The building materials industry is ten years behind most other industries in marketing.
Compared to many other industries, the building materials industry has too many old white guys in leadership positions.
I believe these two things are linked.
What’s wrong with old white guys in building materials?
- They make a lot of money. They want to protect their income by avoiding change or new ideas.
- They may be cruising to retirement. When they were younger, they had to innovate and overcome challenges to climb the career ladder. Now, the end of their career nears, with no upside to rocking the boat.
- They have big egos. They didn’t get to their level of pay and perks without making big contributions to the success of the company in the past. Yet, it might be hard for them to let younger people do the same.
- They have a “pay your dues” mentality. They believe that respect comes with age and gray hairs because that’s how it worked in their day. They don’t understand that the world has changed and that young people can be successful without having to establish seniority.
- They know how to play the game. They do not want anyone changing the rules.
- They’re afraid of technology. They want to stay with the same old marketing tactics: trade shows and print media, for example. They aren’t interested in social media, content marketing, marketing automation, online sales and other things they don’t understand.
- They’re focused on factories. Historically the building materials industry has been focused on making things to sell. Change, to them, means ‘risk of manufacturing inefficiency,’ so they resist change until a competitor forces it on them.
- They’re too focused on competition. They pay too much attention to their competitors—not the customers. They make safe incremental changes rather than bold changes.
- They’re old white guys. They don’t believe that women can be successful in their industry, or they don’t consider them for jobs or promotions often enough.
The industry does not give enough younger people a chance to succeed. The result is that our industry will not attract and retain high level talent. It will attract mediocre people who follow rules and learn never to take a chance or even suggest one.
Of course, there are exceptions to this.
There are some old white guys who are innovative and not afraid of risk or change.
They use strategy and see it as a competitive advantage.
There are also more women in leadership positions, some of whom don’t act like old white guys.
The industry can, and should change. I believe that change should happen at the top so that the industry becomes more inclusive, creative, and modern.
You, an old white guy, can change. You can help your company be more successful and attract top-shelf talent. As defined by my age and race, I too, am an old white guy. Here’s how I stay young and relevant to add value…
- Don’t act your age. Let yourself have a little fun. Quit taking yourself so seriously. It can be something simple. One of the ways I don’t act my age is by wearing bright fun socks.
- Stay relevant. My greatest fear is becoming irrelevant. The world is changing so fast that you have to work at it. Be curious. Don’t be so fast to dismiss something. As soon as you find yourself believing an idea won’t work, an alarm should go off in your head.
Make yourself take the opposite point of view and ask yourself how could this work?
Hint—ask a younger person.
Instagram is a relatively new social media app. You just share pictures. My son runs a package design firm and told me he was going to use Instagram as a new business tool. That sounded ridiculous to me. In the last three months he has gotten three new clients from Instagram.
The way he did it was also crazy to me. He did it by posting photos of packages he liked that were designed by competitor design firms. The new clients contacted him because of what he shared.
They said, “We like the way you think and want you to redesign our package.” It still makes no sense to this old white guy, but it’s working.
- Learn from younger people. I believe that younger people have as much to teach me as I can teach them.
- Respect and value younger people. Rather than feeling that younger people are fortunate to have a job and be working for you, you should feel that you are fortunate to have them working for you.
- Consider hiring competitive candidates from all genders and races. Don’t automatically shut out someone because they don’t fit the mold.
In other industries, different generations are working together and learning from each other. They’re trying out new ideas or sticking to the tested and reliable ones. In our industry, we operate just one way. Sure, innovation doesn’t always work, but don’t you want to have other options on the table?
Remember: being an old white guy isn’t a status, it’s an attitude.
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Thanks for the following comments. I’d like to hear your feedback and suggestions on how to sell architects.
“Nicely stated! Speaking from experience… entering that inner circle is quite challenging.”
Commercial Territory Manager
Construction Specifications Institute
Marketing Specialist at
Fives North American Combustion, Inc.