In addition to being a great guy, my husband is a business owner. He and his dad have owned and operated our family business–Lancaster Asphalt Systems, Inc.–since 1984. It was around in different forms long before then (thanks to my amazing father-in-law), but after my husband graduated from college and was ready to work full time, it really took off. I’m not going to link to the Web site because it’s an embarrassment. It’s old and outdated. Although they generally don’t rely on internet traffic for work, they really do need to do something about that Web site. And I need to do something with the Facebook page that hasn’t been updated in about a year. LAS is not heavily reliant on the Web unlike most of the rest of the world.
What they do rely on, heavily, is old-fashioned hard work and word-of-mouth advertising. LAS is a small operation, homegrown, but they do get around the state and sometimes into neighboring states here on the East coast. In addition to my husband, my father-in-law, my brother-in-law, and my sister-in-law, who run the day-to-day operations, they employ about 25 workers, including my son and a nephew, who work when school is out for the year. Other nephews have worked there as well, and my daughters pitch in at the office, too. It is a true family affair. LAS is in the business of sealcoating and surfacing. They come up to bat after the asphalt work has been completed and they finish the job–things like coatings on large, commercial parking lots, color on tennis courts and tracks, and residential driveways. Other stuff, too, as needed. They also have a sweeping division, with several trucks that go out overnight, every night, and sweep shopping centers and the like.
And when I say they rely on hard work, I mean really hard work. Most of their jobs are scheduled for the summer, and when we have a heat wave like we’re having right now, the temperature out on those tracks and courts and parking lots and driveways is usually at least 20 degrees–sometimes more–higher than the actual temperature. It is hot, labor-intensive, draining, physical work involving long days and long weeks. And while my husband has tried over the years to reduce the number of actual job sites he actually works on physically, as with most business owners, when the job has to get done, the job has to get done.
Which brings me to the point of this post. What I’ve learned from my husband is this: When you’re in a position of authority, if you’re not willing to do anything and everything you ask your employees to do, then you have no credibility and instead of building trust and respect, you end up building resentment and cynicism. People being people, some of the latter is unavoidable, too, but you can reduce those negative emotions greatly by being a leader who is not afraid to roll up his or her sleeves and get dirty. My husband firmly believes that no task is beneath him. I think his philosophy can apply to any vocation, profession, or job.
I always remember this incident that happened years ago (and has been repeated in a variety of circumstances many times)–my husband was out on a job, in his dirty clothes, covered in filth, probably digging a hole for a net post or something, when the owner of the property approached the work area. Not having ever met my husband–only having talked to him on the phone–he had no way of knowing that he was talking to one of the owners of the business.
My husband says the guy talked to him like he was inferior–he had an attitude of superiority and assumed that this dirty laborer could not offer any useful information or answer any of his questions. He talked down to him. When my husband revealed that he was, in fact, an owner–the person who had made all the arrangements, looked at the specs, priced out the job, handled the details–the guy looked surprised and changed his tune completely. While still sweaty and dirty, my husband was now somebody completely different in the eyes of the property owner than he had been moments before. The perception that he was talking to a nobody was replaced with the reality that the nobody he was talking to was the somebody who he most needed to talk to, dirty clothes or not. Kind of proves the point that everybody is somebody. And what if he had not been talking to an owner? Is anyone entitled to condescend or make assumptions in any circumstance?
My son seems to be following in my husband’s footsteps, who followed in his father’s footsteps. I’m so proud of the way he’s stepped up and gotten dirty without complaining. I’m not sure yet whether he’ll decide to go into running the family business after college (my daughters are following their writers’ hearts in grad school in DC and abroad in France this fall), but I do know that he’s learning some important lessons about work ethic, leadership, and treating people fairly. And about not making judgments based on what someone does to make a living or how much education they have or don’t have. Or how dirty they get when they work.
When he does get to college (he’ll be a junior in high school this fall), and he has professors who will open up new worlds for him, he will never have a better teacher than the one who leads by example every day–the one he’s lucky enough to call Dad. And the one I’m lucky enough to call my husband.
I can never hope to come close to emulating his work ethic in that he seems to have an unlimited capacity for doing whatever it takes in whatever situation he finds himself. I run out of steam and just want to sit and stare into space sometimes. I hope, though, that I have learned to emulate his ability to see beyond titles and degrees and station in life and to assess a person on their ability to get the job done rather than on what job they do.
Just don’t expect me to roll up my sleeves and get out on one of those tennis courts. I would probably not make it for half a day. Not because the job is beneath me, but because I am a complete and total wimp. On these hot, suffocating summer days, I will be more than happy to stay cool in my cataloger’s chair. Comparatively speaking, I’d say the ability to work outside as the degrees rise on the thermometer, making the work day miserable, takes an effort that is beyond my comprehension and for which my advanced degree did not prepare me. I’m sure my husband would say that he would go crazy spending even one day in my cataloger’s chair. Mostly because he loves what he does. He would rather spend the day outside in the heat than inside at a desk, mostly.
Maybe we’ll switch jobs for a day? Maybe not. Oh, and the photo? Well, my husband’s not the one who’s watching. He’s the one who’s doing.