Bob Adams is President of Revere Control Systems. In 1980 Adams founded Revere as a Panel Shop. Today, Revere boasts nearly 200 employees and locations in five states. Among Revere’s many projects is the Hudson Yards Development in Manhattan, the largest real estate development project in the history of the United States.
David Lamb: Welcome and thanks for joining us for The Blueprint Podcast. We are on the campus of Revere Control Systems in Birmingham, Alabama, here with Bob Adams, President of Revere. Bob, thanks for allowing us to invade your day here.
Bob Adams: Well, thanks for coming in. Appreciate this.
David Lamb: I appreciate the opportunity. A little bit about your company, it sounds really complicated. This is what I’ve got that you all do. If you would, please interpret this for me, if not for members of our audience. Revere is a privately-held, industrial automation company specializing in turnkey, scalable engineering, and control-system integration services in the municipal clean water, utility power, metals, mining, oil, gas, forest products, manufacturing industries. Bob, what do you guys do? Help me.
Bob Adams: Okay. We’re primarily an engineering firm. You’re probably pretty familiar with engineering and construction firms. We do a bit of construction, too, but our specialty is automation. Automation, a lot of times, is correlated with, “Hey, you’re getting rid of people’s jobs. You’re trying to automate equipment so it will do it automatically.”
But we like to say we’re trying to make the world a little bit more efficient so that we can do things more efficient without using so much of everything, be it too much of the resources, of iron ore and everything else in the world, to people also. It’s about being more efficient with the resources we have and automating it. Our automation is mostly toward electrical engineering kind of things, and programming, and using all the latest technologies, but more in an industrial setting.
David Lamb: For you, you went to the school of the University of Alabama Birmingham, right?
Bob Adams: I did, but I didn’t graduate. Engineering courses kicked me pretty good. We switched into business, but even at that, I didn’t finish that.
David Lamb: Yeah? What I read on the website is that you guys, you started out as a panel shop back in 1980?
Bob Adams: That’s right. Wasn’t very complicated. Wasn’t very sexy. It’s just screwing parts together in some of these systems that were engineered by somebody else. Birmingham’s got a pretty good history of industrial settings with steel foundries and those kind of things. Our first start was just working in those industrial settings, usually stuff that was really dirty, and making industrial controls work. It’s just putting things together that was engineered by somebody else. Slowly, we got into hiring engineers that could help engineer these systems.
David Lamb: How big was the operation back in 1980 when you guys started?
Bob Adams: Well, it started out from ground zero, just myself. Then we slowly started hiring people through the early ’80’s, hiring people. Then in all businesses, when you’re new and you’re young, one of the important lessons you learn is there’s such a thing as a business cycle. You don’t just keep going straight up. It takes a cycle and it comes back down.
I guess our lesson was pretty early on, at about ’85 or ’86, and those are the areas where it scares you to death. That you think you’re going to go out of business because you thought things were going to just keep going better. But there are lessons in cashflow, and business, enough orders, and all those kind of things that teach you a lesson somewhere along the line. Your thing is just hope it happens to you early, not later in life. That you just keep getting better because there’s always a business cycle.
David Lamb: Right. 185 or so employees, five locations around the U.S., 37 years later as we sit here. Are you surprised by where you and this business are?
Bob Adams: Well, I think so. I don’t know that we’ve ever had a lot of big plans for, “Hey, we’re going to be this big or we’re going to go after this.” A lot of our plans are looking for opportunities and a lot of times kind of seeing where God leads you. If there’s a door open, we’re going to test it.
David Lamb: Right. Not afraid to try something, not afraid to fail, not afraid to give it a shot and put yourself out there on a limb, so to speak.
Bob Adams: Definitely afraid of failing, but we do it from time to time, yes.
David Lamb: As you look back on these 37 years, what do you attribute the success and longevity to? What are the things, as you think about that? Why has this worked, do you think?
Bob Adams: Well, one thing, I stayed persistent in the same thing. I think you try to focus a little bit, not have too many things you get involved with. Again, part of that is from not being that smart. You try to stay focused on the things you can do. Too many things that you can get involved in is going to take your mind off of your thing you’re trying to concentrate on.
