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Opportunity to Succeed

image John Wright, President & Chief Executive Officer

EXTENDING THE REACH - As one of San Antonio’s oldest and largest electrical contractors, the company traces its roots back to 1923. In 1984, Alterman became employee-owned and has a history of helping other companies succeed by mentoring.





CN: As a company, has Alterman always been involved in mentoring other people or companies?

JW: To some extent, yes. As a company we want to support our community and the people in the community.   Personally I’ve been doing this for almost seven years with the Bexar County/AGC Mentor Program. The program is growing each year and this is my fourth company to mentor. We are getting more protégés so the number of mentors is increasing. As a matter of fact, this year is the largest number of mentor/protégé groups that we’ve had.     

CN: You have been with Alterman many years. During that time have you helped someone in an unofficial capacity because you thought you could help them?   

JW: Yes. I’ve made suggestions to people on things I thought they could do with their companies to help  improve their company’s growth. You know, those opportunities just come up and people ask your advice. I’m more than happy to share and help people improve.

CN: To qualify to be a protégé in the Bexar County/AGC Mentor Program, I understand there are required steps that must be followed.

They have to go through certain steps and classes within the Bexar County first. Then they have to fill out a questionnaire.
    Mentors get together, along with Bexar County, and we review all these applications. Then we go through an interview process with the ones we think are ready to get into the mentor program. Through that process some make it and some don’t. Then we make the final decisions.

CN: Once they get accepted, what can they expect?

JW: They are typically small companies who are trying to run a business.  I tell our protégés that it’s hard work.  We also give them a lot of homework to do.
    The thing we want to do is identify their strengths and weaknesses because those are the things we want them to focus on and help them prioritize. We are here to volunteer our time so for me, I want them to commit they are going to take the time and the effort to really work hard to improve their companies.
    When they do it we’ve seen them grow and improve their operations and,  hopefully, they continue to be successful companies.

I guess seeing progress in these protégé     companies is different with each one.

JW: We meet with them and work with them. When you see the light bulb go off whenever you’re talking about certain things and you get feedback from them, to me that is the most rewarding piece. You know just helping these people when they put that much time and effort into wanting to be successful is good.  Their commitment is what makes the process work.

CN: When mentoring do you have a step-by-step game plan?

JW: Yes and those things are all pieces of the puzzle they have to complete. We have to believe they have been successful with the goals set before they can graduate.

CN: The manpower shortage is a big topic now. Is this discussed a lot with your protégés?

JW: Most of the companies are smaller but it’s still an issue. What I really talk to them about is building their team.  Depending on the size of the company it can be finding those two or three people you can depend on and trust to help you build your business. You can only do so much yourself because running the business is a fulltime job in itself.

CN: These company owners are entrepreneurs so that has got to be a challenge in itself.

JW: Yes it is and most of the time our biggest job is just reining them in and   getting them to focus on the right things, making them think instead of jumping too quickly and to have a strategic plan. You try to get them to focus on the right things

CN: Do they try to expand too quickly?

JW: Some want to travel and go out of town which can be risky. We talk about risk associated with that and trying to get them to focus on the opportunities here where you can. It’s easier to watch and manage the risk.
    I try to get people to focus on what they are good at doing and what’s their most profitable piece of their business. That’s where you want to start to grow if that is what you want.
Do all of the companies you select finish and graduate in the two years?

JW: No, some of them don’t make it through the two years or graduate.  They either were not ready for this level of mentoring and learning or they weren’t committed. That becomes obvious fairly soon but I have been very fortunate to have companies that were very committed.

CN: Where do you find they struggle the most?

JW: We find where they struggle the most is not really understanding what the project or job costs are. They need to know if they were profitable or not but they don’t know how to manage their cost because they aren’t tracking the right things sometimes.
    So that’s another big piece of it as well. Just really getting them to understand the financial side of things.

CN: How does that make you feel when they succeed?

JW: I enjoy sharing my experience and helping people be successful whether it’s within our own company or outside the company. Anytime there’s an opportunity to do that, I’m all in. It’s fantastic.

CN: What advice would you give others who are considering being a mentor?

JW: I’m passionate about it and if you are passionate about anything you should be doing it.  If it is something that others are interested in doing, there are opportunities to get involved.
    It is work and you think about the things they’re doing and try to guide them in the right direction.
    For anyone wanting to get into mentoring, it’s serious business. Your protégé is relying on you and the team.
CN: Final thoughts on being a mentor or the mentoring process.

JW: You know, I think the process is great.  I would recommend the program to any small company that’s gotten to a point where they have been successful but want to grow and continue to be successful. If you can get into this program as a protégé it’s a great opportunity for people to get a lot of coaching, advice and direction on how to improve and grow their company.

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