There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has created many hurdles for young professionals who want to meet and learn from Philadelphia’s construction leaders. GBCA created Coffee Chat to overcome that challenge. The series kicked off on October 1 with Eric Lintner, CEO of Dale Construction, with MRG Producer Ray Prince moderating. The first in his family to graduate from college, Eric shared his perspective on company culture, on family-owned businesses and on what young professionals can do to get ahead.
A long-time client of MRG, Dale Construction is known for a culture that welcomes creativity and new ideas.
How did you achieve where you are today?
I believe that everyone has a superpower, so first, it’s figuring out yours, and honing it. My superpower is that I have a real desire to relate, to be part of a team and see my team win. A CEO’s role is to create culture. Our teams create an atmosphere of honesty, respect and open communication and our greatest successes come by letting our people pursue their dreams for the company.
Second, you need to know what type of company you want to be in. If you look at the Karate Kid, there are two approaches: Cobra Kai—no mercy, and Miyagi Do—which is about balance and harmony. Some people are better suited to one culture, some to the other. Figure out which culture fits you best.
Last, I believe that the CEO isn’t the top of something, it’s a role, and it’s no more important than any other role in a company. If you think that you are any less important than anyone else where you work, you are doing yourself an injustice.
What do you like to see in emerging professionals?
You have to learn how to be a great follower before you can ever even think about being a leader. Let’s say you are putting something together and someone is over your shoulder, asking are you doing this, have you thought about that. You want to smack them, right? But one day you’ll be in that role and appreciate the value of experience. Embrace the fact that being a follower early in your career is one of the most important things you can do.
Leading a family business has plenty of challenges. How do you overcome them?
Whether the CEO is your dad, your uncle or another relative, you have to take the hierarchy out of your mind and think of yourself as their peer. If you keep that perspective, remember that this person has flaws and try and understand them, it will keep emotions from getting in the way.
Also, never think that they need to be something different for you. It’s your job to figure it out. They’ve already survived in their life. Once you get into that mindset and remove the emotion, you can see clearly the magic of a family business.
What about the stigma of the silver spoon?
There’s an inherent belief that if you move up in the family business, you didn’t get there on your own. If somebody wants to say that about you, pay no attention. Here’s why. If you take the person who criticized you and traded places with them, and they had the break that you have, would they take it? They sure would. By some twist of fate, you have an opportunity. Don’t let anybody take it away from you. Work hard; you owe it to your family to take that opportunity to move up the ladder.
What’s your one best piece of advice?
You already have all the tools you need to survive. Have the courage to be yourself. While you’re young, be as inquisitive as much as you can.
What would you tell your younger self about how to survive coming up in the industry?
Honesty and truth and vulnerability are key. Have the courage to say what you’re good at and what you’re not good at so the company can compensate for that.
You are in the position to drive the direction of the company. How do you decide what are fads and what are emerging trends?
Construction is one of the last industries to fully embrace technology, so we have a great opportunity right now to innovate. As to the question of how to identify where to steer the ship, that is an art; there is no straight line.
If I say, “go this way,” and I’m wrong, that could ruin our employees and their families. That’s a heavy burden. This region was kicking butt with multi-family, meds and eds—and COVID-19 changed everything.
I am obsessed with looking over the cliff. That motivates me to look around for every piece of information that will help us make decisions. Fear is a great motivator. You never know when the next COVID is coming.
Any books on leadership that you would recommend?
Read everything you can get your hands on. You never know what’s going to click for you. Two that hit home for me: Good to Great by James C. Collins and Traction by Gino Wickman.