How to Scale a Construction Company That Endures | Episode 37

    

I welcome back to the show Scott Gable, CEO of CityLift Parking, a company that is revolutionizing the way buildings are built in the United States, particularly in urban, land constrained environments. CityLift Parking designs, installs, and services automated parking systems that reduce the footprint needed for parking and can typically be done at a lower cost per space than conventional parking.

In this episode we discuss Scott’s insights into scaling a construction business.

Highlights Include: 

  • Scott’s first business growing a 60 head flock of sheep.
  • The hard work and commitment involved in scaling a business.
  • Scott’s long-term goal: to be the dominant brand in the automated parking lift industry.
  • The link between scaling and having a clear purpose
  • Scott’s love of creating a company that will outlive him. 
  • The importance of vision, team, and common values 
  • How CityLift’s values are translated into everyday business
  • An “ego-free” decision making process 
  • Professionalism defined as a combination of competence and personal relationships
  • How Scott embraces the challenges of scaling, and maintains his motivation and energy 
  • Dealing with technically competent people who don’t fit the company culture
  • Essential elements of scaling: finding your why, building your team, establishing your processes
  • PPQ: Scott’s favorite restaurant in San Francisco on 19th and Irving. 

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Show Links: 

City Lift Parking
Scott Gable
A City Lift Project: Hive Parking Structure

Transcript

Eric [00:00:01] Welcome to Construction Genius. My name is Eric Anderson it’s a pleasure to have Scott Gable the CEO of City Lift back on the show with us today Scott. Welcome back. 

Scott [00:00:10] Thanks. Good to be here. 

Eric [00:00:11] You have quite a background working for folks like Wells Fargo you you went to Harvard you got your MBA there and you also attended Stanford and got an A.B. in international relations. But I’d like to take you back just a little bit further. Tell me about the first business that you ever scaled. 

Scott [00:00:30] Well I grew up on a sheep and cattle farm up in Oregon. Oh nice. We had livestock and I started out with my own flock of sheep and had to when I started out about age 13 at the time. And by the time I went to school for college I had 60 head. That’s awesome. And so that made me realize you realize I kind of liked growing things. 

Eric [00:00:53] That’s interesting that’s so interesting. So when you were 13 and you started out with two what were things that you began to learn as you started to grow the flock in terms of scaling something. 

Scott [00:01:04] Yeah I mean it’s it’s an everyday task. You have to work it every day in order to make it make make it. It’s a commitment to it takes time. There’s always tradeoffs and where you spend your time and your effort. But, If you’re focused on it and you like it and you get gratification from it it’s worth it. 

Eric [00:01:23] That’s awesome So fast forward. Fast forward to today. You’re the CEO of CityLift parking and you design manufacturer and install automated parking systems. What is your long term goal for the organization for the company.?

Scott [00:01:46] So our goal is to be the dominant brand in the automated parking lift industry. And in order to do that it means that we need to be a national company. We need to have a product that is respected and we have to stand behind that product. So we are focused on that journey right now. 

Eric [00:02:08] And as you focus on that obviously there’s a great deal of scaling involved. And it’s it’s far more complex than growing from 2 head of sheep to 60 head of sheep. Why do you think in your experience people struggle to scale their businesses? 

Scott [00:02:26] Yeah it’s hard it’s a hard thing to do. But I think that ultimately comes back to. You’ve got to know why you’re doing it. So there has to be a reason for you wanting to scale that. Right. Then you’ve got to look at and make sure that you’re really thinking about the resources that are around you in order to get there and have the ability to get there or not. And it’s not something that’s you know always sitting in front of you you’ve got to really put some thought into it before before you commit to that kind of an objective. 

Eric [00:02:56] So let me ask you Scott why is it that you want to grow CityLift? 

Scott [00:03:01] I love the challenge of creating something and in this case I’m looking to build something that I think will hopefully outlive me. Interesting. It’s a legacy thing at this point in time. 

Eric [00:03:13] OK so that idea of legacy. Can you tell me a little bit more about that when you when you think of legacy what do you mean by that. What comes into your mind. 

