Business can be an opportunity to help bring change, that is, if you know where to focus. This is where the triple bottom line principle comes in, and our guest today lives it to the last letter. In this episode of Construction Genius, Jonathan Orpin, founder of New Energy Works and Pioneer Millworks, shares how people, planet, and profit form the heart of his entrepreneurial journey. He talks about his experience in the green building movement, the importance of making a positive impact, and his unique approach to attracting the right people to his companies. Jonathan shares insights on balancing the needs of people, the planet, and profit, as well as the challenges and rewards of transitioning to a 100% ESOP company. Discover the secrets of building a sustainable business and inspiring change in the world with Jonathan and his recommendation for a killer restaurant in Portland. Tune in!
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The Triple Bottom Line: People, Planet, Profit With Jonathan Orpin
My guest is Jonathan Orpin. He’s a lifelong entrepreneur and sustainability advocate who founded two companies in the design-build space, New Energy Works and Pioneer Millworks. He has several years of experience operating on the triple bottom line of a belief that people, planet, and profit work together to ensure a better future.
Not only that, but in 2022, his company became 100% ESOP. We dive into those two things, people, planet, and profit, and we also talk about how to structure an ESOP for the benefit of yourself and your employees. I know you’re going to enjoy this conversation with Jonathan. He has some very clear views about how to run a business and how a construction company can have an impact on the world. Feel free to share this information with anyone that you think would benefit from reading it. Also, he does give a recommendation for a killer restaurant in Portland called Andina. Make sure you check it out. Enjoy my conversation with Jonathan.
Jonathan, welcome to the show.
Thanks, Eric. I’m glad to be here.
You have a philosophy that drives your business, and you call it the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit. Introduce our audience to what you mean by those things.
We started in the early ‘80s thinking that business would be an opportunity to help bring change. At that time, the big issue was people were becoming super aware of the planetary issues. OPEC had created its oil embargo, and everybody was very sensitive to that stuff. Even back then, we realized that it was more than just about profit. Although profit was important, it had to do with the planet as well. Eventually, we also realized that people make it all up.
When I talk about people, I talk about our own people within the organization, our clients, suppliers, bankers, and the community. Whatever you want to determine your community to be. Maybe it’s your church, neighborhood, or town. I also think it’s the people on the planet, which bring us to the planet itself. Without this planet, we’re up sh*t’s creek, to use a technical term. For us, business became early on this three-dimensional support or stool or maybe filters, you could say, where the decisions we made had to do with people, planets, and profit.
It’s pretty clear that without profit, you’re not in business very long, attracting the right people, creating a capital investment, which any business needs, or not able to give back to the community in the way of charitable good. Certainly, you can’t pay your taxes. Taxes are critical to keep the roads going and the schools open. All those things created this vision of what business should be for us. We held to it for all of this time. Sadly, we haven’t saved the planet and the world yet, but we’re aiming for it. Companies like ours have the opportunity to make a difference. If everyone thought of their business in the triple bottom line, we would be a better world.
Your journey in terms of the green building movement and how you’ve seen that develop over the past 30 or 40 years.
Ups and downs, honestly. I go back aways. I’m older. I remember Jimmy Carter’s work with the solar industry and the solar credits back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. That created an industry and a set of thoughts that some people think that if they had continued in that trajectory, we would not have the planetary warming and the issues that we have now.
Some people think that. Come the mid-‘80s, the solar panels were taken off the White House, people no longer cared, and all of the support for the industry, the solar industry is one example that we’re making it a more even playing field with oil, were all taken away. It went down far. In the last few years, it has come back into people’s minds. It’s pretty clear that, in fact, there is global warming. It is a real thing. It’s not a China hoax or whatever anybody in politics wants to call it. We’re getting so many more people now who are so much more interested. Young builders and young people are saying, “What can we do? What can we do better than our parents or their parents?”
I’m glad you brought up China because one of the pushbacks that you get when you start talking about things like saving the planet is a shrug of the shoulders. The pushback is number one. My company and my efforts have a minuscule impact. Even if they did have an impact, then you have countries all over the world that have no real push in terms of the Western zeal for green building. Other parts of the world are not into that. They’re going to go doing what they want to do anyway. What’s the point?
