Do it right the first time.
As CEO and founder of The Custom Companies, Inc, Perry Mandera has had a long and varied career in the field of logistics and transportation. Having worked in the industry since 1976, Mandera now has over forty years of experience servicing the shipping needs of customers around Illinois and the country at large. With such an extended history of business success, there’s much to be gleaned from a closer inspection of Mandera’s career. Read on for a look at that career followed by a Q & A we recently conducted with Mandera himself.
Mandera’s professional experience began during his time in the Marines, a period of his life of which he speaks fondly. During his service, Mandera was in charge of transporting troops and supplies, a pursuit which was formative in helping him see the impact that shipping services can have on a larger goal. Though the experience clearly helped to influence his career path, when asked about his service, Mandera’s thoughts when to the emotional connection he felt with his fellow troops. Experiencing a sense of camaraderie, as well as witnessing a host of other emotions, was key to his feeling of accomplishment while serving in the Marines.
Mandera’s drive toward service didn’t end when he left the armed forces. Upon his return to civilian life, Mandera decided to run for office. In 1984, he was elected as the Republican Ward Committeeman for the 26th ward in Chicago, where he served a four-year term. At the time, Mandera was the youngest Republican Ward Committeeman to serve in Chicago, a distinction which underscores his early call to helping those around him.
It’s perhaps unsurprising, given Mandera’s formative experiences, that he also places a heavy emphasis on charitable work in his life. While speaking of his business and leadership experience, our conversation with Mandera naturally took many turns toward the ways in which he helps those in his community and elsewhere. Whenever possible, Mandera donates resources and time to programs designed to address the needs of the less fortunate. Mandera places particular emphasis on helping children in need and aids them through financial donations as well as by giving material support such as clothing and transportation services.
Mandera doesn’t stop at donating to established charities, he also seeks out new groups of people who may benefit from his philanthropic spirit. One initiative he highlighted during our chat was a yearly campaign he conducts within his company asking employees to highlight people they know who are in need of assistance. It’s a point of pride for Mandera that he’s able to ease some of the stress of the holidays by giving resources to those identified by his employees as being in need of his help.
Of course, Mandera’s expertise goes beyond service and charitable works and he has become a well-respected figure in the business community. As recognition for his prowess in the world of business, in 2000 the Illinois Transportation Association (ITA) singled him out as one of the “Top 100 American Transportation Executives of the Millennium.”
Accolades, such as those from the ITA, are partly a result of Mandera’s drive to constantly incorporate the latest technologies into his business’s operations. While there are many examples of logistics software that exist with a range of impressive feature, they are simply not enough for Mandera. In addition to utilizing tools that already meet the high standards of the shipping industry, Mandera’s company also employs in-house programmers that can further customize software to a specific customers wants or needs. In this way, customers can be assured that Mandera’s fleet of vehicles and facilities will always be operating at maximum capacity in the service of his clientele.
In the pursuit of the high degree of excellence for which he is constantly recognized, Mandera turns to a variety of sources of inspiration. During our talk, he highlighted his appreciation for motivational speakers that can help unlock a person’s potential for high-level work. He also highlighted his religious background as a compass that helps guide his way through many difficult decisions in business and life at large.
Another source of inspiration for Mandera has been experience itself. He acknowledges that mistakes are unavoidable over a career that has lasted as long as his. Through the impulsiveness of youth, he found himself in business deals that his wiser, older self would stay away from. But rather than regret those moments, Mandera views the tribulations of youth as a learning experience and credits those times with providing him with some of the expertise he possesses today.
Mandera’s journey is full of wisdom that can benefit those from any walk of life. His ability to excel in business while also prioritizing service to others is an example that we can all strive toward. To learn more about his life and learnings, read on for our full Q & A from our sit-down with Mandera. It’s a fascinating insight into a man who has achieved so much but has managed to stay humble.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I’m the kind of guy that sleeps about four hours a night. I start my mornings the same way I end my nights, by returning my most recent phone or email messages. That way when I go to bed at night I’m 100% caught up, and then I do the same in morning as well.
I talk quite a bit on the phone in general. I use about 9,000 cellular minutes a month and I write about 300 business emails a day. So I keep pretty busy communicating with customers, vendors, and employees.
I have a lunch every day, either with a vendor or an employee, to go cover status updates as necessary. Typically I’ll have about four entertainments or so per week after work. That could include a theatrical event or sporting event. Dinners with clients or employees. The rest of the week I dedicate for my family.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Great question. I round table it with a few of the executives that work with me. I’m pretty lucky, I’ve got some folks that have been with me over 30 years. I’ve got a good core of employees and managers here. They’re kind of my goto people when I need to go from idea conception to execution. We also use an outside consultant and an industrial psychologist to bounce ideas back and forth when needed.
