An Inside Look at Phoenix Construction

“A piece of advice is like a tool, and any wise old owl needs to explain how to use it before he hands it over.” — Kaleb Brewer (Head of Phoenix Construction)

I had just graduated from Texas A&M University, where I attained both my master’s and bachelor’s degrees in Finance and Economics, respectively. I entered the real world as a banker and shade tree developer, preparing to start my professional education in the positions I was assigned. But little did I know, my real education would be a doctorate from the School of Hard Knocks. And that hell is where our story begins.

It was the fall of 2008 and like many others, I found myself facing a business situation that seemed overwhelming. By the time spring rolled around, my real estate fund was in the toilet, my fortune was squandered, and my bed had been made with the IRS. For those of you who have had the fortune of not knowing, the IRS is quite the creditor. The year 2010 brought a glimmer of hope by securing a long overdue job with Merrill Lynch after 10 months of unemployment. But what followed was a very dark period in my life.

There was something about going to work every day knowing that you are going deeper into the hole that chips away at you. This became too much for me and eventually lead me to consider taking my own life. But that fall, I experienced something incredible. What felt like the tug of a divine force led me to a state of mind that opened my ears to a higher power. Maybe it was mere circumstance, or maybe my life had become so overwhelming that I was never listening. But nevertheless, I began looking to a higher power for help. That higher power delivered an answer, and that answer was in South Texas at Eagle Ford Shale, where I was to be a developer again. This was the most pivotal point in my life.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”-Winston Churchill

My situation didn’t get immediately better, but for the first time in my life, my purpose wasn’t guided solely by money. It was far bigger. For the first time, I was a participant in a much bigger plan instead of being enveloped by my own. To prove it, you have to open your eyes, ears, and minds. Yes, I’m talking about God, and yes, I’m saying that I believe. I’m not here to preach, but I am here to proclaim that a spiritual state of mind is what has led to my success. It’s vital to Phoenix Construction and it’s vital for the story of redemption.

You would think that if a higher power had led you to do something, all would be well, right? Well, it looks like the school of hard knocks wasn’t quite done with me yet. I still had another mile of fire to walk through. But after all, the Phoenix gets its beautiful coat of colors from the fires in which it plays.

“The hottest fires produce the most beautiful diamonds”- Jack Lankford (my Granddaddy)

2011 came and it was the most hellish and devastating year of my career. Losing 80 percent of our initial seed money I began to raise my fists to the sky and curse the one who had sent me. It was at that moment, the moment where I felt like trust was breached and all hope was gone, that I was asked to do one more thing. That one more thing was to start an industrial contracting company.

I, a banker, financier, turned shade tree developer, then full-time developer, who could fit all that he knows about construction in the capsule of an eyeball, am supposed to start a contracting company? How am I supposed to do that? Faith, that’s how. Faith in something bigger that ties together the universe, the cosmos, and all that are in it.

It was a fact that the quality of construction in South Texas was lacking, and it was an even more well-known fact that I was beyond broke. I didn’t see a snowball’s chance in hell. But then for the first time in eight months, I received a tiny bit of money. Just enough to get my personal account back in the black, and enough that I could fund an empire. Huh?! Do what?!? Yes, you heard me right. A little bit of faith and a tiny bit of seed money can apparently move mountains. But it’s the first step that counts. All it took was $10,000, an eyeball full of knowledge and a little faith in something bigger than yourself.

1. Why is emotional intelligence so important in business? Please explain some of the impacts it can have on a small business’s success.

It’s only important if you have the right emotional intelligence. And the right emotional intelligence can only be developed and created in a certain way. Let me explain. Ultimately, you first need to get in tune with yourself and what drives your emotions. This takes a tremendous amount of self-evaluation, recognition, and acceptance. In most cases, it also involves a higher power to reveal to you the things that make you tick and enable you to grow and evolve. The next step is to literally get out of your head and into the heads of others while being completely self-aware simultaneously. Having the emotional intelligence to be able to do this is critical because understanding your audience while keeping in mind the big picture is key to the long-term sustainability of your business. The desired response to your intuition is to get your audience to pop on your product with as little resistance as possible. But first, you must heighten impulse response while lowering their inhibitions.

