Fall is almost here, which is great fishing season. Like construction, fishing can be challenging, but fun and rewarding as well. Here are some lessons I have learned from my career in surety bonds and my time spent on the water.
When I fished with my Dad, he would find a spot and depth where the fish were biting. He would keep his line at the exact same length, pull the fish up and drop the line back in the water. For me, this was too tedious and boring. I preferred to constantly cast and reel my line. Of course, my Dad always caught fish and I rarely did.
I see construction companies make this mistake all the time. They do incredibly well in a particular segment with great profits. However, they often run into problems when they venture into other types of projects and trades. Often, this is where we see contractors struggle and have bond claims because they fail to properly understand the risks associated with other work. Like great fishermen, great contractors find their sweet spot and stick with it.
I grew up going to the lake with my grandparents and fished with them on most of those mornings. I must have caught and unhooked hundreds, if not thousands of fish without incident. One day I pulled a bass into the boat and it started flopping around. As I reached down to grab it, it flipped and smashed the treble hook behind my fingernail. Never one to go to the doctor, my grandma pulled out some pliers and proceeded to pull on the hook for an hour before my grandpa had mercy and drove me to the hospital.
In construction, small mistakes can also be painful and costly. Estimating errors and mistakes are common, even for the best contractors. Small mistakes on a job can wipe out the profit from many good projects. The last decade was strong for construction and it is important for contractors not to get complacent with systems and people. Make sure you have the proper checks and balances in place with estimating, project management and supervision. You do not want to be “on the hook” for a costly mistake.
One of my favorite shows on TV is “Wicked Tuna” on National Geographic. There is something thrilling about watching people chase 500 pound fish across the Atlantic Ocean. However, these guys do not alway catch them. In fact, they often spend a great deal of money traveling to what they hope is a hot spot, only to come home without a fish.
This mistake is not unique to fishing. I frequently see contractors chase work in other geographies, hoping to catch a prize project. In reality, this often leads to failure also. Labor ,subcontractors, weather and competition all present a significant risk when traveling. Contractors that do this successfully usually spend time and research in the area for bidding or committing resources. They often hire experienced local supervision that is familiar with the area. Surety Bond companies heavily scrutinize traveling contractors because the failure rate is high. When a tuna boat makes this mistake it is discouraging and expensive. When a contractor makes this mistake, it may take them out of business.
I went deep sea fishing with a charter boat in the Gulf of Mexico. As we departed, the weather was sunny and beautiful. We ventured about 3 hours out to sea and ran into schools of large fish. It was a great day until a storm came and battered the boat. The small charter boat was little match for the large waves and pouring rain that far out. It was a scary experience.
It is difficult to predict when a storm may hit the construction industry. In the Great Recession of 2008, there were few contractors that were predicting the downturn would be as long or as severe as it was. Many contractors were not prepared to weather that storm and many went out of business. The pandemic in 2020 was challenging but many contractors received PPP loans and were able to continue working. We may not be as fortunate next time. It may be time for contractors to start stockpiling cash and resources as more economists are predicting a recession in the future. Weathering a storm is much easier when you are prepared.
I have learned a lot of great life lessons from fishing and contractors can too. Keep these lessons in mind for a successful Fall and finish to the year.