10 Business Building Lessons – From My Dad’s Legacy

My knowledge on property construction and management comes from my late father (Elimon Tagwireyi Mapuranga) who was a handyman, an architect and construction manager. My father had not been to university but he single handedly built most of the classrooms and dormitories at the school that his own children attended High School. Of his twenty four children, only one son (David) caught the vision of construction and vocational work and to this day, even with no formal education on construction, David built has his own house in South Africa. I am among the twenty three who became more inclined towards academics. However, as I observed my dad doing his work, even as he built all the houses in my rural homestead, I noticed in greater detail how property management is as important as its construction detail. The advice I received, directly and indirectly is valuable for both a home owner and even one who is renting another person’s property. The goal of property management is to ensure the asset you have keep appreciating in value.

1. Build you property with the future in mind – I have watched how the structures my dad put together over thirty years ago still stand strong to this day. He would tell me the amount of cement and other input that would go into the construction process without compromise. I have watched house that have developed major cracks or where walls have actually come down owing to shortcuts by builders. If you are building a temporary shelter then you are exempt from investing in building strong and lasting buildings. If you are going to have someone else build for you then ensure that all the material you provide is used on the building.

Lesson – Businesses are not built just to meet today’s need but with generations in mind. Pay attention to all the critical elements of business and not “cut corners”.

2. Build according to the plan – every meaningful structure or building has to have a plan. A builder who sets out to build from him/her head is not only dangerous to those who will occupy the building but he/she will always be frustrated by what he/she comes up with. A plan must make sense and it must certainly answer beyond doubt any questions the owner of the house has. Based on the purpose of the building, an architect is able to emphasize parts of the structure that define the purpose of the building. My dad had plans of each dormitory and classroom block. This is how he managed to make them identical. He made simplified diagrams that any builder could interpret. He would say “Son, I know I may not have attained the highest level of education but I appreciate the importance of having a plan. No plan, no building”.

Lesson – A business is as strong as the business plan. If it does not make sense on paper, it may not be worth pursuing.

3. The Finishing touches are as crucial as the super structure – It is quite sad that sometimes a lot of investment is put into the super structure, the main pillars, foundation etc such that when the building is complete, there is not enough energy to “touch up” the building and make it look good. Wrong choice of paint, wrong quality of flooring, a shoddy quality of plastering are all reasons why one building would outshine the other even with the design being identical. My dad always emphasized that whilst the start was important, it is the finish that bring a “wow” effect hence the importance of that detail.

Lesson – the things that look insignificant in business are as crucial as the overtly big things. The color scheme of your logo may seem insignificant but it affects a whole lot more than you think.

4. Property Management is about managing risks – Buildings require safeguards from vandalism (theft), flooding and fire. When the building is put together, the thoughts which should be processed and questions seeking answers are “what is the worst thing that could ever bring the building’s value down? What are the major threats to the building’s value?” I noticed with great interest how my dad always emphasized that every building carry a fire extinguisher, drainage around each building was meticulously put in place to reduce the risk of flooding, To reduce the risk of thefts, every window had burglar bars. The building was put in place with the knowledge that the contents were at risk from intruders right from the onset.

Lesson – Building a business also entails managing the risk of losing it. You should always look at the threats that seek to decimate life out of your business and build the relevant safeguards. It is risky to be in business but there are rewards if one can only step out and do.

5. The garden makes the property even more valuable – My dad always emphasized the fact that the buildings were supposed to leave enough space for proper gardening and landscaping where water features and other garden enhancements would be put. He didn’t use to do the landscaping himself but he has an appreciation of it. Whenever I now look at a building, I don’t stop on observing the walls and roof strength; I am now cognizant of the way the garden is looked after. When you have neighbors’ who throw trash in the garden and leaving grass to grow tall, this actually affects the value of your properties around. When all neighbors look after their gardens including the area that people can see from outside, value is added to the houses.

Lesson – The seemingly small things in business do matter. Your business is probably not known for the big things it does but for the small things you do not do well

6. The way to build the first model is very important to your expansion – Each building is different in the sense that you encounter different soils, different obstacles, different slopes etc. When you are building a series of buildings which are identical, you use lessons from your first building as you duplicate or propagate the buildings. You will know what to avoid. It will actually get better as you build more similar buildings. As the contractor, you have to develop a learning culture such that experiences from one site are recorded as learning points for future projects. All the successes and even failures should be recorded to make the history of building. You will be able to tell a “before” and “after” on the sites you have built.

Lesson – How you build your first business has a bearing on your branch network. Your first project therefore becomes pilot project showing you how identical each of the new branches will be to the prototype created.

7. Consider safety and waste management of each building – The reason shelter is created is for the safety of the occupants. With each brick being laid, the builder must be focusing on the safety of the workers and of the ones to occupy the house in the future. Each building must have a sewerage management system as well as water and other sanitation issues hence it addresses hygiene and health issues as well. Each building has ablution facilities and bathing facilities.

Lesson – You cannot ignore the Safety, Health and Environment issues of your business. In what way is your business taking care of it employees’ welfare in this regard as well as that of the beneficiaries (your customers).

8. Make the best building within the budget given – My dad would tell me of the fact that sometimes he would be asked to stretch himself in as far as making excellent buildings even under budgetary constraints and challenges. His approach was to find means and ways of achieving excellence while managing the capital employed by the school effectively. In some instances I remember him having to use a strategy of focusing on one building a time than spread himself too thinly. He would find it hard to run the construction of 4 similar projects at the same time but considered running them in succession.

Lesson – Your excellence in building your business must not be compromised by the capital at hand. Managing costs does not entail compromising on the crucial matters of the business. You can be excellent without over spending. A firm grip on finances is important. Build one branch at a time following the pattern and lessons from the main building.

9. Maintain the buildings as appreciating asset – One thing my dad would do is maintenance of each of the structures that were there. Sometimes it meant bringing a fresh look with another coat of paint. In other instances he would take out pipes that were rusty and put new ones, he would attend to leaking tapes, blocked sewer pipes just to mention a few. The goal was to ensure that each building he had made was always looking new, fresh and valuable. The gardeners would bring different kinds of new flowers to decorate the exterior part of the building. Inside each building all broken glass would be replaced and old doors would be removed and replaced with new ones. You could always feel the school had a fresh valuable look and feel making it exciting and a marvel for parents who sent their children to receive education from there.

Lesson – Your business image is important; you must always re-look at the things that need maintenance or total removal from your business to keep it looking valuable to investors and customers. Your fresh paint can be re-branding which is necessary from time to time to ensure that you appeal to the market as an appreciating, more focused business.

10. Building efficiency relies on the construction procedures and systems – Every process that my dad’s team was following was documented. From the proportions of cement to sand for the mortar to painting guidelines. He had a construction booklet, written in not so complicated steps but something that was easy for his team to follow. My dad’s literacy was up to “Standard 3” which was almost primary school level and yet he could create and document systems centered on construction and property care. His thinking was that it would be easier to induct a new builder if the systems were in place.

Lesson – A business is as strong as the systems and procedures it creates and relies on.

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