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Although undergoing changes in your life or career can be a hardship, for Brian Winot, owner of Northeast Site Contractors in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, unplanned paths have helped him become a successful commercial site development contractor with more than 30 employees and satisfied repeat clients throughout the Poconos.
Winot believes one of the tenets of success is to truly give back, and to give back locally. Northeast Site Contractors donates 10 percent of profits each year to local charities and performs in-kind services for a range of organizations. Winot supports a number of causes that touch him personally. After losing a relative to cancer, he made a special effort to direct some of the company’s resources to the area cancer center. As an Ironman triathlete, Winot has also funded a scholarship for a local swimmer and sponsored races.
Although Northeast Site Contractors was officially formed in 2005, the company was years in the making. Winot started digging ditches for his father when he was 12 years old, and eventually went to work for a contractor. Construction was all he’d ever known. But even as he worked his way up in a large construction firm, he still had an entrepreneurial spirit. So, when friends approached him about going in on an investment opportunity, Winot decided to take a chance on the side venture, even though it had nothing to do with construction – an ice skating rink. Although not in line with his career, he hoped the investment would be a profitable side business.
The rink became less of a side venture and more of an immediate concern in 2001, when the manager the partners had hired to run the rink left. The abrupt announcement presented Winot with a difficult choice to make. He could quit his job and run the rink himself or face losing his entire investment. He left the large highway contracting firm where he was working as a regional supervisor and set to work managing the rink. But in 2004, Hurricane Ivan changed his plans yet again—by flooding the rink with 12 feet of water. Although friends and neighbors showed up immediately to pitch in, the damage was done. “It was a catastrophic loss,” Winot says. “There was nothing that could be done to save the rink.
Winot was free to return to his career, but he’d decided he wasn’t about to go back to work for another large contractor. Running the rink had given him a taste of being on his own and managing his business his way, and he’d lost the corporate mentality he once had. Winot had started as a laborer, working his way up to estimator and then regional supervisor, and felt he’d learned some important lessons over the years. “I slowly watched companies get too big—and too greedy,” he says. Thinking he had a better way, Winot wrote a business plan for an excavating company, and in 2005 launched Northeast Site Contractors with the assistance of his mentor and business partner, Craig Hendricks. He started small, digging footers for a Kohl’s and building a 5-acre pond for a friend. Winot knew he had an opportunity to make his mark in the area, as many of the busiest contractors were from out of state.
As a local company, the firm could have its pick of projects, and now works primarily in the Poconos. The company has completed challenging projects for the Pocono Medical Center, East Stroudsburg University and Dick’s Sporting Goods, which had the added demand of an accelerated schedule. “They’re a fast growing company,” says Tim Primrose with Primrose Landscaping. “It seems like they’ve gotten all the commercial work in the area.”
Since the company grew rapidly, their equipment needs grew rapidly, says Phil Coventry, Northeast’s vice president of operations. “We started with three pieces of equipment and quickly experienced growing pains.” The company has all Caterpillar excavators and dozers, and a variety of paving and compaction equipment, which their clients say is well maintained. “They’re in good shape and their equipment looks new,” says Paul Brandenburg, the project manager for the cancer center at Pocono Medical Center. “It’s not going to be embarrassing when those guys roll up on the hospital site.”
Winot has implemented a level of flexibility that allows his company to survive and thrive, but of course, he would be unable to operate in that manner without the talented people Northeast Site Contractors hires. He credits mentor Craig Hendricks – who now lives in London, England – for his philosophy towards how his employees get the job done. “He told me to hire good people and let them do their job,” Winot says. “He said, ‘You should be guiding them, not doing it for them.’”
Winot and Coventry have developed a “one voice” mentality. While Winot interacts with the employees every day, he allows Coventry to manage them, delivering continuity and building loyalty and trust. Coventry himself is possibly the best example of employee loyalty; following a heart attack in December that required four bypasses, he returned to work in just two weeks. “Our guys would go through a brick wall for him,” Winot says. Coventry, a self-professed reformed micromanager, has learned his own lessons since coming on board. Although he has an open-door policy, he allows his people to do their work unimpeded. “I now know that if I have to micromanage someone, it’s the wrong guy,” he says. “I don’t tell them what to do, and I’m not worried about them making a mistake. Our men make us better.”
Perhaps the attitude that sends the strongest message to employees that they are valued is that Winot simply refuses to give up on people. “Even a bad apple has its place,” he says. “If they’re a bad apple but they have the right attitude, we’ll find a place for them.” As a result, he often pays to send employees to classes, something he’ll also do if they express an interest in a particular skill. An avid hunter, Winot realized one of his workers was interested in taxidermy, and didn’t hesitate to pay for him to learn the skill. “We’re going to have a staff taxidermist,” he says with a smile. “Of course, by setting this kid up with this skill, I may lose him, but that’s okay if he’s doing what he wants to do.” One employee Winot knows he will lose soon is his father Keith, a long-time estimator and the person who instilled his drive and work ethic. “I know he’s just about ready to retire and will be very hard to replace. We don’t look forward to trying to fill that large hole, but we are beginning our search rather than wait.”
Even when he has no positions open and work slows, Winot doesn’t like to lay employees off for lack of work. During the worst of the winter, Northeast Site Contractors performs snow removal, and during slow times, the employees will keep busy cleaning and painting equipment. The company uses HCSS Construction Software for estimating and bidding, and one of the software’s features allows them to track equipment repairs, enabling them to schedule downtime to complete preventive maintenance.
“I like chaos, and a mix of jobs makes things more chaotic,” Winot says. He may like to mix things up in the field, but Winot is the first to acknowledge his company has a handle on customer service from start to finish, and he aggressively markets a project until he closes it out. He knows how his firm needs to be marketed and branded.
Winot also has an eye for growth; Winot plans to continue to expand and has his sights set on a 50-employee operation. In a post-recession area that has seen lesser contractors fail, he sees it as a do-able challenge. “I work better under pressure, and it’s amazing to watch that rub off on others,” he says. “All you need is the right attitude and trust.”