The construction business is something of a tradition for the Stanek family. Stanek’s grandfather was a carpenter for Miller Davis Co. and his father built homes for living. His older brother, Tom, also works in construction management. When Stanek graduated from Michigan State University in 1996 with a degree in civil engineering, he had no idea his first job would eventually lead to him becoming the president of that same company 17 years later as former O-A-K President Bill Schoonveld passes the reins to the next generation of leadership.
How have you been preparing for your new role as the leader of O-A-K?
Well, on that first day I gave a company outlook for 2013 and laid out my philosophy and when the meeting was done, I said quite honestly, ‘I really don’t know what to do now.’ But in all seriousness, Bill (Schoonveld) was a great mentor for me from the first day I joined the company. We could always go get a cup of coffee or I knew I could always vent to him, but he was always there planting the seed and giving advice and insights. Ultimately, though, it comes down to what I’m comfortable with.
Can you describe your leadership style?
As I was coming up in the company, I was put in a number of different postions under different types of people so I got to see a whole spectrum of personalities and ways to be a good leader. Working on the job site, it was always collaborative, and I’ve carried that with me. My reservation that is always in the forefront of my mind is that I’m getting further and further away from the construction site, which I love, but like Bill has told me, you’ve got to be there to steer the ship. Still, it’s comforting to know if I want to, (I can) go out in the field. I can’t sit in an office all day.
Since you started in the construction business, what have been the biggest changes to how industry operates?
In today’s industry, if you’re not flexible and adaptable, you’re by the roadside. One big thing that has changed is the technology and what it’s done. Everything is instantaneous now in our industry and clients want results now, now, now. It used to be two or three days to turnaround anything, but clients are becoming more educated and the competition is out there. If you’re not paying attention to the client, they’re finding someone else. Expectations have risen quite a bit and if you can’t do something, someone else will.
I’d imagine the workplace dynamic has changed quite a bit, too.
When I started in the business, people would scream and yell at each other, and that’s the way people were motivated. Those days are long gone, and you have to find creative ways to inspire and motivating your people. Reducing the hierarchy and leveling the playing field so everyone feels like their voices are heard is something I’d like to work on.
One issue facing your industry is a lack of skilled trades workers. How do you hope to contribute to solving that issue?
Internally, in our industry, I think there is a re-emphasis on how we are going to get young people back into our industry. There is a big deficit out there, and I think it’s our role to help bring that back up. We have mentorship programs with the public schools in our community, and we have to let them know that this is a good industry to work in and you can enjoy life in it.
What is going to make 2013 a successful year for you and the company?
It’s going to be our people. When I sat down with them on the first day, I was nervous as hell, but we have a great group and I’m going to rely heavily on our people here because they’re good at what they do. As for our business direction and where we want to go, I can’t say everything we’re thinking, but there are some ideas in the hopper. I’m excited to get those going. We have some things on the table, and when we sit down to discuss them a year from now, I want to say this is what we wanted to do different and it worked.