Fred Soward is a shining example of how successful a person can become, regardless of where their career began. After high school, Fred attended a technical college and then moved immediately to begin what would eventually become a forty-year career in construction.
Starting out as a drywall finisher, Fred paid attention to the people he worked with at Allstate Interiors NY, so he could learn how to better execute his tasks and ply his trade. Over the next several years, he gained an incredible amount of knowledge and experience, eventually earning the complete trust of his colleagues and co-workers. When the time came for the original owner of the company to retire, Fred felt capable of taking over, and he was able to purchase the business.
From that point onward, Fred set to work expanding the business. One of the first big decisions he made was to move the company into flooring and gypsum construction. Simultaneously, he focused on making connections with other professionals in the field, which led directly to more clients and projects for the company. His hard work and diligence, as well as his careful selection of project foremen and other key employees, has enhanced the reputation of Allstate Interiors NY and solidified its position in the industry over the years. More than two decades later, Fred Soward is now the President of the company, still using his expertise and networking skills to increase its business.
In his free time, Fred works with non-profit organizations. He is on the board of GEMS, which is a program that focuses on providing humanitarian aid in South Sudan. Allstate Interiors NY has donated time and money to other charitable organizations as well, including the Belleview/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture.
Where did the idea for Allstate Interiors NY come from?
It really was an evolution from working in the construction field, then having an opportunity to buy into it and take over the company. When I first started, I was a drywall finisher. I made sure to watch and listen to all the workers who had been doing the job for a while. For me, learning is doing the work, so I soaked up knowledge like a sponge from the start. My original idea was to learn as much as I could so I would be an invaluable member of the company. Things just moved forward organically for me. By the time the original owner was ready to sell, I felt well-prepared to take over.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
The phone calls usually start at about 6:45 in the morning. We open the office daily at around 7 am. I will talk to everyone in the field throughout the morning to find out what’s happening on our job sites. Then I’ll get into my truck and drive to several job sites in a day. I try to cover all the job sites in the course of a week. We usually have 15 to 20 jobs going at once and I like to stay on top of all of them because it allows me to catch anything before it may become an issue.
How do you bring ideas to life?
The first step is to focus on the core process of the idea. What do we want to accomplish? How can we get there? Once we have that core idea, we work on a plan for how to efficiently reach the goal. I see it as a layered circle of sorts. The goal sits in the middle and we work our way out to the last layer, which is the beginning step. This has been a successful process for me and the company over the years.
What’s one trend that excites you?
As someone in the construction field, seeing the direction things are going with certain elements of the business is really exciting. Things like transportation are being reevaluated to be more efficient and less resource-consuming. As we shift to more sustainable practices, those of us in the industry have also had to shift our thinking accordingly. Another trend that has become more popular in the last decade or so is the noticeable increase in construction of assisted living facilities. Many people are living longer, but are not necessarily able to live on their own. There is a great need for proper living situations for seniors, which has led to several projects for us.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
For as long as I have been in this business, I have followed several publications about it. I like to see what new trends are coming down the line. It helps me to get ahead of them and make preparations as needed. For example, over the years, new materials have been created that are more efficient or more environmentally friendly. I like to learn about them before anyone else so I have a bit of a head start when they enter the mainstream. Staying ahead of trends makes me more productive because it enables me to be better prepared for the future.
What advice would you give your younger self?
When I first started working, I was ambitious but I had to learn how to effectively express my thoughts. Being so young, it took time for me to prove my ability to others who had been in the field longer. They knew I was a hard worker, but they didn’t know exactly how much I paid attention to everything. If I could tell my younger self anything, it would be not to take ‘no’ for an answer. I knew much more than others thought I did before I had the guts to speak up.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
That anyone can make it big no matter what the job you have. It absolutely does not matter what kind of financial upbringing you had; that doesn’t determine success. What creates success is how hard you’re willing to work to achieve your goals. I didn’t go to a traditional four-year college, so many people expected me to be a lower-level employee all of my life just because of that. You don’t have to let what others think of you determine your future, and I’m an example of that being true.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Never stop pushing and don’t make the mistake of thinking everything is just going to fall in line for you. A lot of entrepreneurs give up as soon as they hit a roadblock. Understand that not every idea is going to work out. Don’t let that stop you—learn from it, grow from it, then move on smarter than you were before. The worst thing you can do is give up.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Being efficient financially has been one of the best ways I have grown the business over the years. We don’t spend money in excess, and that has helped us save up for leaner times. Obviously, the construction business is one that gets hit hard whenever there is a financial downturn. We have, thankfully, been well-protected because of the smart fiscal decisions we’ve made in the past.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
The company has fared well overall during times of recession, but that doesn’t mean we’ve been totally unfazed. There has been more than one occasion where we had to accept certain unfavorable outcomes. These situations were beyond my control, and I overcame them by learning how to adapt to changing circumstances. I learned how to navigate the industry many years ago, and that has helped to lessen the impacts of economic recession more than once.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Leaning into my expertise, I think a mobile drywall repair service could be a successful endeavor. I think something similar to an Angie’s List, specifically designed to locate a contractor for a customer’s particular need, would be great. It would make it a lot easier for people who need work done on a small scale to connect with businesses that are able to help them.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best $100 I recently spent was on a charitable donation for survivors of abuse and torture. I made the donation to an organization that the company has worked with for years, so I know that the money went to where it was supposed to go. Any time I have a chance to help others, I take it. I have been blessed in life. Sharing that is the best way I can think of to make a difference.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Plangrid and Salesforce. Salesforce is excellent customer relationship management (CRM) software that I use to keep tabs on jobs. Once we get into the project management aspect of the job, Plangrid helps me to follow the work activities and track them in real-time.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Most of what I read is industry-specific. However, there was a biography about Henry Ford that came out several years ago that I really enjoyed, but I can’t remember the author or name off the top of my head. It was an interesting read because I learned how another entrepreneur—and an historically significant one, at that—found success.
What is your favorite quote?
“Failure is not an option.”
- Never stop learning.
- Deliver on your promises.
- Provide quality products and excellent service.
- Never give up.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.