What’s one trend within your industry that really excites you?
All of the ever-changing technology. Things get old and outdated very quickly, especially in my industry, so it’s important to stay abreast of the most recent changes in technology. Which is of course related to innovation driven by people. In the real world, technology doesn’t work without good people creating it.
It’s that changing scope of technology and innovation that really excites me. I’ve been working in logistics and transportation since 1976 and I’ve never seen two identical days. It’s never boring.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive?
I always strive for perfection whenever possible. We have a saying here at the company — Do it right the first time. I just took a survey with my management team last week concerning the stress points they’re encountering. One of the questions from that survey was to ask what percentage of their day was focused around correcting something that somebody else didn’t do right the first time. It was amazing to hear that a lot of the management of the company, and we’ve got a big staff of over 500 employees, they said that between 25% to 30% of their day was putting out fires.
My logic is that if you train people to do it right the first time, you avoid a domino effect of others having to fix your mistakes. So I tend to micromanage, which can be a pro and con because it takes up so much of my time, but it’s also necessary to instill quality and perfection in the first step of any process.
If you could go back in time, what would you tell a young Perry Mandera?
Think more. Don’t be as impulsive. Try to listen more and do less. That was me when I was younger. I do a lot more listening now.
When you’re young and full of energy you think you know everything. But as you get older you realize the areas where you wish you would have taken your time on something or consulted more before taking a specific action. I think when I was younger I moved a little too impulsively and moved quicker than I needed to.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
That you don’t need eight hours of sleep! I sleep three and a half to four hours a day. People can’t believe I can keep that up, but I do and it really helps me to fit everything I need to do into the day.
As a successful professional, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Saying please, thank you, and complimenting my coworkers. The best ideas come from talking to people that I’m close to and being able to listen to their ideas. That doesn’t happen without me showing that I appreciate them.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Taking strategic chances. Just like anything else in life, being too conservative in business never allows you an opportunity to grow to the next level. So if you’re willing to risk something by taking a chance on something that maybe your competition wouldn’t do, then you may find the ability build on your success.
Also investing in technology and equipment. Continuing to invest in new resources helps us grow and maintain an edge.
What is one failure you have sustained in your professional life, and how did you overcome it?
We invested into a company that ended up being a very bad investment. It ended up losing us a lot of money and we had to put in a lot of effort and time to retain as much of the positive resources from that investment as possible. Things such as customers and employees, which ended up allowing us to make it back later down the line. That’s also an example of a decision I made when I was younger that these days I’d take more time to consider. No deal is better than a bad deal.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I was actually at dinner the other night and I asked people what they’d do if they won the lottery. My idea was to start what I would call “Chicago Shark Tank.” I’d give money to people that came up with good business ideas, but the one condition would be that for the life of the business, 10% of profits would go back to different charities. That would be a real cool thing to do. It gives people with good ideas a chance to implement their vision, and then they’d pay it forward to help people in need.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Probably a recent time where I saw a couple of veterans in a restaurant and I bought dinner for them. That was a pretty nice deal. As far as going out and buying something tangible, I love cuff links. I just bought a great set of antique cuff links for a little over $100. I love the look and the shape of them. They’ve just got this cool old style.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
We’ve got a lot of homegrown services that we use. I love them because they’re really user-friendly. We also use imported software. Everything we use we customize to our customers. They tell us what they want and need and then we work with in-house programmers to give customers exactly what they’re looking for. We won’t lose business because we can’t provide a technology that the customer wants or needs.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I’ll give you two books, both by Mitch Albom, “Tuesdays With Morrie” and “The Five People You Meet in Heaven.” One’s about sharing the life experiences from a man passing away with cancer, and the other goes into whether or not there is a heaven and what you might see when you get there. Two fantastic books about life and the after-life. Those books help your realize that you’re human and that everything and anything in life is possible.
Please describe your involvement with any philanthropic endeavors.
I love helping people in need. I have a soft spot for children. I try to help them have better tomorrows, financially. Whether it’s helping with their family, tuition, clothing, food, you name it. I’ll also sponsor young athletics teams that don’t have money for uniforms or travel and things like that.
Every year in the month of December we send a letter out to employees asking for those that have people in need in their life. Doesn’t have to be a family member, could be a friend, neighbor, or total stranger. We get a little paragraph about what they need as far as assistance and we try to do the best we can to make the holidays nicer. We try to take some of the financial stress off of that time of the year.
My two boys went to catholic school, and at that school there’s a nun who is, I’m gonna guess, probably close to 80. She has a fund for helping people in need. We contribute to that, financially, but also by donating clothing and other items they ask for. We try to help as many people as we can with the resources that we have. I just think it’s a good thing. God’s given us the opportunity to do so, and I believe we need to heed that call.
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