We can’t just do what we can do, then what is the point? What’s it all about? I do have some pushback on your pushback. This came from Namibia, for instance. I can tell you that they don’t know what sustainable building and green building is. They just live it. Each of those Namibian footprints on this Earth is like 1 of 100th of mine and probably at least 150th or 120th of any Chinese person. For much of the third world, it’s not an issue because there’s no option for it.
Their carbon footprints on this planet are small. China is a good example of what isn’t right. They’re pushing hard on the wrong industries. Coal is an example of a building with low-grade concrete. It is true that we can’t solve everybody’s problems. It is also true that nobody has a bigger footprint than Americans. We have a big environmental footprint, so we have to lead the way. Honestly, in all areas, whether it’s democracy or finance or good commerce. We lead the way in the world anyway. We are the world leaders in so many ways. People will look up to us if we do the right thing.Nobody has a bigger environmental footprint than Americans. We have to lead the way. Click To Tweet
I get your logic that people will look up to us, but it seems like not everyone does look up to us. It’s funny because I was chitchatting with my kids. I was talking about how, in the ‘90s, America was the sole superpower in the world right after the demise of the Soviet Union. There came an instability in the first part of the 2000s with 9/11 and everything that followed that.
With the rise of China, both economically and increasingly militarily, and the influence of Russia around the world as well, there seems to be this bipolar or tripolar resistance to the Western way of thinking about things. Even if we do provide the leadership that we purport to provide, it’s not something that’s completely embraced by people.
From a business perspective, you might hear people thinking, “I get it, Jonathan. I get the logic of it, but we’re in business here to make money. I’m in business here to take care of my family. Ultimately, what’s going on in the world will dampen any efforts I make myself to make this contribution to a greener planet,” as you’re talking about.
This is pretty intense. What you’re asking is a big question. There are people who we will never be convinced that what they do is important, and yet, every time I talk to people, their eyes tend to get bigger and they think, “I can make a difference. I can be inspirational to my teenage daughter or neighbor by doing the right thing.”
As in that crazy movie Pay It Forward, you have to start somewhere. I’m willing to buy into that approach that there’s nothing we can do about it. I also want to push back. I travel a lot and we have international partners. They are so focused on every single thing we do. My Dutch friends can name the governor of California and we can’t even point to the Netherlands on a map. People look at us all the time.
As I said, I just came from South Africa. Those folks were watching the January 6th insurrection. They were going, “What the heck is happening to you?” I say, “Don’t worry, we’ll get it under control.” There’s great relief in them. You’re right that the leadership in China doesn’t care, but the people care. Maybe the leadership in Russia doesn’t care, but the Ukrainian people care. I can go on forever about this.
I just came back from South America a couple of years ago. Everybody there knew what we were doing. When I would ask the Peruvian, “Why do all your presidents end up in prison after they get out of office?” They look at us and say, “We don’t have a strong democracy.” They’re all watching us. Most of them do respect and to the point of almost idolizing us. That’s what I’ve found anyway.
You have this idea of people, planet, and profit. What people are you looking for in your business to work with you? When you’re looking for an employee, how do you go through the process of attracting the right people and putting them in the right positions in your company?
We are a timber-framed company with high-performance enclosures. That’s what we do. We also do millwork from either reclaimed or sustainably harvested certified wood products. We’re basically wood people. The reason I started to become a wood person after we started many years ago is that it was pretty obvious that the stuff is gorgeous and easy to attract great people who want to work with it.
It was pretty clear to me that I was onto something good. It was beautiful and sustainable. I was able to attract super good people, many of whom have been with me for decades. Even the new people, which is critical to any organization that new people jump in and bring new energy and new thoughts, are there because they’re inspired. Not inspired by me but inspired by the community that we’ve created at New Energy Works and Pioneer Millworks.
Part of the answer is if you build it, they will come to use that cliché. That’s a big thing. The guy who is our COO now, for instance, wrote a letter several years ago to me and said, “I’m working in aerospace, and I’m creating rocket ships, let me tell you, it’s not as sexy as it sounds. I want to join you, guys. Every morning when I wake up, I go to your postcard of the day and see what else you guys are up to.”
When you can be so tactile and have that immediate impact, we’re not that big a company. We’re 160 people on two coasts. We’re still small enough that people have an impact, and we’re able to know who our workers are. We’re able to do some gorgeous work that attracts good people. I’m not sure if I’m answering your question exactly, but first, you’ve got to have a place where people want to come.
