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updated: 9/5/2017 2:32 PM

Coffee Break: John Habermeier, CEO of Synergy Builders

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Q: Describe your company.

A: Synergy Builders is a design/build remodeling firm in which we start with the client's dreams and work with them to become a reality. Often times clients don't know what they actually want -- they just know that they want something different. As professionals, we help them discover what specific changes will make their life more enjoyable while improving their functionality, aesthetics and quality of life. Synergy provides a turn key solution as a start to finish contractor beginning with the discovery phase, transitioning into careful planning and then finally to the delicate execution.

Q: Do you plan to hire additional staff or make any significant capital investments in your company in the next year?

A: Yes. We plan on relocating our main showroom to a more central location in the Chicago area targeting the Elk Grove/ O'Hare area to better service our clients. I am also starting a Remodeling Technician Training Program, which will include an apprentice program. In order to get this into action, we will need to find a classroom and work area for students to learn. This is a unique program considering the limited nationwide options for this type of education. About 25 years ago I went through a trades program myself, so this project is a dream very close to my heart.

Q: What will your company's main challenges be in the next year?

A: Staffing. For the last 10 years skilled labor has been dwindling. There has been a significant decline of interest with the younger generation in exploring the trades. With that, there's also been a decline in education options in schools, let alone any formal trades training programs at all. Although we have a great staff, we have known of this shortage for a long time.

Q: What's the hottest trend?

A: Although I could talk endlessly about design trends, in general higher quality products, materials and finishes are definitely trending. Many people are looking to stay in their homes longer which leads to wanting to enjoy the space they have now to the fullest. Ten years ago houses seemed to be disposable. Now more and more people are making their current home their forever home.

Q: If you had one tip to give to a rookie CEO, what would it be?

A: At a very early stage, as CEO you should define your exit strategy and/or long-term goals. Larger companies typically build more value, but it will take more time and investing. For a smaller company it takes less time, but you need to remember the value of the company is dependent on the owner.

Q: Do you have a business mantra?

A: Yes. Long term client relationships are more important than an individual project. Sometimes a project isn't the correct mutual fit, and if so we would rather turn down a project than take one on that isn't going to be a win/win for both of us. By doing this, we will retain that client even if their project goes a different direction.

Q: From a business outlook, whom do you look up to?

A: I look up to Elon Musk. He is similar in age, had a similar childhood, and similar sense of independence. Also, Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman, out of Ann Arbor Michigan. His quirky personality and mentality that everyone is equal is what I can relate to most. He can be seen at his restaurant waiting on and serving customers to gain a better understanding of how he can help the staff and learn more about the quality and what the customers experience is directly. This is the same mentality I use to effectively run Synergy.

Q: What is one interesting fact about you or your company that most people may not know?

A: Don't believe in a hierarchy. A CEO is not any more important than a laborer. Their jobs are different, but their importance is not. As CEO, I learn the same amount from the front line guys as I do from the management team.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

A: I spend my free time working with my dog Oden, training carpenters and apprentices, golfing and creating art. I'm also active in the industry on national level, so learning, growing, and sharing my knowledge is a big part of what I love to do with my time.

Q: Two people to follow on Twitter and why.

A: Habitat for Humanity and Remodelers Advantage. We partake in charity each year with Habitat for Humanity and know it's very important to be humbled and reminded of how we can bring forth what we do every day to help others. Being members of Remodelers Advantage, it's also important to stay informed and be on top of the latest tips and tricks, taking advice, setting goals and growing not only as a business but as an individual.

Q: What book is on your nightstand?

A: I have two. "Good to Great" by Jim Collins is my what I'm currently reading for business and "Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline for my entertainment.

Q: What keeps you up at night?

A: My dog barking at raccoons, LOL. Honestly, I'm past that point in my career. I fortunately passed that onto my managerial staff.

Q: If you were not doing this job, what do you think you would be doing?

A: Teaching construction and remodeling in both business and hands on skills.

Q: What was your first paying job?

A: Being an 8th generation of this industry, construction with my dad's crew was my first paying job.

Q: If you could put your company name on a sports venue, which one would you choose?

A: I would say the Medinah Country Club. I enjoy golf and have many people I know and care for who are members here.

Q: What is one funny thing that has happened to you in your career?

A: This -- the same author interviewing me exactly 15 years later. Kim wrote an article on my business partner Steve and I when we first launched Synergy back in 2002 that was published in the Daily Herald as a background of how and why we started the company. Now here wear are -15 years later.

-- Kim Mikus