Scott [00:03:25] Well I really like the idea of creating something that’s got a higher purpose than just me. In other words I wanted to make sense not only to the marketplace but to the employees to the investors all the folks involved with it. And I think it’s incredibly gratifying. Looking back at other examples I’ve had in my career where you know I can look back and say there were a lot of people that grew developed through that time frame that they actually benefited as well by this. It was not just because of me but they in turn their lives were enriched because they were part of the experience at the same time. And that makes me feel like we’ve done something that’s more than just an individual’s journey. 

Eric [00:04:12] That’s interesting so the way you were you’re talking around that idea of legacy there it’s not not so much the actual product itself but it’s the experience of the people as there are growing that that business and creating something so to speak out of nothing. 

Scott [00:04:26] It’s also cool to look back and say look we did it. 

Eric [00:04:28] I know that you know a lot of construction folks say they just love driving down the road and pointing to a building and said and saying we built that. 

Scott [00:04:37] Yeah. 

Eric [00:04:37] as the CEO of CityLift What do you focus on to overcome some of those challenges of scaling that are inevitable when you’re looking to grow a business. 

Scott [00:04:52] So couple of things come to mind. The first is around the people and the values. OK. So you’ve really got to focus on making sure that not only do you have a team that’s really competent but they believe that the mission is the mission that they want to be on. Right. So that really starts your strikes to the point about the types of things that matter. And so for us we have core values as an organization. A lot of organizations have them right. But in order to to get there you’ve got to have that common vision with everybody and they’ve got to believe in what you’re trying to do to get there. So for us for example being a professional company standing behind our word integrity teamwork ability to manage to what matters in terms of the types of information the types of numbers the things that matter at the end of the day for the business all of those things are critical and having a team that believes those is critical to. But it’s more than just the team you also have to have the systems in place to make it happen in this day and age with technology, you have the ability to enable businesses to scale because the backbone can be built right and I learned this lesson my prior work particularly with Starwood Waypoint Residential Trust. We built a single family residential trust business from a few homes we bought back in early 2009 to over 17000 homes. When we took the company public and there was no way that could have happened without having the technology in order to manage all of these disparate parts and CityLift is no different. 

Eric [00:06:24] It’s interesting. So there’s three things I’m hearing. Number one is in order to scale a business you have to have a clear vision of why you’re doing it. You need to have a team in place that shares a common set of values and lives according to those values and executes the business on that basis. And then you also need the systems in place to make sure the scaling is happening in a way that’s not out of control and is rational and is something that you can grow over time. 

Scott [00:06:50] Right. 

Eric [00:06:51] So let me just go back to this idea of values because you clearly articulated some of those core values. Can you give me an example of a time where you specifically translated one of those values into a decision or into a process or a way that you run your business? Because you’re right because everyone has values right and people put them up on their Web site and then they kind of move on with the rest of their day. What is it that you do or you have done where you integrate those values into the way that you actually behave?

Scott [00:07:23] I think how we interact with our customers is probably the best way to show this because it’s ultimately a team effort for us in order to meet the demands that someone’s got. Right. So in order to do that you’ve got to have people that understand design understand engineering understand construction and are able to project manage those are all different skill sets. No one person has all of that together. So our ability to create the team and to collaborate with that where there’s no ego we’re all working towards that common goal is absolutely essential. We would not get to where we were if we had single points of failure all over the place and not having a team in place to support that. 

Eric [00:08:06] So you need people with different technical abilities and you just mentioned something there that I think is it is a challenge for lots of folks. How does someone do you think manifest ego in a negative way? 

Scott [00:08:25] Let me try to turn into the positive. which is that everybody around the table is trying to solve the problem. Okay so you have a common goal right. And everyone is trying to contribute to solving that issue right. If everyone’s got the right mindset on it they can have differences of opinion but they are discussed in the objective of finding the answer in terms of where we want to go with something. So the point is to not make anything personal. 

Eric [00:08:56] So I just pictured you as the CEO sitting around a table with a bunch of of your guys and gals and you’ve got a problem or an issue that you’re looking to solve. People have different opinions. They hold those opinions sincerely and strongly they have technical background so it’s not like they’re they don’t know what they’re talking about. How do you as the CEO help to navigate through those conflicts and bring the team to a a decision without the some of the deep challenges that people have when things get personal.

