Humble, Hungry, and Smart in Texas
Wyatt Management – General Contractor
Commercial general contractor Wyatt Management, headquartered in the Woodlands, Texas, is focused on the restaurant and retail market. The company doubled its revenue in 2018 and continues to grow today. The company is now in the process of opening a third location to re-establish a northern presence to better meet the needs of customers in that region.
In the 1990s, company Founder and President Tim Wyatt was working in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He had worked for a few different businesses by then and, in every case, found the same thing: the only people who seemed to benefit from the work that those companies were accomplishing were the owners. Workers were promised bonuses that never came, and there was little to no work schedule flexibility.
In 1998, Tim was coaching his daughter’s soccer team. This occasionally conflicted with his work schedule, and he would come in early on those days to ensure that he could finish in time to make the games. He would arrive one hour early – at six o’clock in the morning – to leave the office at four rather than five. When this caused him trouble with his employer, it finally cemented in his mind an idea that had been building for a while. He realized that for a company to truly thrive, it must have a leadership team that respects and values its employees and their family needs.
Tim understood that a company’s workforce is the primary driver for its success and that empowering employees can enable growth. “I wanted to change things by making a different kind of company. There are three key things: price, speed, and quality. The saying in construction is that you can only have two of three. Our philosophy is that you’ve got to have all three, and the only way you can do that is to have good people. That’s the key ingredient of it all.” Tim left his job and built his company in 1998, and for the first ten years it flourished with a stable base of clients, many acquired from past relationships.
By 2008, the recession hit and Wyatt Management, like most construction companies at the time, was hit hard. Tim bankrolled payroll for six months by tapping his line of credit and personal savings, hoping to ride out the storm. Customers like McDonald’s promised work to come, but it never did. Tim was down to a skeleton crew, with only him and his office manager/bookkeeper in the office. He ended up moving to The Woodlands where he had the best shot at finding work.
“The competition was unbelievable,” Tim says. “I went to a pre-bid meeting for some Firestone remodels and there were literally more than a dozen contractors there vying for the business.” Upon meeting new wife, Jeannette, the two set on a mission to re-build the company through hard work and aggressive marketing efforts.
Today, Wyatt Management has twenty-eight employees at two locations. Its headquarters, which has since moved from Minneapolis to outside of Houston, Texas, employs nineteen people, and a second location in Dallas, employs nine.
Wyatt Management is built not only on the quality of its workmanship but on the principles of its leadership. Tim Wyatt refers to American billionaire investor Ray Dalio as the inspiration for the culture. “He’s one of the most successful investors in the world, and he built his company around what he calls an ‘idea meritocracy.’ Over the last ten years, we’ve been trying to build that type of culture here.”
This business management system enables the best ideas to drive the progress of the company. Under an idea meritocracy, employees feel free to share ideas, and thoughtful disagreement is encouraged, which means that bad ideas can be weeded out. By working to drive the best ideas to the top of the list, Wyatt Management is improving its processes and the value it provides.
Wyatt is committed to fostering a culture where every member of the team values these ideas. Leadership believes that there are three traits of an ideal team player: you have to be humble, hungry, and smart. It is a concept derived from Patrick M. Lencioni’s book, How to Recognize and Cultivate the Three Essential Virtues: A Leadership Fable, which Tim found perfectly exemplified the company culture Wyatt has been building over the past 10 years. When bringing new people onto the team, the company’s interview process is designed to identify these traits, and finding those people who match the culture has been central to the approach. Even current employees are assessed with an eye to these attributes.
“We talk about it in our team meetings, during coaching sessions, and performance reviews. It serves as a way for us to talk about which of these traits we need to work on and develop a plan of action to improve,” says Owner and Chief Marketing Officer Jeanette Wyatt.
The company has but found that employees with long-term experience often lack the hunger and initiative that younger employees bring to the table. “The younger guys, if you find the right ones, they’re more hungry and more willing to learn. We’re not opposed to hiring people with experience. I’m one of them. I’ve been around a long time. It gets back to being humble, hungry, and smart. Some of the people with thirty years have lost the hungry part,” says Tim.
“And sometimes the humble part,” Jeannette adds. Despite these difficulties, Wyatt Management is determined to building an exceptional team.
As the company grows, the leadership finds itself growing as well. In the past, Tim and Jeannette Wyatt found themselves holding onto employees who did not seem to be a good cultural fit, but now they have decided that it is better to identify a bad fit early and make a change. This method is better for the company, for the customers, and it is also better for the employee.
“Of all the things I don’t like to do, the worst is letting people go, but I find that when I do it, the person I let go is often relieved because they weren’t comfortable here. In most cases, you’re doing them a favor, especially if you don’t wait too long.” The quality of the Wyatt team is central to its success, and leadership is willing to make difficult decisions to ensure that quality.
A few years ago, the company decided to figure out what their employees were doing to make them so successful. Wyatt’s expert team of superintendents are really the face of the company. They are on the job sites, interacting with clients and subcontractors every day. They are the ones creating relationships and earning confidence from customers in the marketplace. The company leadership brought all of the superintendents into a meeting to hear some of their ideas and learn exactly what they had done to create successful projects.
The information learned from this meeting became what is now known as the ‘Wyatt Way.’ “We put more emphasis on our superintendents than most companies. We learned that the hard way too. At the end of the day, we need them more than they need us because they can make or break a job. We need the best, most motivated people out there, so we pay a little more to get them. We used to pay the market average, but we ended up with market-average superintendents.” The meeting that resulted in the Wyatt Way is a perfect example of how the company uses the principles of an idea meritocracy toward constant improvement.
Tim Wyatt refers to continual improvement as an infinite gain, and it is another principle that he has worked hard to build into the culture of the company. As to what differentiates his company from competing firms, he says that the only company that Wyatt competes against is itself. The company’s workers are always striving to improve on every job, to do better than they did the last time. That is central to the Wyatt way.
Wyatt works with a wide range of national clients, including Arby’s, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Dairy Queen, Jiffy Lube, Chipotle, and many more. These are some of the largest chains in the country, and they work with Wyatt because they have learned that they can trust it to deliver on time and within budget every time. These customers are a clear indicator of the quality of the service that Wyatt provides.
Recently, it landed a job working with a major California-based restaurant chain Mendocino Farms. “The fact that we were able to garner their attention, being that we’re a small company in a big market with a lot of other general contractors that are just as capable, we kind of have to think of that as an accomplishment,” says Jeannette. Wyatt has also lately begun work on a Landshark Restaurant in San Antonio, which is a sister company to Jimmy Buffet’s famous Margaritaville.
Going forward, Wyatt Management hopes to expand its service offering by self-performing concrete work. It has had success with this in the past and hopes to begin performing it as a regular service for customers and potentially for other general contracting companies operating in the region.
After more than twenty years in business, Tim and Jeanette Wyatt have built a company of which they can be proud. “Something really cool for us,” says Jeanette, “Tim and I visited three job sites today. Houston is large, but we can drive around and see our projects. We get friends and colleagues saying they saw our signs up. It’s really cool to see the fruits of your efforts.”