I think sometimes it’s not being very smart. I always say a lot of times I was just trying to get the banker’s foot off my throat, and live one more day, and looking for ways to make it. The persistence is just staying at that over a long period of time.
David Lamb: Do you recall a conscious decision that you need to narrow your focus and deepen rather than going much wider?
Bob Adams: I would say it’s been a struggle since day one. In automation, in our business, you can go into any industry or anything. Being also attention-deficit, there are more shiny objects all over the place that I struggle with seeing. All of this stuff is fun and all of this stuff is cool to me, but we are bad about chasing shiny objects. I would say I’m not great at it, but it’s a struggle of something we’ve fought the whole time: “Let’s stay focused on this and let’s look at this line.”
But in our business industries, different industries go up and down. Right now, there are industries that are doing real good and some are not doing so good. You’ve got to move around a little bit. You’ve got to focus, but you’ve got to move around a little bit. There’s the technologies you’re looking at and there is the industries you’re needing to be an expert at.
David Lamb: Being aware of your strengths and your weaknesses, how has that influenced who you’ve surrounded yourself with?
Bob Adams: Well, you have to know what your weaknesses are. Worse thing you can do is think you’re really good at something that you’re not. Some terrible failures by some guys that I think are total optimists and they think it’s all going to work out. Living on just that optimism is going to get you in trouble if you’re not good at listening to other people and you’re not realizing you do have weaknesses.
I have really good people from the beginning that are good at accounting and finance because I would say I’m not that good at it. I’m not an engineer, so I’ve got good people in engineering. You’ve got to recognize those weaknesses and fill in for them in the places you can if you don’t have help.
David Lamb: Was that difficult for you to do that or is that an attribute, kind of a characteristic of you that realizing that you need to surround yourself to fill in places where, maybe from a skillset or a talent standpoint, you lack? Because the reason I ask that is this. You’re right. There are folks in business that are blind to their weaknesses. They certainly have great strengths, but they are blind to their weaknesses.
Was it difficult for you to get ahold of that and to realize where you stood out, where you brought a great deal to the table, versus areas where you needed to surround yourself with some great people? Because word on the street is you do hire incredibly well and you are surrounded by a great team.
Bob Adams: Well, I am. I am and I have been in the past. But I think part of that is people that … I mean, you can go get help, people that will help you if they feel like they trust you. Then people will work for you, and they will follow you if they feel like they trust you. They want to be a part of what you’re doing, if it isn’t accounting or engineering, if they feel like that they can trust you, and they trust what you’re trying to do, and you’re going to be fair to them. I think part of it is trying to do that because you do need their help.
David Lamb: Right. Do you remember when you thought this just might work? That Revere might-
Bob Adams: No, I don’t think you ever get that. I don’t think you ever get that. I hope not. I hope you don’t feel that way. It’s a history, too. Being a Christian, I think it’s a history of being in this business thinking, “I hope I’m working where God wants me to work.” Again, I hope I’m treading down the right direction, but if God closes a door on it, there’s a time for everything and there’s a time for something to not work. But I’ve always felt like I’m working in something that I enjoy. As long as that’s something God can use me in going in that direction, that’s good. That’s good, too.
David Lamb: There are those whose faith really stops at the front door of their job, their career, their business. What I know about you is that’s not the case. I guess you don’t believe your faith is separate from your vocation, I’m guessing.
Bob Adams: Right. I think you need to be the same person at work and everywhere. I think the people at work here should feel the same way. That’s something we beat on the drum all over the place, but it’s just part of the fabric here that you should be the same wherever. I can’t talk this talk or any other talk without having to bring that in because I don’t know how to talk about it without saying that.
David Lamb: Yeah. Let’s talk a little strategy for a minute. As I look, you have five locations. Now you all, at present, you’re in Chattanooga, Charlotte, Lakeland, Florida, Texarkana, Texas, and the home office of Birmingham. Is that accurate?
Bob Adams: That’s right.
David Lamb: How important have those acquisitions been, or mergers, however that those came about? How important from a strategic standpoint has that been to your growth?