Scott [00:09:28] I don’t know if I always get it but I think the the best way to think about this is no different than anything else in life. Always think about what your alternatives are. So when you have a conviction for doing one thing it’s that’s passion and that’s exciting But you don’t always get what you want in life in any circumstance. So you’ve got to think about what is it that are the other alternatives that could still work and it’ll still get done. 

Eric [00:09:57] where did you learn that sort of alternatives perspective.

Scott [00:10:06] Having worked in a lot of teams over time and you after a while figure out what functionally works. I remember at Wells Fargo where I was there we had a very large organization and a difficult structure in which to make decisions and in our particular group it really took us sitting down and mapping out a process of laying out these alternatives and having a way to discuss those that once we did that then we were able to start overcoming some of the problems that we were having and not making decisions. 

Eric [00:10:36] One practical way for someone to to lay aside their ego is to be willing for that alternative discussion, it’s really difficult for lots of folks when they see something a particular way and they have strong conviction it’s often very difficult for them to see things from a different point of view. 

Scott [00:10:55] Yeah yeah and I did grow up in an environment where I was encouraged to always talk through things. So even when we make a decision as an organization there is always an option left out there that if we learn something new that we reserve the right to to modify what we’ve decided. 

Eric [00:11:20] As you’re growing and you’re scaling and you’re you’re coming across certain challenges and you’re interacting with your customers and sometimes perhaps some of those challenges affect your customers in ways that are not ideal you know you’re thinking man I wish I hadn’t gone exactly like that. 

[00:11:39] How do you interact with your customers when those challenges and those problems come up how do you as the CEO lead your people to overcome those and to deal with those customer service issues. 

Scott [00:11:49] So the customer has the same objective we have at the end of the day. They want it to be successful. Whether that’s in designing a project and getting it built or in servicing it. We want to make sure that the customer’s got we were there to make sure that they’re successful because we’re only going to be successful as they are. So for us the big thing is to make sure that you know we take that attitude into how we deal with people professionally and focus on getting the problem solved. 

Eric [00:12:18] I know plenty of construction people who are they’re very driven. They’re very a type. They’re very blunt they’re very straightforward. They’re not particularly diplomatic. what is professionalism mean to you. How do you express that practically?

Scott [00:12:45] It’s a combination of competence and personal relationships. So you’ve got to be able to know what you’re talking about and be able to explain why something is important but at the same time you have to do it in a way that you are working with someone as opposed to just a conflict, because the conflict usually while important to have that occasionally though those will come up you’re all trying to get to the same point. 

Eric [00:13:12] Excellent. So keeping that that endpoint in mind and that the customer and yourselves you’re always looking for the same end point and to solve the same problem. 

Scott [00:13:19] That’s right. So an example for us is in our service teams we hire people who are technically competent but we’ll also hire them with their ability and how they can communicate with customers. 

Eric [00:13:28] That’s excellent. So as the founder and the CEO of your organization and with this this vision of wanting to scale it to a nationwide company that’s a heavy lift. often it’s a lonely thing. Being the CEO of an organization what do you do to motivate yourself. 

Scott [00:13:48] Well I get excited about seeing things grow that are much bigger than me. I like the idea of that this organization will last long beyond my time. So I am excited about the fact that I can see people grow into develop. I can see the products that we’ve had some of the things we described earlier and you know so for for my view it’s not about me personally but it’s about the life. I guess if there’s a personal aspect to it’s the life I would like to live and you only go through this thing once you might as well make the most of it And I think most of it is not about just what I can contribute or what I can create but it’s about what we did And to be able to look back and say this was nothing. five years ago to see where we are today and to see what we’re going to be doing five years later from now right. In an industry that where we are solving a need that is clearly evident out there. And doing it in a way where people can feel good about hiring us knowing that we’re gonna be there for them that we’re going to stand behind the product and to be able to do this not just here but solve it around the country which we’re doing today. You know whether it’s in the Bay Area or in the Northeast or in all the places up the Pacific Northwest. Places around the country where we’re working right now. It’s just exciting to see that this is starting to come together and. Automated parking as an industry will come around. Might as well be us doing the work. 

Eric [00:15:19] What you’re doing requires a tremendous amount of energy tremendous amount of commitment. What do you do on a daily basis to make sure that you’re showing up with your A game consistently? 

