|SilverLining Interiors CEO Joshua Wiener has built the company from a one-man painting operation to one of the largest remodeling firms in New York City.
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"The Corner Office" is a look at the top executives at large remodeling firms. In each of the next three months, we'll profile these industry leaders and examine their unique business issues.
If you can make it there, you can make it ... well, you know.
The Manhattan remodeling market is not one to be entered into lightly. Congested streets, demanding clients and tough regulations keeps a lot of remodeling firms out of the city.
"Manhattan's a very complicated place to work," says Joshua Wiener, chief executive officer of SilverLining Interiors. "There's not a lot of us who can do this kind of work."
The pressure gets even greater when you focus on the high-end of the remodeling spectrum. And with a client list that reads like a who's who of politics, media and entertainment, SilverLining is involved in projects with little room for error.
"These are people who expect a lot," Wiener says. "They tell us, 'We want the Rolls-Royce or Mercedes-Benz,' but those things are built in factories, so our challenge is to explain to them that we're building everything for the first time, but that we're still striving for quality."
From his beginnings as a painter, that focus on quality has been Wiener's calling card. He worked his way through college by painting apartments in New York. After graduating from Vassar with degrees in psychology and drama, he decided to start his own painting firm, incorporating SilverLining in April 1987.
"Since the beginning, I've been a high-end finisher," Wiener says. "I'm a perfectionist myself, so I always wanted to do the very best work."
That desire for perfection led Wiener to focus SilverLining on the high end of the market; it costs a lot of money to pay attention to every detail, and not everyone is willing to pay for quality work.
"These are the people who are used to having the best," he says. "I felt they were the clients who would appreciate the type of work we do."
By 1990, the company had grown to 17 painters and was becoming well-known for its high-quality painting work. Clients were approaching the company looking for other types of projects. Wiener recognized the opportunity and expanded SilverLining into remodeling.
"Because of our reputation as a painting firm the remodeling jobs came pretty quickly," Wiener says.
In 1991, Wiener hired his first project manager, allowing him to focus on selling more remodeling work. He had already left field work behind in 1988. The company landed its first $1 million project in 1993.
"Once you've broken that barrier, a lot of those types of jobs keep coming," Wiener says.
Fourteen years later, SilverLining now has 11 project managers with 20 projects going at one time. As the company has grown, quality control has been crucial to SilverLining's continued success.
One of the ways the company maintains quality is with a large management team. Each project manager is responsible for overseeing about two projects at a time. Besides the project manager, each project has a full-time site supervisor and, below the super, a lead carpenter.
Wiener also promoted one of his site supervisors to general supervisor for all of the projects. That job oversees quality control at all ongoing projects.
"We dealt with it by taking the guy in the field I most respected and put him in charge of quality," Wiener says.
Maintaining quality was also one of the reasons Wiener kept his in-house painting division and plasterers, so SilverLining wouldn't have to rely on subcontractors for those important trades.
"By doing our own finishing on all the projects, it allows us to fix whatever wasn't done well," he says.
With more than 120 employees, it's not surprising that personnel issues are one of Wiener's major challenges as a CEO.
"When I first started out, I didn't have any strategies for dealing with paying employees," he says. "I'd just walk out on a job site and give someone a raise."
Now, employees are evaluated by their managers using a formal rating system, and there are wage guidelines in place. With a company as large as SilverLining, it's the only way to make decisions fairly, Wiener says.
Besides implementing systems, Wiener relies on his management team to keep the company running smoothly. As he's moved away from day-to-day management, Wiener has created an executive committee, made up of his CFO and four of his project managers, that he meets with on a regular basis.
"Separating myself and implementing that layer of middle management has been a challenge," he says. "I had to accept a certain risk factor in taking on these people, but we need high-priced people in order to grow."
Wiener says he would like to see his role evolve in the company to the point where he's just running a management team, which manages the individual project managers and site supers.
"I'm still spending a little too much time putting out fires," he says. "I need to make sure I'm always doing CEO stuff, even if I'd rather not sometimes. I've got to make sure I do the stuff that's most valuable for the firm, not what I feel most comfortable doing."
How SilverLining CEO Joshua Wiener spends his average week.
Management meetings: He spends about 15 hours a week in meetings in the office with his CFO, his executive committee and the managers of his cabinet and painting divisions.
On-site project meetings: Wiener spends about 15 hours a week at project-specific site meetings with project managers, site supervisors and other staff.
Putting out fires: The time commitment that Wiener would most like to reduce is the 10 hours a week he spends dealing with problems, including meeting with trade contractors, local officials and co-op boards and current clients.
Sales: Wiener also spends about 6 to 8 hours meeting with potential clients.
Even though his clients include famous personalities like Matt Lauer and Bette Midler, keeping them happy is really no different than handling any other client, Wiener says.
"I wish there was some great secret to getting those clients, but it's really pretty straightforward," he says. "If you consistently deliver high-quality work, clients will continue to be attracted to you."
When SilverLining was getting started in remodeling in the early '90s, Wiener was surprised to find most remodelers providing terrible service. Simply returning phone calls and showing up for scheduled appointments put SilverLining a step above much of the competition.
"The service bar was pretty low," he says. "We just did what we said we were going to do and did it as best as we could."
SilverLining has also shown it can handle the difficult projects that many of its clients are looking to undertake. Most of the company's work is in multi-tenant buildings built in the 1920s or earlier and often involve total rebuilds, including new mechanicals and walls. It's not unusual for SilverLining's project to involve new structural steel, concrete pours and masonry work.
At the same time, many of SilverLining's clients want incredibly tight time frames to get their project done. Combine that with restricted access to the buildings due to co-op rules and managing the projects takes a delicate balancing act. Typically, SilverLining can only work from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in most buildings, and access to upper floors is only available through cramped elevators
Throw in incredible amounts of paperwork for everyone from city officials to preservation groups down to co-op boards and it's easy to see why it's a difficult market in which to get a foothold.
With more than 15 years in the local remodeling market, SilverLining has developed a reputation for being able to handle those difficult projects.
"We sell our experience and our client list," Wiener says. "What we've done gets us the next job."