“I believe the company culture has to reflect the leadership … it has to be entrepreneurial.”

It didn’t take long for Charlie Garcia to find his way in the world. Growing up with a single working mother and three siblings in a San Francisco housing project, Garcia quickly realized that the only way to get the things he wanted was to work for them. Dragging a little wagon out on the streets, young Garcia collected bottles and traded them in for nickels, saving enough for a comic book, candy, or even shoes. Garcia’s chispa stuck with him through college where he worked nights, weekends, and summers. Today, Garcia stands at the helm of Garcia Construction Group and four other businesses, but says the childhood experiences that motivated him back then continue to drive his future.

“You need to position yourself on the cutting edge, yet be conservative. It's an oxymoron, but that's the type of environment we live in today, and if you can achieve that balance, you'll be successful.” Photo: Kenneth Rhem

When we were establishing Garcia Construction, we knew it was important to look at where the growth was for the next 10 to 15 years, and we checked the markets both nationally and locally. But just as important was the caliber of talent and experience we could bring into the company to diversify our portfolio. It’s probably one of the most difficult things to do. Talented people almost never want to go to a small company. But now the recession has actually worked to our benefit, so we are building up our [staff] of highly skilled individuals.

However, someone can have an incredible résumé, but not fit with the company culture. Still, we have made great strides in that area. For a whole year, I had a behavioral psychologist in the company who spent time with the employees and myself to put together a foundation for our company culture. I believe the company culture has to reflect the leadership, and because I’m entrepreneurial, it has to be entrepreneurial. This kind of a culture sets clearly defined values and allows people to have access to the resources they need to succeed. You can have other types of cultures, none are good or bad; but for us, the entrepreneurial culture makes the most sense. A couple books I’ve read also influenced my decision in creating this company culture: Good to Great and E-Myth. You need to surround your people with the right tools and invest in their success, and then they will be creative, innovative, and assert themselves. The environment has to make the employees feel successful, supported, and rewarded.

Even as a young child, Charlie Garcia already demonstrated a strong work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit. Now as president of Garcia Construction Group, he imparts his philosophy on his staff and the projects they complete, such as the Indianapolis International Airport (pictured above). Photo: Kenneth Rhem

At this time, we could easily double our size, but because we take a conservative approach to our environment, our country, and our world, we have to be cautious about how much and when we expand. When I look at the industry, there are a lot of multiple cycles, so this caution is becoming more and more necessary. To this end, I have an employee who spends half his time doing research to find indicators and looking for potential cycles that would affect us in the next six months. That’s the type of due diligence we have never had to do before. You couple that research with technology, which has grown dramatically, and we can now be better stewards of our business and prepare for the future.

In the next 5 to 10 years, I see a flat economy, which is not bad. So we are taking somewhat of a flat approach and reducing our budget by 15 percent—just in case. We have a backlog to continue, but we’re doing this in preparation. All of our businesses need to anticipate some kind of downturn. Basically, you need to position yourself on the cutting edge, yet be conservative. It’s an oxymoron, but that’s the type of environment we live in today, and if you can achieve that balance, you’ll be successful. That’s what we are doing now—today  is not the time to roll the dice too quickly.