The AGC of Greater Milwaukee’s (AGC-GM) “Metro Protégé” program is enhancing diversity in the area’s construction industry by connecting up-and-coming minority contractors with executive mentors from large, established contractors.
The AGC-GM’s board of directors and CEO Mike Fabishak created the program to address the construction community’s need for more diversity. “It is simply the right thing to do,” says Kevin O’Toole, a vice president of Hunzinger Construction Co. and one of Metro Protégé’s volunteer mentors.
Fabishak has personally coordinated and managed the program over the past two years. He sits on the protégé selection committee, recruits mentors, matches protégés with mentors, and often attends the monthly meetings between protégés and mentors.
Fabishak says, “The Metro Protégé program is designed to help teach established minority contractors how to strengthen their business skills and compete effectively for any project their company can handle.”
He emphasizes that this is an opportunity for minority contractors to learn from the top executives of leading contractors, not a connection for getting work from the mentors. “Metro Protégé is set up strictly to provide expert guidance for motivated minority contractors who are willing to work at making their businesses better,” he says.
To qualify for the program, a contractor must have been in business for more than a year, have a business plan, to provide full financial disclosure, and pass a rigorous interview with evaluators.
Once in the program, the protégé is matched with mentors from two of the area’s leading contractors. The protégé and mentors sign a contract that outlines their mutual commitment to the process, defines when they will meet and tells how many months the relationship will last.
Typically, mentors and protégés meet for about two hours once a month to discuss selected aspects of the protégé’s business. The mentors ask questions, offer insights and advice, help set goals, and review the protégé’s progress.
Between meetings, the protégé completes assignments that help improve his or her business. In addition to the monthly meetings, mentors generally make themselves available to give advice by phone. Some even arrange for help from financial, marketing and other experts in their companies.
One of the program’s star protégés is Chris Martinez, owner of Dairyland Electric, which provides electrical, telecommunications and fiber optic wiring services to commercial, industrial, educational, and municipal customers.
When Martinez started Dairyland Electric in January 1998, he was a master electrician with 10 years of electrical and supervisory experience but no business-management training.
Although Dairyland was doing well, he knew his company could do even better. He just wasn’t sure how to make the improvements happen.
Says Martinez, “I was learning as I went. Like many small-business owners, I was spread thin by being involved in every facet of the business. Fortunately, I’ve had exceptional key employees to help me.”
When Martinez heard about the Metro Protégé program, he jumped at the opportunity to apply in January of 2006. “Where else could you find such personal access to the expertise of leading contractors?” he says.
During 18 months in the Metro Protégé program, Martinez met monthly with Hunzinger vice president Kevin O’Toole and Berghammer president Leif Nesheim, to discuss every aspect of his business. Near the end of the program, Staff Electric president Mike Lochmann provided insight into the special issues affecting electrical contractors.
Says Martinez, “The whole program was geared to helping me learn how to run the business better. The mentors generously shared their expertise. My part was putting in the work to make use of their advice.”
“For example,” he says, “I developed a rolling five-year business plan that is now my compass. Also, I now analyze my company’s operations with new insight, using the processes I learned. As I was learning those processes, the mentors and I determined that Dairyland needed to hire a full-time estimator in order to take a big step in growth. Once I made that commitment, it was exactly what the company needed. The things I learned in the program will help me be a better businessman forever.”
Said Mike Fabishak, “It is just wonderful to see the success Chris has had with this program. I’ll bet that someday he will be one of our mentors.”
AGC-GM is currently looking at prospective protégés for the 2008 program.