Bob Adams: Well, some of them have been quite a few years ago. Most all of those were very small. I’m also very cheap, so they were always about people. We’re always been about trying to get engineers. It’s all about trying to get people.
The last thing is not exactly a merger, the one Texas. It’s about some guys that have been our friends for a long time through a peer group and some other things. That just worked so smoothly that it was not even like an acquisition. It’s just good friends for a long time that just didn’t even miss a beat when they came in.
David Lamb: Right. Again, I believe we’ve got listeners who will be interested in the whole merger/acquisition and that area of business. For you, when push comes to shove, walk us through how do you come to the decision that this is the right move to make, either to bring them in, however that works, or expand to a new territory? What is the bottom line for you in thinking, “This is a good move for us?”
Bob Adams: I don’t believe we would be a good example for what most people do in acquisitions. Most of what they’re looking at, “Is this going to be good on a financial basis,” all the calculations of their performer, how it’s worth more to them. I was more from just trying to find people in an industry we’re trying to work in. But we’re not out there actively looking at a lot of acquisitions, nor do we spend a lot of money on those things. We’re looking for something, for a good fit, that fits in our culture. We’re not going to do anything that messes with our culture too much. I don’t know that we’d be a good one for that road.
David Lamb: Right. Let’s talk about culture here because it seems to be something that you and this place pay a great deal of attention to. First of all, I guess, on your website, one of the first things you see is the mission of Revere. What is the mission of this company in your words?
Bob Adams: You’ll find a mission statement on there, but I would say it’s not great, it’s not big and inspiring. It’s talking about more of what we do. I don’t think we’ve ever really been able to answer very well, in my mind, the why, the why do we exist, but the how we exist are in those values.
We do have a list of our values here. We talk about them all the time. When we hire people, we hire on those values, if they fit into our values. We try to do that more than based on skills. Those are real important to us. I think there is an underlying fabric in here that’s something balled up into those core values. I wish I could do something real inspiring on what our why is, but I don’t really have it.
David Lamb: Yeah. You seem to keep employees. Again, you have, just from everything I hear, a great group surrounding you, people that are incredibly loyal to you, people that enjoy working here. The little I know about you, that is intentional. That doesn’t just happen. That’s also a challenge for many businesses to inculcate their culture and the culture that they want versus the culture they end up with.
Any secrets to how to make that work? Maybe even what are you guys doing right from that standpoint? Is it as simple as sincerely, kind of an authenticity, but also an intentionality of the importance of making Revere a place where people love to work?
Bob Adams: Let me say the way I think about the business is I think about priorities and priorities is tied into the focus that I said. Am I working on the right priorities everyday? Is everybody working on the right priorities? The other one: Are we hiring the right people? Hiring the right people is by looking at those values that we have. The third on our secret sauce is all about relationships. Everything is relationships on our executive team down with inside the company. Our secret sauce is our relationships.
We like working with everybody. Competition don’t bother me. I’ll talk to them all day long because they can’t copy us. What they can’t copy is how healthy this place is. It truly is with the relationships that we have. Keeping those relationships healthy is real important to me and to people here. How you keep those relationships, it’s just so much quicker if I don’t have to wonder, “Did you just tell me something that’s the really truth or have I got to go around the barn three times to say what’s he really telling me?” All those things make business work so much better. It is an organism here, not an organization. That all relationships work and how do you keep relationships healthy?
David Lamb: The secret sauce, yeah.
Bob Adams: It’s like relationships, and your marriage, and everything else. I guess you just work at it and stay persistent. I don’t know.
David Lamb: Yeah. Well, it seems to be working for you guys, for sure. The industry that you’re in, like so many, struggles to get and keep quality employees. One of the creative things that you all are doing is the way you recruit. I don’t know if it’s called an internship program, but you have a creative way about the way you attract the best people. Talk to us about what you all do there and how you go about that.
Bob Adams: Well, at every board meeting, every problem we had here a lot of times was, “How do you find more engineers and how do you get engineers to want to work here?” We used to have a thing where we’d hire them wherever they were if they were good and they’d work out of their homes across the U.S. But still, we couldn’t keep up or they weren’t the right kind of people that didn’t fit in.