It’s interesting you use the word beauty there, which is a lovely word that we don’t consider often in our world. It seems maybe even mystifying beauty. It’s interesting how you see the beauty in what you do. That beauty is attractive. Can you talk more about that?
I’m giving a presentation at the Northwest Ecobuilders Guild on a project. We were chosen from a number of other projects as one of the people who are presenting at their annual convention. I’m not sure if it’s convention, but the reason they chose us is this particular project fits all the eco stuff. It’s low carbon in the build, carbon sequestration in the materials, and low operating costs, but it’s also gorgeous.
This home we did is stunning. It’s not big. It’s 1,700 square feet, and that’s another important issue that gorgeousness can be human scale, as I like to call it. It’s beautiful. For us, again, we can inspire the client, our coworkers, and subs because our bar is high when it comes to fine woodworking. People want to be inspired. They have to be inspired by more than just graphs and numbers, even though that’s very important for some.
Tell me about how your philosophy of business influences the clients that you choose to do business with and the clients that you don’t. Is there ever a situation where a client comes to you and wants you to do a building, and you’ll say, “I don’t think you’re a fit for me. I don’t think that we’re a good alignment culturally?”
No. Sometimes I want to, honestly. The truth is that project is going to be better because we’re there and we don’t compromise certain values, like, for instance, the performance of the enclosure. That enclosure is going to be better because we’re there. It’s going to do all those things that I said, which is sequester, use more carbon, use less carbon in the construction, and use less energy during the operating lifespan. It’s going to support my staff and my coworkers.
For me, it’s very rare for us to turn down a project. There may be design considerations. Not cultural considerations. We don’t do concrete steel and glass modern homes, but if it’s who we are, if it fits our skillset, our aesthetics, although that’s always so personal, but if it fits our skillset, then we’d like to do the project. Not always is our heart into it at the beginning, but usually, by the end, we love the project. Often, we love the clients. My own company has a huge variation in political, philosophical, and spiritual sensibilities. A hundred and sixty people, you can imagine. From New York to Oregon, we’re very diverse. It’s not as though I’m going to say, “I’m sorry, you voted for that guy.”
You mentioned something about the size of the home of 1,700, and you talked about human-sized. Let’s say someone came to you and said, “I want a 25,000-foot home. I want all the sustainability,” but it’s a certain size. I understand where you’re coming from. Does that philosophy and outlook, other than the materials, you said, “We don’t do these types of materials,” but when it comes to size and the impact of a building because the larger you get, the more of a footprint you have and the more impact you have. Even if you use sustainable products, does that ever come into the equation where you say, “I’m not going to build that because that’s too large?” Maybe I’m asking it awkwardly.
It’s valid to ask someone like me who’s opinionated about these. I have a lot of coworkers who are like, “We’d take that.” I, myself, am intrigued by the challenges of that. It’s true that one of the things if we are the architects which we do own architecture for maybe 20% overall of our projects, which is a great ratio. Eighty percent comes from independent architects around the country, and 20% come from inside.
A nice business balance for both inspiration and a source of work. I find it fascinating to be able to build a 25,000-square-foot house if we inspire them to maybe build 23,000 square feet. I’ve done better. If they say, “I want 23,000 square feet of garbage,” and they’re unmovable. That’s probably not going to work for us. For instance, now I’m turning down jobs where the person comes in and says, “By the way, I’m using spray in place closed cell polyurethane foam.” I can tell you that the GWP, the global warming potential, is about 13,000 times greater than the wood fiber insulation we use.
I say, “Let’s talk about it.” We talk, and we work through it. I was telling you before we started the story that I built a house years ago for a Texas oil man. We were telling him how we build and how our exterior thermal break, which is a rigid insulation around the outside of the stud wall, is going to be wood fiber insulation. I said, “We used to use polyisocyanurate. Now we’ve got new products that we import from Germany.” In this particular case, it was called STEICO, which is a wood fiber rigid insulation.
We use it for a lot of reasons. One of which is we are trying to limit petroleum, then I was quiet, waiting for the hammer to come down. I’m feeling like this guy’s going to pick up his desk and drop it on my head. He thought about it for a while, looked at me, and said, “That’s a great idea,” and on we went. At that point, I knew that if I could convince that fellow to use wood fiber installation over a petroleum-based product. I said, “T here’s hope.” That’s just one little thing. Honestly, I’m intrigued by that. Do you have a 25,000-square-foot home you’d like to refer me to? That would be fun.
