Jim Gillingham

Building a business on honesty is the best way to go


Jim Gillingham is the owner of Total Construction Management in Ontario, Canada. He has a background in the industry working for PCL Construction in Edmonton, Alberta in the late 70’s as a Senior Projects Manager. He has built many structures including high rises, bridges, research centers, and golf courses. Five years later he and his wife moved back to Ontario, Canada and he started his own business. They do renovations for residential housing as well as commercial work. He enjoys the construction industry; it is a family business. His main goal is to be semi-retired and do the work that he enjoys doing.

Where did the idea for Total Construction Management come from?

I was having dinner with a friend who is a real estate developer and broker as well as a general contractor. I mentioned all the businesses that we could do and sales at that time. I was asked if I could frame a home, a side split, and I said I can be pretty amazing in construction. It was a bet. I built the house, which took me longer than normal, but I was successful and was paid for the job and moved forward into construction.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Lately, I get up in the morning and, being semi-retired, my wife and I do what needs to be done together as far as things around the house like shoveling snow or just cleaning. I then discuss the ongoing jobs with my son even though its minimal work. We’re doing a few smaller jobs such as building a small garage currently. I keep busy discussing work and going on site visits occasionally to check on the progress of various projects.

How do you bring new ideas to life?

Any new ideas I have I tend to talk to my wife about them and she gives me honest answers as to whether they will work or not. Sometimes they don’t come to fruition, but some do and if it’s a good idea we move forward.

What’s one trend that excites you?

A new Styrofoam block that can be used in residential and commercial building. You fill it with concrete and you can use it to insulate your basement. You can compliment that with in-floor heating as well. It’s been around for many years but it is now being applied and has become a trend in building. It is really helpful when you want a nice warm, waterproof basement.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I would say positive thinking. That’s my habit, I think positive all the time and try to tuck the negatives under the bed. I do believe in the Lord and he puts some good, positive thinking in my head. That’s my daily thing, a little prayer in the morning and away I go.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Take the good out of people and not the bad. Look beyond the negatives; always look to the positive about people. Use that to your benefit and I would be a very rich man today if I did something like that. Everybody has their flaws in life, but if you ignore the flaws and focus on the positives, life in general is a lot better.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Practical experience is just as important as education, if not more so. It’s great to go and get an education, but I think without practical experience in the world, education isn’t worth much. Ideally one would strike a balance between a formal education and practical work experience.

As an entrepreneur what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I wake up and thank God for the blessing that I have. I think any person that’s growing in this business should always thank the Lord. You will succeed with his blessing.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

My business has always been built on honesty and when I deal with clients I make sure that their agreements are thoroughly understood. When I am doing contracts we go over each part and review everything to make sure that we are both on the same page. That’s something that I always do. I feel like if you don’t do that then things get misconstrued. It’s like if someone says: “I feel like it would be really nice to put a fence up there”. But, if you don’t agree on where the fence should go and what it should look like things become confusing to the both of you. It becomes a problem at that point.

What is one failure you had and how did you overcome it?

I had a company back in my earlier construction days that I had gone to the bank and financed a job for. It was a couple hundred thousand dollars and the company only paid the first part but never paid the full balance of the contract. I overcame that with a lot of hard work. I repayed the debts that I owed to the suppliers and through business, I kept working to make sure everyone was paid off.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Any person that’s struggling to make money who doesn’t get paid as much they need to support their family, they should look for part time work. Not investing your money into foolish things like mom programs or stuff like that. I know a guy that does a little bit of trading. He takes a thousand dollars and he buys some steady stocks and makes himself a few dollars a day. He takes that thousand dollars and turns it into almost a hundred thousand dollars over a couple years. I recommend using the benefits of the computer and the stock market. You could make a few extra dollars or a few hundred dollars a week. That could cover the expenses that you didn’t have the money to cover.

What’s the best hundred dollars you recently spent on what and why?

I always buy a lottery ticket that funds the Cancer, Heart and Stroke Foundation. I know I’m not going to win anything but at least it goes to a good cause. I also always give to the Salvation Army at Christmas because they’re an organization that actually gives a hundred percent of the money to the needy and the poor.

What is one piece of software or web service that helped you be productive?

Gmail is probably the best software in many years because it’s easy to use especially for someone older like myself lacking in computer knowledge. It allows me to keep on top of things and I enjoy the benefits of that. I also like Google as well and use it all the time. You just ask and it has the answers.

What is the one book you recommend our community should read?

The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale.

What is your favorite quote?

“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” John F. Kennedy said that.

Key learnings:

• Building a business on honesty is the best way to go
• Take the good out of people, not the bad
• Always be thankful for the blessings that you have