Monthly Archives: October 2010

Ethics, Relationships, and Electrical Estimating – Part 1

It took a long time to research this article. If you Google “Ethics”, you get over 92 million results. If you further restrict your search to “Ethics and Construction”, you still get over 27 million results. There is a mountain of information and opinions, so much so that I started to feel naive. It seems my time working for large and small contractors in Southern California has been a sheltered existence.

One important point, I only had a contextual notion of the fact that ethics vary by geographical region. For example, what’s acceptable in Chicago may not be acceptable in Los Angeles. Also, ethics vary even more once you leave America. For instance, some parts of the world consider bribery to be a regular part of business, whereas it usually indicates a loss of integrity here in the United States.

An electrical estimator has to deal with a lot of people, including vendors, customers, general contractors, engineers, architects, other estimators and bosses. In this series of articles, we’ll cover some of the issues related to dealing with these people.

My first job in this industry was at a small wholesale house. After 7 years there, I was offered a job in purchasing for a very large electrical contractor. My boss at the wholesale house could not match the offer, so I took the job. On my last day at the wholesale house, my boss took me aside and offered some advice. He told me not to take anything. I did not know what this meant, but he would not say anything else. It did not take long for me to learn just what he was talking about. So began my journey into the ethics of this business.

Let’s start with vendors and the question, “Can you be bought?” If so, how much do you cost? I had to make some quick decisions when I started the new job, as I was in charge of purchases that ran as high as one million dollars per month. I decided that the only thing I would take from vendors was lunches, with the qualification that they could not buy me with a lunch. They were informed however, that I could be bought with great service and rock bottom prices. This approach worked very well, partially because I controlled so much money. If I held up an order to a wholesale house on Monday, they were on the phone Tuesday morning to fix whatever they were doing wrong.

This was actually done to the dismay of my boss, who preferred yelling at the vendors. I got the same lecture at least twice a month. Imagine a man with a British accent yelling “Steve, you’re not bloody hard enough on the wholesalers”. Let me qualify that to this day, I am still fond of the man and have great respect for him. He taught me a lot, and brought me from small contracting to large contracting without much scarring. I just disagreed with him. As I matured and learned a little more about psychology, I came to understand that his approach may be necessary for some people, whereas my method worked better with others.

So the question here is how do you deal with vendors? Is yelling at them the way to go? If you have financial leverage should you use it? Do you do what is in the best interest of the company or yourself? When is accepting a gift (bribe) ok? How large does a gift have to be before it is considered a bribe?

Please take some time to offer your opinions, and let us know what part of the country or world in which you do business.

In part two, I will talk about “Shopping”.