Almost every executive today will tell you that it's their people who make the difference.
In Steve Ricke's case, he's not just paying lip service to that ideal; he's living it.
Ricke, the president of Federal Contracts Corp in Tampa, seldom discusses any topic without coming back to the people who bring it to life. Ask him what he enjoys most about his job, and he'll tell you it's "leading our team." His biggest challenge? Not just finding good people, but "putting the square peg in the round hole – some good people just can't do what we need them to do." When discussing the keys to preparing the next generation of technicians, he first points out that two of his former employees were named by the Association of Equipment Management Professionals (AEMP) as technicians of the year (an award he himself once won as a leader of technicians, though he never worked in the role himself).
His path to his current role took him through stints in onshore and offshore oil exploration as a contract driller, mining equipment sales in the coal belt, and leadership roles in construction and manufacturing. Federal Contracts Corp does around 75% to 80% of its business with the federal government, where its role as a small business, representing the likes of Caterpillar, Manitowoc, and other industry leading manufacturers puts it in a strong position. By law, 3% of the federal budget is set aside for businesses that fit into one of five categories. Federal Contracts Corp is certified in three of those.
"So when the government buys one bulldozer from us, they get to check three boxes." Besides being a certified small business, the company is a service-disabled veteran-owned small business and is HUBZone certified, with its offices located in a blighted area of Tampa. Ricke speaks with evident pride in how well-accepted the company is in the local community, renovating two older buildings and beautifying the grounds.
Gross sales have grown "exponentially" during Ricke's tenure, and similarly, the staff has expanded from 6 employees to 25. The company's performance has not gone unnoticed: it was named the 2018 Prime Contractor of the Year for the Small Business Administration's Region IV and was among three finalists for the national award.
One of the changes he's seen in the dealership industry throughout his career is the shift from ownership to more and more equipment rental. He pointed out that it often no longer makes financial sense for a firm to own large fleets. "You have to have large support – the technicians, the fuel, the facility. There's just a lot involved in managing that today, and you have to be good at it. Today the expense of owning a fleet of equipment and the capital invested in that draws down a company … It's really not cost-feasible for even the largest companies. [Instead they] have a core fleet of equipment that has high utilization, and [the remainder] they rent."
Ricke is a passionate advocate for elevating technicians' stature in society, both in fact and in perception. He's been on the boards of several trade schools. "Mechanics have to have a good analytical mind just like a doctor does," he said. "They've got to take information, interpret it for what it is, and get to some kind of resolution … The tech of the future has to be more educated. And I think the flip side of that coin is that the employer has to realize that the mechanic is not a guy in bib coveralls working under a shade tree." After he encouraged guidance counselors in Orange County, Florida, to "quit pushing just college and start supporting the trades" – and pointed out the financial benefits – he said that enrollment in trade-related classes tripled.
The advice he gives to young people is the same advice he would have given to his younger self: make yourself marketable. And when it comes to younger people, Ricke is talking about kids as young as eighth grade, which is where recruitment to the trades often begins today.
"Focus on a trade or a business that you like and pursue it with everything you've got … I try to plant a seed with our younger people."