Monica Ryan | Crain's Houston

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Monica Ryan

Background:  

Village Plumbing & Home Services was founded in Houston in 1946 by plumber Bob Wark and his wife Maurine. It has since grown into a home services conglomerate, providing plumbing, air conditioning, heating and appliance repair to residents across the city. The company is expected to hit $15 million in sales this year and employs 75 people. Wark’s daughter, Monica Ryan, a finance graduate from Texas A&M University, began working there in 1984 to fill in for someone while she looked for other opportunities. She never left – and became a master plumber, started managing the business in 1988 and bought it from her parents in 1993.

The Mistake:

I would not have worked as hard as I did and would have stolen ideas from others earlier than I did. There was no doubt I was working hard – 80 to 100 hours per week – but I wasn’t working smart. And I was young, in my 30s, and thought I had the best ideas. It was like dealing with a teenager. It’s hard to tell someone in their 20s or 30s that if you would just do this, you will be successful.

But six or seven years ago, I found I couldn’t grow the business past a certain point and it wasn’t enough to live on. After talking with a business coach, I finally made the decision that I had to find ways to grow it. So I visited with people who were bigger than me. They were in all different kinds of trades, including plumbing, electrical and air conditioning. At the time, I had three people, including myself and my dad, running the business. Even with three people, we didn’t have the time to watch everything that needed to be watched and couldn’t take all the phone calls. But I felt like I was saving money not having a lot of overhead.

Every single one of the six people I reached out to said you have to create an executive team. Take the money you’ve saved and hire an operations manager, and that person and you are going to handpick the managers to put in place. After that, I started recognizing things. When we went to budget, we had more people to give input. I was also shocked at how much time I had, how much money we could make and how much we could grow the business. We ended up doubling it in three years.

When you’re an entrepreneur, you want to look like you’re perfect.

The Lesson:

If I could go back to my 30s, I would have asked people to help me. I would have found mentors. There are so many successful people who want to pay it forward. But when you’re an entrepreneur, you want to look like you’re perfect. You think you know exactly what you need to do. It’s like your first child. It’s hard to ask for help, especially for entrepreneurial types who tend to have a hero-syndrome problem. People were overjoyed to help and gave advice for free.

I used to tell my staff to work at the business – not in the business. But when I got the team together, I realized that 80 percent of my time had been spent working in the business. That was an eye-opener.

So now when someone tries to drive me back into the business, I say we need a manager for that. There are things I need to get involved with, like capital investments in our infrastructure, budgeting and hiring/firing/disciplining. We now have four managers, who I meet with every week. At some point, we’re going to have to hire a general manager, but we’re still $5 million [in sales] away from that.

I wanted to stay the general manager probably for more emotional reasons. But the team below me is so cohesive and the reporting is so good that I can hand that job off and have the confidence that I won’t lose touch.

Follow Village Plumbing & Home Services on Twitter at @VPHouston.

Photo courtesy of Monica Ryan

Do you have a good story you'd like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email Nancy Ryan at nryan@crain.com

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