Q: Describe your company:
A: Serving greater Chicagoland since 1957, U.S. Waterproofing is a third generation, family-owned basement waterproofing and foundation repair company with over 350,000 dry basements to its name.
Owner, President & CEO U.S. Waterproofing 5650 Meadowbrook Rolling Meadows, IL 60008
Industry: Basement waterproofing/foundation repair
Number of employees: 180
Family information: Currently resides in Glencoe with his wife and two boys
Q: Do you plan to hire any additional staff or make any significant capital investments in your company in the next year?
A: We plan to hire 20 new people in 2019 (10 percent growth) and invest in additional trucks, new equipment and upgraded IT systems.
Q: What will your company's main challenges be in the next year?
A: We are due for a drought -- the last two in the area were in 2012 and 2005 -- and if that happens and it doesn't rain, it'll be tough to get business. Also, while it's obviously a good thing that unemployment is low, it means it could be challenging for us to find laborers. Lastly, rising insurance costs are an issue.
Q: What's the hottest trend in your industry?
A: Trying to be more holistic and fulfill more needs that homeowners have when it comes to foundation repairs and seepage. We offer more than just keeping your basement dry; there's backup sump pumps, concrete rising, crawl space encapsulation, window well upgrades, and structural foundation repair. The industry used to be known for basic waterproofing repairs -- foundation cracks and drain tile -- but we've expanded on that because most homeowners aren't aware of potential issues with their home and the importance of maintaining it.
Q: If you had one tip to give to a rookie CEO, what would it be?
A: I'll give you three:
• Join a peer-to-peer leadership or entrepreneurs group; you can find a lot of inspiration seeking knowledge from owners and executives, especially those outside your industry
• Be humble and don't be afraid to ask for help from your employees
• Hire for attitude and teach for skill
Q: Do you have a business mantra?
A: Employees come first (yes, even ahead of customers). If you don't take good care of your employees, they can't possibly take good care of your customers.
Q: From a business outlook, whom do you look up to?
A: My dad. He taught me how to treat employees and engender loyalty. He also has a great nose for sniffing out potential liabilities and risk. And Barry Schilling, who has been with us for over 30 years and was made a partner. He was the first nonfamily member to be made partner, something we are very proud of. I admire his relentless work ethic, endless knowledge of our business and industry, and refusal to take shortcuts.
Q: What is one interesting fact about you or your company that most people may not know?
A: U.S. Waterproofing was founded by my great uncle, Al Weiner, and the name came from his military service and pride he had toward our country.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
A: I played ice hockey until a couple of years ago, but now my participation in sports mostly involves my two little boys and their games. I enjoy spending time traveling with my family and hanging out with friends, most of whom I've known for more than 30 years.
Q: What book is on your nightstand?
A: I don't read many books anymore, as I've been there, done that with all the "How to ..." business books, which gave me a great foundation (no pun intended) to build off of. Now I'm more on my iPad searching for inspiration from best-in-class companies. For example, our online scheduling system was modeled after a home improvement company outside our industry.
Q: What keeps you up at night?
A: Nothing really, so I'll tell you what lets me sleep easy and sound: Great employees, a healthy and productive culture at our company and comfort in knowing that I treat our staff and customers fairly, ethically and with respect. If there's anything that I'm constantly mindful of, it's our reputation because it means everything in business, so I'm always keeping an eye on social media and online reviews.
Q: If you were not doing this job, what do you think you would be doing?
A: My passion in business is marketing -- I handle that for our company, we don't have a CMO or VP of Marketing -- so probably something in that area or in sales. I could see myself using what I learned about content marketing, which in simple terms is blogging to attract organic (unpaid) traffic and in turn develop leads, to start a company that helps organizations grow and thrive.
Q: What was your first paying job?
A: Working as a laborer for U.S. Waterproofing in high school. I dug holes, carried buckets, and was schooled in the business from the ground up (or down, if you want to look at it in foundation repair terms!). I also learned the value of a hard day's work at a young age.
Out of college I worked for CDW in sales and was pretty successful. That experience helped me more than I knew at the time.
Q: If you could put your company name on a sports venue, which one would you choose?
A: Wrigley Field but not for the reason you'd think, as my interest in marketing trumps my interest in the Cubs. Baseball coincides with our busy season, the fan demographics match up and with 81 games at almost 42,000 fans per game, you can't beat the reach.
Q: What is one funny thing that has happened to you in your career?
A: When I was a laborer in high school, I was exhausted from working construction all day and fell asleep on a co-worker's shoulder while driving back from a job site.
Q: Two people to follow on Twitter and why.
A: I'm not that active on Twitter but I'll give you two people whose words and work I respect and follow. One is legendary and iconic investor Warren Buffett, whose quote about "when it's raining gold, reach for a bucket, not a thimble" really resonated with me (and not just because of the rain part). The other is Matt Cutts, who was at Google for 15 years, many of which as the company's guru of search. Google Ads (formerly Google Adwords) is huge in our business and industry. We'll still buy traditional media -- can't miss our billboards, commercials and radio spots -- but digital advertising is not some small thing anymore.