Why George Brazil is important to all of us

March 5, 2012
I owe an immense debt to the Frank Blau's, the George Brazil's, the Mike Diamond's, and, more recently for me anyway, the David Heimer's and Matt Michel's for what they have done and are doing for our industry. Love 'em, respect 'em, or hate 'em, the fact is without them most all of us still be nothing more than underpaid trades handymen with our families working for us as little more than indentured servants.

I’m a huge fan of the Service Round Table because of the high quality of contractors you meet there. Matt Michel and David Heimer have assembled a group of professional contractors who are either the best or working hard to be the best. Moreover, they all work hard to help each other be the best. Service Round Table is all about sharing.

One of these top-notch guys is Ed O’Connell. You’ll be hearing from Ed in his own words shortly. A short while back, Ed had a bad bicycle accident, and he reflected on the lessons he had learned from the giants in the industry during his recuperation. Ed’s business kept humming along without him while he was laid up because he had implemented the measures advocated by men like George Brazil, Frank Blau and Mike Diamond.

One of my mentors, the late, great Joe Schmitt, who was CONTRACTOR’s management columnist for many years, constantly preached that contractors didn’t charge enough money to take care of themselves, their families, their employees and to reinvest in their businesses. Joe introduced flat rate pricing that was, as I recall, invented by a service manager named Jim Kimmons. I still have the fading VHS tapes in my office from Joe Schmitt’s High Performance Contracting and Flat Rate Pricing Video Seminar. The seminar featured Kimmons and a well-known Southern California contractor, Maurice Maio.

If Kimmons was the Guglielmo Marconi of flat rate pricing, Frank Blau was Thomas Edison. Blau, Brazil and Diamond created service management systems that all contractors could follow and with which they could prosper. They formed Contractors 2000, which became today’s Nexstar Network. They showed contractors how to become businessmen instead of repairmen.

Ed O’Connell was in the hospital about the same time as George Brazil when George was recovering from hip surgery. Ed says that he hesitated to write what he had to say because he worried that he was milking sympathy due George. But he thought better of it. He realized after flying off his bike, that everything could change in an instant. If it does, what will happen to your business? What if you have an accident or get sick? What about the employees and their families that depend on you? What will your spouse do if you’re gone?

Reflecting on that, Ed wrote about what he’s learned from George Brazil and why George is still important. Here’s what Ed wrote:

At first I didn't really feel like writing this because it seemed self-serving, that I might even be fishing for sympathy, which is something I detest, and that the subject itself felt too much like I might be piggy-backing on the get-well energy George Brazil is deservedly receiving as he recovers in Arizona from what I understand was hip surgery. Then I figured I should get over myself because my little tale might just help one other person. 

As Frank Blau and others chimed in with some really nice sentiments about what we historically owe to people like George, I finally decided to tell my story because it is such a prime example of why these guys have been so important to all of us. In short, I sit here right now a grateful beneficiary of the business practices these far-seeing men showed us so that we've become a real industry, as opposed to one filled with capable technicians who are hapless, helpless, business-ignorant chumps.   

I recently had a simple but drastic accident on my mountain bike. I fell so hard on my side that I broke the ball off my right femur resulting in an emergency partial hip replacement. The good news is, even at the ripe old age of 68-and-a-1/2, my recovery looks sweet — weeks instead of months. I was out of the hospital in two days and the Doc said I might even be back on my bike at the end of six weeks. And, oh, yeah, here's a plug for helmets — I went down so fast and so hard I actually cracked the danged thing in two places. An argument could be made that it would have been easier to heal my head than my leg but I won't go there.  

Here's another plug — take care of yourselves, my friends. My recovery has been speedy because I'm in such good overall health, having lost 80 lbs. at the end of 2010 and ramping up my exercise because of reading a great book: “Younger Next Year.” (There's also a companion book for women: “Younger Next Year for Women.") Seems like all that advice from various business coaches over the years about first taking care of ourselves because it would pay huge dividends in our businesses was absolutely spot-on.

Since the pain has diminished I've had a lot of time to consider other lessons I've learned over the last 12 or so years, culminating in my close business and personal relationship with this Service Round Table — especially SNAP (Service Nation Alliance, Plumbing).  If I had not listened to some really great industry experts — even some we love to hate — I would be in a position of losing everything I've ever worked for because of this accident. 

I'll be blunt — I learned THE hard lesson that everything, and I mean every-single-thing in your life, can change in an instant.  One moment I'm finishing a great bike ride off the top of Marin County's iconic Mount Tamalpais and the next I'm under the knife at Kaiser with an initial prognosis of not being mobile for up to six months.  So here's my question for you: Are you ready if that instant should happen to you? 

Thank the fates it will only be six weeks for my recovery, but — and here's the really great, grateful lesson that has now been cemented in my mind — I can afford to be off my feet for that long; my company will run itself; my clients and employees will feel no loss; and all my bills will continue to be paid. Here's more bluntness — I ain't smart enough to have accomplished all this by myself. My fortunate circumstances are a direct result of my past associations with such outfits as this Service Round Table and the great business practices they've developed, honed, refined, and handed down to me. 

I owe an immense debt to the Frank Blau's, the George Brazil's, the Mike Diamond's, and, more recently for me anyway, the David Heimer's and Matt Michel's for what they have done and are doing for our industry. Love 'em, respect 'em, or hate 'em, the fact is without them most all of us still be nothing more than underpaid trades handymen with our families working for us as little more than indentured servants.

I’m pretty sure I'm preaching to the choir but there are still so many of us who, for whatever misguided reasons, refuse to get on board that I hope the harsh reality of my own example will reach just a few of you.

So, for those of you still sitting on the fence or who haven't yet taken stock of your business practices, do so now! Look to your futures now!  Align yourselves with success now! Or, in an instant, be prepared to lose it all. I'm successfully living through this worse case scenario — you know, the scenario that happens only to the other guy — and I'm feeling so grateful to those who have previously done so much for us, who have laid out a precise, manageable path for me to follow so I did not end up virtually bankrupt after a lifetime of effort, that I could cry.

So, are you ready? Are you on the fence about joining one of our Alliances? Do you really think "it" won't happen to you? Well, think it through, then think it through again! What will happen to your family, your home, your way of life?

With the right guidance, aligning yourself with those who can teach you how to be successful, and implementing those systems that can have your company run itself if you aren't there, then you can be in my enviable position — knowing at least that my economic health and, therefore, my family's, is okay. Maybe even better than just okay.

So, even though I'll probably never meet you, heal well, George. Thanks to you, and others like you, I've had a heck of a ride so far; and I'm looking forward to my own healing-up and maybe doing more for others.

Service Round Table member Ed O'Connell is the founder of O'Connell Plumbing Inc. (“Highly recommended by my mother”) in San Rafael, Calif. He can be reached at[email protected], www.oconnellplumbing.com.

I fully intend to run Ed’s words in the print edition of CONTRACTOR magazine as soon as I can. I thought, however, that his wisdom was too important and that it couldn’t wait. Thanks for sharing Ed.

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