Scott [00:15:38] I think it’s important to get at least some time to yourself. OK. We’ll have different ways of doing that huh. How do you do that for me. Yoga and meditation. I don’t believe it kind of sounds fruity. 

Eric [00:15:53] No not at all. No. 

Scott [00:15:54] It really resets my brain. 

Eric [00:15:56] That’s beautiful. 

Scott [00:15:57] And then the next day I’m at it again. 

Eric [00:15:59] Right on right on. So. there’s a physical mental practice that you have apart from the business that strengthens you and energizes you for the hurly burly of the daily operations. 

Scott [00:16:13] Yeah. And I don’t want to take anything away from the other parts of my life too. I mean of course having a family always helps. Yep. Little bit of perspective. It does. That’s awesome and gives you motivation. Yeah it does so. 

Scott [00:16:25] But nonetheless I think that you know I think it’s also somewhat maybe how people are wired but you know I love the challenge. I love being able to come in every day there’s a new set of problems and you know we figured them out yesterday we’re gonna figure them out today. 

Eric [00:16:41] Let me ask you another question here because this is something that I run across a lot in talking with with folks who lead companies let’s say you have someone who’s technically competent and you know that they can do the job but perhaps they’re not quite aligned with you in terms of their values. What experienced you have navigating that and resolving some of those challenges. 

Scott [00:17:08] That’s a difficult one and I’ll say it’s a weakness of mine too. I tend to identify even though I find that I have occasionally people that will come across with the organization because they’re particularly good at something I’m naturally inclined to give them a second chance. Right. I will talk with them and in some cases they can see it in some cases they can’t. But if at the end of this process if for some reason we’re still not reaching that value then they’re no longer part of the organization. It doesn’t make sense for them. They’re going to stay they’re going to be unhappy. And that energy will be will permeate the rest the organization. So it’s important that you deal with that. And you know I’m still learning Yeah I wouldn’t say I’ve got it right after all this time and still not got it right. 

Eric [00:17:54] It’s interesting isn’t it. It’s so hard when when someone you can see someone who is clearly talented and has the potential to make a great contribution and yet in your heart or in your gut you’re thinking man they’re not they’re not quite a fit. That’s a challenge. 

Scott [00:18:07] And I see it a lot. I think that you can read a lot of management books right now that are probably more competent than me that I’ve written these things and I’m sure they believe on that I aspire to to do that. At the same time these are human beings and you have to think about that too. 

Eric [00:18:21] as someone who’s looking to grow their business obviously scaling a business is extremely difficult. You have big plans and an ambition for your organization. What practical advice would you give to someone who owns a construction company and they are looking to really grow it. 

Scott [00:19:00] Number one understand why you’re going to do it. Why do you want to do it. Hmm. Is there a reason then that’s a genuine internal reflection. You’ve got to figure out why you want to do it. Once you’re there then finding the team developing that team around that vision and understanding what has to be that foundation underneath that particular from a technology standpoint right to make that work. So if you have those three things I think that they’re in that order of priority really but all necessary. 

Eric [00:19:35] Right. OK. So they work together. They’re all necessary but they are in that order of priority finding your why. Finding the team and then building the systems so that you can get that scaling going. Excellent excellent. You’re based out of the Bay Area right. 

Scott [00:19:49] Yeah. We’re in Oakland. 

Eric [00:19:50] OK so I have one question that I like to ask all of my guests and so maybe a little a blindside here but we’ll see how you do. What is your favorite restaurant in the Bay Area. 

Scott [00:20:05] I got a little Vietnamese place it’s about a mile away that I can walk into wearing shorts on a Saturday night. Right on it and there just fine it’s PPQ on 19th and Irving in San Francisco. 

Eric [00:20:19] All right. Nineteenth in in San Francisco Scott. I really appreciate your time on that on the show today and I thank you for joining me here today. 

Scott [00:20:25] Thanks. 

Eric [00:20:26] Thank you. 

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How to Win the Battle Against Silos | Ep 19

Pat, Glad you enjoyed it. I appreciate the feedback. I'll have some more episodes in the same vein, coming soon. Eric

How to Win the Battle Against Silos | Ep 19

Eric, really enjoyed this podcast. Extreme Leadership is one of my favorite business books. Nice to see that you are incorporating some of their leadership strategies into your podcasts.

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