What we did was go to a, again, more secret sauce, it’s we grow our own. We start with the co-op programs, intern programs with young people. We bring young people in and we have a heck of an interview process at the co-op level, but we’re looking again for these. Co-ops don’t have any skills, so you’re not looking at those too much, but you’re in engineering school or the computer science, and we’re looking at people that fit into these values.
We’re hitting about four schools in the South here. We’re bringing those kids in. I don’t talk about young people as a bad thing anymore. They’ve turned me around the last five years of seeing how good of the people we’re getting.
We’re taking on the training ourself. Our thing that we’re bringing in is co-ops and interns and use people, but it’s been over several years now. We have a whole, internal training program and folks that we’re working with them internally. We’ll take them out on job sites and they’re bringing them up fast. They’re the right kind of people. Their skills are coming right along.
Now, that’s why we have different locations, our brick-and-mortars and these other people are to help train some of the older guys, training the younger ones. Plus, we have a formal training program here. Is that kind of getting to-
David Lamb: Yeah, that’s exactly it. I just know so many companies that struggle to attract, recruit, and keep good employees. It sounds like it’s a real effort of yours, and you’ve put a good deal of money into it.
Bob Adams: I’ll tell you, it’s the most exciting thing to me there is right now. I mean, we have a whole lot more parties around here because we want to keep those people. We have softball teams, we have bowling leagues. Again, those are part of keeping the health, but we have a party for Mardi Gras, we have a party for football, anything you can think about. It’s to get people together, and it’s to keep these young people excited and want to work here.
At my age, watching these young people come in, and the interactions around here, and how this place is changing, it’s the most exciting thing that there is for me is to watch that and to watch them learning all this stuff. Then our older guys are having more fun showing them. They enjoy seeing people soaking some of this stuff up.
David Lamb: You do hear, especially folks like me and you with some gray hair, kind of bemoaning that the next generation, sounding like the guy who is the angry guy telling the kids to get off their lawn. But there are some attributes and some things that they bring to the table that are immediately valuable to Revere.
Bob Adams: No doubt about it. No doubt about it.
David Lamb: Good perspective change. I’ve got just a few minutes remaining, but just end on a quick round of questions here. All right. You ready for this?
Bob Adams: I’m ready.
David Lamb: All right. What is the book that you have given as a gift the most?
Bob Adams: I don’t know. I give a lot of books out and I keep one going all the time. I give a lot of books out. A lot of you, if anybody’s listening, I don’t get a lot of them back, too.
David Lamb: They know where your office is, huh?
Bob Adams: Yeah. I do. I hate to just keep reading the same, old thing, but I get a lot of good, new ideas.
David Lamb: All right. Let’s go about it this way. What is the last book that you read that really affected you profoundly, either professionally or personally? The last book you read that really stands out in your mind.
Bob Adams: Let me go back. I do think I have given out this book by Geoff Smart on Who, which is about hiring the right people and how to rate. If you’re looking at a business book, that’s one of the ones that I’ve read that I’ve probably given out the most and handed out around here.
The Carpenter was another one that I just finished/read and it’s more of a Christian perspective. The Carpenter, about a guy having trouble with his business and this carpenter came in to build a bookshelf and just his talking to him about Christian values about how, when he was starting a new business, how he looks at it. The Carpenter. It’s not a very big book. The author is out of Jacksonville, Florida. I can’t remember his name.
David Lamb: Do you search for books and are you constantly looking for ideas and ways to sharpen your saw, so to speak? Is that for you, the interest, why you always have a book going like you say?
Bob Adams: Well, I’ll trade out. I’ll do one on business and then I’ll do one on spirituality. As long as the guy’s been dead at least 200 years, I’ll read his book. I mix them up. I hate the fact that you can’t find many books about, there’s not many books written about, Christian practice and stuff in business. There’s been very few books written on that that I’ve ever been able to find of any serious writing.
David Lamb: What has running a business taught you that you never expected as you sit here some 37 years after Revere began?
