Ep#8 The Construction Life – A Journey from Military to Construction

It is never too late nor too early to redefine your career or change your path. Will Gonell, special guest of Episode #8 of The Construction Life has defied the odds and had a most unexpected career transition. He started as military personnel for U.S. Army, then he served in the NYPD, and then finally he found his happy place in construction.

Will narrates his story of how he left his job and city for a long-distance relationship. He came to Toronto for the love of his life. When he arrived, around ten years back, he went into a program where he used to help troubled youth and send them into various trade programs. Will explains how these youngsters who came back and shared their stories inspired him and he wanted to do something on his own and wanted to learn a skill. When he was a kid, he was inspired by his uncles who did carpentry work, how they made something out of nothing! He also thinks that shifting to Canada made him the contractor he is today. If he would have stayed in New York, he’d be a career cop today!

The military prepared him mentally, he knows how to do things fast, how to lead his team, but Will believes that his upbringing and his interest in this profession are the key reasons for his success!

Handle the Rejection

Will tells how for three weeks he woke up early and walked Jobsite to Jobsite to learn something. He went to every residential project he saw. He had enough rejection to demotivate him, but he was determined to learn and in the third week he found a contractor who agreed to help him out. He made him do the grunt work, but he kept learning. Later, that builder realized Will’s value and told Will, how he lost a lot of money when Will was on leave for personal reasons.

Beauty of Construction

Will says the beauty of construction is how every person has a diverse background. Every contractor has a different background that shapes how they work and how they lead, this makes the construction industry vibrant and colorful. Will also wants the construction industry to be diverse in terms of employment. He quoted an example of a contractor who worked with females and gay employees. He wants companies to show acceptance for diversity and hire based on only talent without any bias.

Be a Contractor who Cares!

Become a contractor who cares. Will takes up 2 to 3 houses at a time because he wants to devote his time and energy completely to the projects he is working on. He also tells how passionate he is about the client’s work, and he wants to do everything right as compared to his own house that is in process at the time of this episode. Making his own home gave him insight into husband-wife dynamics in the renovation, as he was a spectator before, now he is in the driving seat. It has helped him put himself in the client’s shoes.

Trial & Error

Will also told TCL how his wife was the biggest supporter of his decision. He wanted to do everything right. He wanted to do everything by the book, he wanted to get certificates, and so on. But with time he realized that you cannot learn construction from a school. Instead, you should know how to organize and lead a team with different skill sets and get your work done. You should learn from the mistakes other contractors make. Even the most experienced contractors make mistakes, you must do it by trial and error, learn from others, and your own mistakes. You might get a few hits, but it will be worth it.

Dedication is the Key!

Will’s Dedication got him his first luxury home project. He worked with a builder, who was impressed with how dedicated Will was to his work. Despite Will’s resistance to taking on this project, he insisted and convinced Will to take up the project of building the developer’s personal home. The house was over 18,000 feet, but it built his portfolio and paved his way as a luxury home developer. He also got another project when he was doing an addition over a garage, a lady came to him with 6000 sq ft house drawings. People notice when you work with dedication.

Five F’s

Will explains the Five Fs of success in construction which are as follows.

  1. Fit – Fitting in with what the company entails
  2. Fortune- Financially viable
  3. Fame – Publicity/Social Media
  4. Future – Do something that’s never been done before
  5. Fun – Have fun in what you do!

Takeaways from the episode

Will started from scratch and is now successful in every way. Here are some of the most valuable secrets of his success that he shared in this podcast.

  • You Have to Fight for everything. No one gets served with success and fame, you have to fight for it.
  • Networking is the key. You have to do networking to become successful in this field. Will tells how he used to write letters to every other architect, designer, contractor to build networks.
  • Try to make your clients your friends. This will make them and you comfortable working and discussing the ongoing project. You get more clients from the positive word of mouth your clients will spread for you. And ultimately, more people will connect with you through your clients.
  • Will gives advice to the youngsters that they should become a shadow of a professional and observe what they do all day.
  • Weight every option and don’t coerce your opinions on the clients. Educate them, and let them decide! Will explains how he researched ICF’s and the benefits of it and convinced clients to use it. Pitch in options for the client’s benefit, not for money.
  • Become restless, meet a lot of people, and do a lot of research.
  • Keep your composure and stay committed to what you do.
  • Don’t do it for money, do it for your passion! Get into instruction because you love to do this work.
  • Make a team you will be proud of, build long-term relationships with them. You will get comfortable with them and they will know your working style.
  • You cannot do everything, hire people, and delegate work. You need to be a good leader to be a good constructor. Your crew is the reflection of you.
  • This industry demands time. Initially, you will have to give sweat and blood to your work. You won’t have time for yourself, but you have to work hard to make your place.
  • Your pride will get tested. After making a house of 18000 sq ft., Will got a contract of making a tiny bathroom, but he remained persistent and got bigger projects in the future.
  • Youngsters shouldn’t fall into a trap of “I know how to build a house.” There are no defined steps. You have to do every project differently and dedicatedly.

Don’t forget to listen to the episode to find out more about Will Gonell, his personal life, and his professional journey!