Monday, March 12, 2012


Interview with Ken Nycum

By: Nathan Nycum

Ken Nycum is a former owner of a small construction company based out of Visalia, CA. He opened his business at the age of thirty three after quitting a job as a camp director for the YMCA at Sequoia Lake. He went on to run his business for more than twenty years until recently when he closed his business in order to become the director of the YMCA camp at Big Bear, CA.

Q: How did you get started with your business? Why did you choose this industry?  What was your educational background and work experience?
A: I started as a laborer for a stucco contractor named Rick when I was 23 and just worked for him for a couple of years. Soon after that I found a job as a camp director for the YMCA which was a much better fit for my education.
I have a B.A. in recreational science so I have no formal training in either the real estate or construction fields. The only aspect of my formal education that was helpful in running my business was an understanding of different organizational structures and process planning.
After being a camp director for a few years I had my first child and decided that my income would not support a family in the way I wanted. The housing market was also on the rise and I saw it as a natural fit. I began working for a contractor named Carl and eventually became his partner. From there I split off to open my own business.

Q: What was the most rewarding aspect of having your own business, least rewarding?  If you could go back would you choose this path again? 
A: By far the best thing about owning my own business was being able to make my own schedule. In the beginning I also really enjoyed seeing my work go through the process and come out as a finished product. My least favorite part was being responsible for everything but in particular all mistakes made by my employees.
If I could go back I would have chosen to stay out of the construction industry. The cyclical nature of the market creates a lot of opportunity but it is difficult to cope with the market when it becomes volatile. I would have stayed in the camp management field.

Q: What was a “typical” day like for you?
A: I would wake up early in the morning to meet with my crews and assign them to the job sites we would be working on for the day. Most days I would go out to the job sites and work hard all day. Occasionally there were days when I would be putting together bids for new jobs.

Q: What are some lifestyle considerations for this career?
A: The most noticeable lifestyle affects for owning a small business are the vacations I could and couldn’t take. It was very easy to have long weekends or take short periods off but extended vacations weren’t an option.

Q: What were the most important factors that drove your decisions about what other businesses to work with? I.e. vendors and suppliers.  What are the most important factors used when hiring new employees?
A: Price was the most important factor. In order to remain competitive in the bidding process I had to keep my costs down. Second most important was service. I had to be comfortable doing business with others. Thirdly was reliability. I had to be able to rely on getting my supplies and my payments from the companies I worked with. A job candidate had to be physically fit and motivated to work hard. They had to be able to keep up with an experienced crew and know when to ask questions to avoid making mistakes.

Q: What is the best educational preparation for a career in this filed?  Which classes and experiences would be most helpful to obtain while still in college?
A: My ability to do math, or lack of ability really held me back at the beginning. Math is in so many different aspects of the job from something as complicated as a bid to something as simple as knowing how many bags of cement to take for the day. Also a more formal training of the construction process is helpful to people in all fields of the real estate market.

Q: How high is the turnover?
A: Turnover was high at first when I was very new to the business. Eventually it slowed as my network into the labor force grew because I was able to find the employees that would work consistently.

Q: What is the future outlook for this career?  What are the areas of potential growth and decline?  How do you see jobs changing in the future?
A: The market has a cyclical nature and will continue to be for as long as anyone can foresee. I believe that the jobs in this industry will remain almost entirely unchanged into the future.

Q: Why did you choose to leave the industry when you did?
A: The cycle went to low this time around and the business was so slow that it was a natural and easy step out of the business. I am also getting older and no longer find the hard work as rewarding as when I began. I was presented with a new job as the director of a camp which I feel suits me much better at this stage of my life.

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