Bob Adams: I’ll go back to the cycle thing. It certainly does teach you that life has cycles and a business has a certain cycle that’s it going to be bad times. You’ve got to be looking for those troughs and be ready. You’ve got to prepare for them. Things that get a lot of companies in trouble, I think, is by spending whatever money they have, or paying their self too much and not being ready for that cycle. I would think that’s a big one for anybody in business that’s early in getting into it, that you’ve got a lesson you’ve got to learn. That’s a lesson you’re going to get taught. I guess that taught me and I don’t know. Didn’t see it.
David Lamb: I know, and I’m not sure the group is still meeting, but I don’t know if you’d call it a mastermind group or a group of your peers, an accountability group. I know you all sometimes have meetings in the boardroom where we are recording this podcast right now. For you, how important are those kind of groups to business leaders, to presidents, and companies, CEOs, and how has that group benefited you?
Bob Adams: Well, I go back to the thing about how smart you are. I think in this country, and in the West, we’re really big on individualism and how smart you are and you’re supposed to be figuring things all out on yourself. You’ve got to be the smart guy. You’re the smart guy in the room to run this company and to build this company up. That’s all hogwash. That is just the wrong direction.
It’s all on relationships. You get your smarts by relationships, and how you listen to other people, and how you talk in a group. I’m going to tell you, if you’re thinking about going into business or you’re doing that, everything is about relationships, and everything comes about by keeping yourself in relationships.
Don’t pull yourself back being an individual and trying to say, “I’ve got to come up with all the ideas and the smarts and things.” It’s all relationships and it’s everywhere you can get them. Be in a peer group. Be in a Bible study group. We have this accountability group. I have every kind of group you can think about and groups here. It’s all relationships.
That’s where your, I don’t want to call it power or your smarts, it’s all back to the Trinity and tying into the Trinity, and it’s all about relationships, and the smarts. More of those groups and information … I hate to call it information. But the more that all puts together, it’s all the relationships.
Our group that you’re talking about there, it ran a course for 10 or 12 years and then that course was over. We meet every quarter or something. We met yesterday and talked. It’s just good, Christian guys and they all own businesses. They think different. I love the way they think different. But these Christian owners think a little different than some people you see in the world that are just thinking about, “How am I going to make money or how’s the company going to do this?” I love hearing how these guys think about it and what they’re thinking about different. It might not be how … I don’t know. It’s good that you can be in different relationships and hear all those different things.
David Lamb: Right. Yeah. Before we wrap up, is there any message you’d like to give or leave with somebody that’s either looking for an opportunity you found in 1980, or someone who is just beginning running a company and doing this? Any advice that you would give them as a fellow who’s been down that road for a few years now?
Bob Adams: No. It’s just back to my faith. I would say that you think about can God use you in this way? Is this how God’s wanting to use you? Just keep walking through doors, hanging on to being used by that’s what God’s wanting to be done. There may be a time that it’s going to be changed, but we’ll do it for that. Hopefully, that’s the reason and the reason you enjoy it. I enjoy this and I like this. Hopefully, those two match. Boy, that’s when it’s fun, isn’t it?
David Lamb: It is. Absolutely. Bob Adams, President of Revere Control Systems. Thank you for the time, sir. Congratulations on the success of Revere. Many more years ahead.
Bob Adams: Thank you. Appreciate you coming in.
David Lamb: Hard to find a fellow more humble, especially in light of all that Bob Adams has achieved at Revere Control Systems. Hey, we appreciate you joining us. Just a reminder, if you like what you hear, reviews would be great. If you could just review our podcast wherever you are listening to it, we’d love your feedback.
There’s a couple of ways to keep up with us. You can check us out at blueprintpod.com, The Blueprint Podcast on Facebook, and on Twitter you can find us @theblueprintpod there on Twitter. Again, the letter … Not a letter. It’s a word. The word theblueprintpod there on Twitter. Thanks once again for being with us. We’ll see you next time right here on The Blueprint Podcast.
Speaker 1: The Blueprint Podcast with David Lamb. Ted Putman, Executive Producer. The Blueprint Podcast, copyright 2017, [DLN 00:31:34].
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