuch turned to Remodelers Advantage, a consulting and education resource. "[They] helped me identify a course of action that was my only opportunity to save my sinking ship," Zuch says. That included advice on cash flow, managing employees, and handling relationships with suppliers.
Zuch went solo for about a year, then was able to begin building up a staff again. "A business is vulnerable in the midst of personal crisis," he says. "If a business owner takes his hands off the steering wheel or eyes off the chosen roadway, it won't be long until you're in the ditch, or worse, in a fatal collision."
One way to keep from veering off your chosen path is to have a plan of action before a crisis presents itself. Although you may not be able to prepare for a death, disease, or a divorce, there are steps you can take in your business today to ensure that your company survives, should you become distracted by a life-altering event.
First, you must learn to let others help. For many remodelers, letting go of even simple day-to-day tasks is difficult. O'Reilly suggests starting small. Try asking someone else to make your follow-up phone calls or to run errands. "Once you start to delegate, slowly it gets easier," she says. "Learn now how to do it. Don't wait until you have no other choice."
In the event that something does take you away from the business, you should have a plan in place for how the business will function in your absence. This should include everything from who will handle your daily duties to what happens to the company if you are unable to return.
Hinkson made sure that both his business and personal affairs were in order before he underwent the kidney transplant. He made arrangements with an architectural fi m he frequently works with to ensure that his company had plenty of work. He also had six months of the company's overhead in place and divided his responsibilities among his staff.