“People will remember very little of what you say, but will certainly remember how you made them feel.”

This is perhaps one of the next most important things about having strong emotional intelligence. If you establish a need for your project that the customer recognizes, they will feel good about transacting business with you, and you will see that the barriers between you and them start to fall. Remember, people will remember very little of what you say, but will certainly remember how you made them feel. It is at this point where personal intuition is the most effective tool you have in deciding what actually resonates with your consumer, by targeting what they feel.

Finally, being able to recognize that we are all bound as one, by one force that pulls us together is a piece of emotional intelligence that you must never lose sight of. If you aren’t plugged into that force and don’t see yourself as part of the solution to a society that consumes goods and services, how can you figure out what it really needs or how to deliver it? The short answer is you can’t, or if you could, it would be very short-lived. Think about it, if your product is inherently bad for the consumer and is not delivered in an ethical manner you will have a hard time remaining in existence…drugs and the devil excluded.

2. What tips can you offer entrepreneurs for developing their own emotional intelligence? How about for fostering it in their employees?

The best piece of advice that I have ever received was simply, “do the next right thing.” Pretty simple, right? Not only do I live by it, it is our company motto. My perspective is that if you steer your decision-making by what you feel is right in the big scheme of things while staying consistent with what you believe, then eventually it will get you exactly where you need to go. It may not lead to the right decision 100 percent of the time. Shoot, it might not lead to the right decision 10 percent of the time, but it will give you a sense of peace with past decisions so that they don’t affect future ones.

The second best piece of advice I have is to never make money along your measuring stick. When you start making decisions for money’s sake, you will find yourself in a very destructive process of impulsive choices accompanied by a very irrational mindset. This will result in you rarely ever being happy due to the fact that you’re driven by money and a bevy of unanticipated consequences. As you become more emotionally charged by money, the more likely you are to fall down the rabbit hole throwing good money after the bad. There are far too many examples to list, but the most important could be how it limits us from seeing the big picture, the main idea that is driving us to own a business.

The third piece of advice that I can offer is to make a list of your biggest successes and failures, and what happened both directly before and after. What were your thoughts at the time? Were they based on relationships, money, sex? What was your primary focus? Career, money, family? What were you consumed with (this one should be obvious)? How was your relationship with your spouse? Did it get better or not? Why? Many of these factors pull us on a course, sometimes on a blissful journey and sometimes head-on with a train. Either way, you will probably find a pattern. You must learn from this pattern because history will repeat itself if YOU don’t break the trend.

Trying to translate all of this onto an employee can be hard, but it can be done. The first thing you must understand is that what people want most is to feel valued. For employees, this can be done through money, recognition, titles, extra time off or special considerations. No matter what it might take the form of, at the end of the day, an employee’s production will always be limited by and tied to their perceived value.

The next most important thing you have to do is a first for anybody in charge, which is to lead by example. If you check all of the boxes above and still have multiple employees suffering from the same condition then it may be more of a self-evaluation concern. In this case, a good start can be looking at yourself in the mirror and really taking the time to figure out who you are.

3. What is your best advice for making sure emotional intelligence translates into tangible business results?

Simple, just follow the steps in questions one and two while doing your very best to keep your business both ethical and meaningful. Remember, everyone deep down wants to feel both good and valued. With this in mind, use the past as your foundation and your beliefs as your compass. Have a destination in mind, be open to outside forces that guide your journey, don’t get overly concerned if you find yourself off of YOUR course, do the next right thing, and if you are on the wrong side of hell…keep walking.

Above all else, you need to be aware. Open your mind, eyes, ears, but most importantly your heart to the people and places around you. Get in touch with those gushy emotions and be open to the bigger picture, and your business may just be the next David.