Last week we posted, “If it were easy everyone would do it”,  a quote that resonates with Mustangers because it is deeply rooted in the foundation of Mustang Engineering. Before they even opened the doors, the founders faced adversity. At the start of Mustang, hundreds of businesses vanished as Houston’s economy was getting hammered. Starting an engineering firm at the height of a downturned economy wasn’t going to be easy, but they knew they had to “just do it.”  The question was, could they do it?

Below is an excerpt from Mustang, The Story, Chapter 1: Could We Do It:

Major engineering houses like Earl&Wright, Bechtel and Fluor closed up shop in Houston as the major oil companies went through massive cuts in people and projects. That fall, some key hard workers were laid off at CBS, and no one felt any job security. At the same time, I did not feel I could go anywhere else as I might end up “last in…first out” if that company started going down. Felix must have sensed my trapped feeling when one morning he said “Bill, we should go start an engineering firm, all it takes is a pad and a pencil”. That was typical Felix…no sense making something bigger than it needed to be! After a moment’s thought, my response was “yes we should, but I would not do it without Paul, as he is an Engineer’s engineer”. Felix totally agreed and since he did electrical design on both Paul Redmon’s and my projects, said he would visit with Paul.

As Felix left, I thought a little about the magnitude of what we were contemplating. My mind wandered to my parents and what they had done. Mom had remarried in 1962 after moving three kids and a cat from Colorado to Ohio, when I was eight. By the mid ‘60s both mom and my step-dad had started their own businesses…sort of the American Dream. Dad pulled out of corporate America due to high blood pressure and started a construction company building small commercial buildings and custom homes in Cleveland, Ohio. Mom was fed up with the lack of opportunity for women in the workplace and started a yarn shop that became a three store chain. They invested in themselves, their robust work ethic, and retired at age forty-eight to follow other dreams. I had always felt that I would start a company someday, but not something as technical as an engineering firm. My first investment attempt was a real estate venture that had flopped due to the prolonged downturn in the Houston housing market. Perhaps this was the way to go…invest in a business where I knew most of the pieces, and then trust in my unfailing energy to fill in the gaps. I knew that I did not want to be 50 years old someday and wish I had tried.” 


Felix, Paul and Bill invested in a business where they knew most of the pieces and then created a partnership based on trust. 

To me, sales was not so much work, as it was fun trying to put all the pieces together in real time for a client…connecting the dots and solving complex problems. Similarly, counting the money was fun for Felix and project execution was fun for Paul. From my experiences, I felt that Felix and I could do ok and also felt that Paul and Felix could do ok starting a company, due to the skills and passions each of those combinations would possess. If all three of us would team up, I had much more confidence that we could turn some heads. Paul would be the key for me to get out of my comfort zone and help start an engineering business.(Mustang, The Story, Chapter 1)

“Once you’ve been through enough together, the attitude and commitment of all for one and one for all creates a potentially dominating force. You may not know what is coming, but you feel comfortable knowing that you can react and handle any combination of situations.”

 


The same principles Paul, Felix and Bill used can be applied to any business today.

  1. Just Do It!
  2. Invest in a business where you know most of the pieces
  3. Do what you love

 

DoWhatYouLove_BillHiggs_Mustang The Story

 

[…]

If It Were Easy, Everyone Would Be Doing It

We all have obstacles that threaten to hold us back from achieving our goals.

It’s scary to leave our comfort zone and try something new, to take risks, to go against the grain, to push the limit, to exceed expectations, to conquer our fears, or to “just do it”, but in order to get what we want, we have to take that leap of faith. We have to push through the difficult moments and remember, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it.

MustangTheStory_BillHiggs_QuoteWeek

At Mustang, we had our credo of “Just Do It” while everyone else would be talking about it. So, just do it. What’s holding you back from achieving your goals?

As one of the founders of Mustang Engineering, I wrote this book on behalf of myself and co-founders Paul Redmon and Felix Covington to show why and how we started the company. We view this book as a proposal to the world on how to treat people, take care of business and make heroes. As the history of Mustang unfolds, we show how our concept of being caretakers rather than owners facilitated the development of a strong culture that set the organization up to overachieve.

Through the book, you’ll see how we personally reacted to situations and what we perceived were the drivers for actions. You’ll discover failures as well as successes and see how these experiences shaped our decision-making and risk tolerance as we grew and transitioned through various phases of company growth. Key themes have to come through that are applicable to; startup businesses, project people (everything is a project in business), workers, leaders, managers and CEOs of any size business or organization.

