In purest form, a lead carpenter is responsible for scheduling subcontractors, ordering materials, and managing budgets and schedules. A lead-carpenter system allows a remodeler to manage multiple jobs by transferring authority and responsibility to the job site. Bill Owens, CGR, uses four leads in his business, allowing him to push decision-making to the field. It also gives him an opportunity to step back from production and focus on other aspects of running the business.
"A lead carpenter gets the production hat off of me," Owens says. "I can’t wear that hat approaching $1 million in volume. We’re trying to get away from a superintendent who’s sweating every detail. With a lead, you have a guy on site who runs the job. He’s the point man. The customer knows he’s in charge and responsible."
A lead-carpenter system is also volume-based, Owens says. Industry figures indicate that a lead can manage $150,000 to $250,000 installed volume a year, although Owens says that number depends on the company and how it employs the lead concept. At Owens Construction Contracting, the lead is a manager first and then a carpenter.
Although the traditional lead carpenter is a technician first, Owens puts more weight on people skills. "Mechanical aptitude has to be demonstrated," he says, "but you might be able to develop the skills package easier than you could develop the customer-service and communication skills. From a labor-pool standpoint, we have to begin thinking about pulling people in from nontraditional venues. The carpenter pool is drying up."
To that end, Owens uses the lead system to cross-train his people. For example, his leads know how to estimate and schedule. "You can put some diversity into their jobs," he says.
Remodeling itself is a diverse business, so each company will differ in how it uses the concept. What doesn’t differ, however, are the traits that make an excellent lead carpenter. Owens says he uses his list of eight attributes as a guideline when evaluating or hiring. "Where we tailor it is to say if this candidate has proven strength in four or five of these attributes, he’s a golden lead." He cautions, however, about using the list as all-inclusive. "If you think you can hire someone with all the attributes, that’s impossible."