Some Key Themes:

  • We took care of each other no matter what happened.
  • We put the Golden Rule into business practice. What a company does or makes is not as important as how it conducts business.
  • We learned better project management techniques and want to share them.
  • If you beat the drum long enough with a ”win-win” proposition, eventually people will dance to that drumbeat.
  • We learned how to build teams and a culture.
  • We grew slower than we could have in order to consistently deliver our value proposition.
  • We want people to start identifying with Mustang’s methods, such that while reading they feel that they can think and act like a Mustanger…and want to act on that thought!!

Take this journey with us and see how “CANNOTS” were turned into “COULDS” and finally into “CANS”. Come see how the same challenges you face in business were addressed by people with a just-do-it mentality. Move from the feeling that this team was just “lucky” to understanding how their unwavering focus on delivering their value proposition created much of their own luck and moved an industry. As you become absorbed into the heroic win-win environment created by Mustang, your world of possibility will expand in figuring out how to take care of PEOPLE.

Houston…an Industry under Stress

Misery index seemed an apt term for Houston in those days. After a tremendous oil boom in the seventies, when prices went from $3.00 to $30.00 per barrel, the oil patch and Houston in particular, fell on hard times starting in ’82, when oil plummeted to $15.00 per barrel over a short five year period. The misery index climbed as oil companies reduced staff by 35-40 percent and their vendors and contractors cut even deeper. As companies consolidated for survival, the brunt of this contraction was absorbed by individuals and their families.

There were home foreclosures on every street as families had to move to other cities for work. Even the “Luv Ya Blue” Oilers of the National Football League had fallen off the radar screen, as there appeared to be nothing to stop the downward spiral of companies, banks, and attitudes.

The catch phrase became “Stay alive ‘till ‘85”…a far cry from “Drive fast and freeze a Yankee!”…by using up the oilJ, which had been the motto just a few years earlier. But in 1985, companies cut another 20-35 percent and continued to consolidate. When you finished a project in an engineering firm, you were let go if you couldn’t find another project on which to bill your time. In some measure, this was “Turnabout is fair play” as engineers and drafters had jumped companies regularly in the boom times for small pay increases as low as 25 cents an hour.

Think about being an oil company project manager going through this boom and bust cycle. During the boom, the engineering company you hired had trouble keeping a team together as people changed companies. During the bust, the engineering firm you hired could not get a job to complete as people procrastinated for job security. At the same time, if your project doesn’t meet super aggressive cost and schedule criteria, you will lose your job in the oil company because the cuts and consolidations continue.

The environment was rank with injustices. Companies disappeared out from under good, hard-working people. People were let go in November and hired back at a reduced salary in January or February by the same company. Companies did this to avoid paying for holidays and downtime, and to reduce labor costs for a competitive edge. They did this because they felt it was a requirement for survival.

Oil companies also pushed vendors and contractors into survival mode by bidding unmercifully to obtain below cost proposals. They did this because they knew suppliers were hungry and the clients felt they had to bring in low cost solutions in order to keep their own jobs.

Companies and individuals were looking out for themselves in reaction to an oil price they could not control. Then, as now, even the largest U.S. Oil Companies were just marginal players compared to the resources and market clout of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the National Oil Companies (NOCs). So it seemed reasonable, in a world where it felt like you had no control or impact over the situation that you would take care of number one.

We’re not totally sure why Mustang was started; other than it sounded like a good idea at the time. Why do soldiers “take that hill” at serious risk to life and limb? They do not “take the hill” due to orders from above or because they want to. They take the hill because they do not want to let their buddy down…knowing their mutual courage will protect each other’s flanks.

Once you have been through enough together, the attitude and commitment of all for one and one for all creates a potentially dominating force. At this point, you may not know what is coming, but you are comfortable that you can react and handle any combination of situations.

We knew that we were out-of-the-box thinkers who had been able to effect positive change on projects. We felt   that this ability could change a company.

The original "business plan"

The original “business plan”

That’s all we were in the beginning in 1985. Three men were moving toward each other through discussions of values, beliefs, family, and work environment. And then, in the summer of ‘87, we were moving drafting tables, desks, chairs, etc., out of three engineering firms that were closing up shop. It was hot in those shut down buildings in three different parts of the city, and hot outside loading pickup trucks. 98 degrees in the shade and, with the humidity, what is called the “misery index” in Houston was pegged at 107!!

Mustang_MovingDay