That’d be cool.
We have. We’ve built. We just finished quite a large home. We do large homes as well as small homes. I’m happy to work for interesting people.
Where do you find the most tension in those three pillars of people, planet, and profit?
People. Everybody in your audience, raise your hand if you’re struggling with staffing requirements or if you’ve had a client here and there who maybe didn’t get along with coworkers as much as you think or run into a building inspector who wasn’t on board. People are complex and challenging. I’m particularly intrigued with my new role as CEO of a 100% employee-owned company as opposed to previously being the sole proprietor, so to speak. I like to say I’ve gone from Sheriff to Federal Marshall. I now have to follow a lot of law rules, convince a lot of people, and follow the book as opposed to riding into town on my horse and six guns.
Let’s talk about that a little bit. What was your main motivation for wanting to transfer from sole proprietorship to something else?
It’s not hard to figure out that there are a few ways to leave and transition out of a company when you begin to age out. At some point, I’m not going to want to work as hard as I do. Long ago, my wife would suggest that she didn’t want me to work as hard as I did. You have to start thinking about transition.
If you were hanging around the house for a couple of weeks, she might be saying, “Back to work.”
Be careful what you wish for.
I’ll get back to you on that, Eric. You have to transition, and you can never start thinking about it too early. There are 3 or 4 ways to do that. One is being carried out of the office in a box, leaving a mess behind you because you didn’t plan. Another is finding third-party arms-length transactions, which is the common way to do it. Find somebody to buy the business. The concern with that is that the math isn’t on your side.
Often, people get hurt, and businesses don’t make it. Somebody with money or thoughts comes in, thinking they can run this business and can’t, or because of the actual added debt on the balance sheet. They’ve got to make cuts or do things that maybe your staff and that culture that you’ve created doesn’t appreciate. A company like ours is quirky, spread out, and doing a lot of different things. It’s hard to do.
The third, the one that I chose, was basically selling it to the employees. Why not? These folks are the ones who made this thing happen, and they’ve continued to make it happen. We’ve always had an ownership mentality. I couldn’t have moved to Oregon from New York and still run this thing for years if the people in New York still didn’t act like owners.
That said, you can’t take an ownership mentality to the bank. This is an actual, real way to reward the people who are helping and who are doing the work with what is simplistically an additional retirement plan. Now, we go from a sense of ownership to real ownership. While a sense of ownership is great, it is important, real ownership has tangible benefits. It’s a proven fact that ESOPs, which is an Employee Stock Ownership Plans, companies have much greater retention much greater profits, and their people, when they retire, retire with more retirement than your normal company.While a sense of ownership is great, real ownership has tangible benefits. It's a proven fact that ESOP companies have much greater retention and much greater profits. Click To Tweet
These are powerful things to offer to your coworkers who have been with you and invite new people to come in. They say, “When you join us, you’re an owner,” after a vesting period. The employee stock ownership plan is a federally controlled program, very tight oversight from the IRS and the Department of Labor. Since it’s a tax-protected entity and the tax protections are what are used to buy out previous ownership, it is also open to fraud.
Now, as soon as you say tax protected, you get every shyster around circling the house. It’s very regulated. There are a lot of rules and regulations, and there are costs on a yearly basis to the upkeep of the ESOP for certain profitability. Once you are that, then it’s an amazing process. I have been bought out. I probably could have been better on the open market, frankly, but I did fine. I didn’t want to be that guy who shows up at a local grocery store to see the cashier saying, “You got out of this with real well, but the rest of us got nothing,” when it comes to transitioning a company. Instead, the people who I’ve worked with for a long time say, “Thank you.”
In working with companies that are ESOPs, one of the biggest challenges that some companies have is communicating not the logic of the ESOP so much, but the mechanism of the ESOP to the employees or to the owners. Also, how they can benefit, what they need to do, and the approach they need to take to benefit from it in the long-term. What work do you guys do communicating that internally to your people?
We have one word. It is over-communicate. We started this process years ago. A few years ago, we did our first tranche, which is a fancy French word for step or slice. We became 30% employee-owned or ESOP. We went from 30% to 100%. All this time, we have been talking and meeting. We have a monthly ESOP newsletter that’s handled by one of my longtime coworkers, Megan.
She runs an ESOP communications committee, pulling in ten people from various parts of the company to plan events, communicate, and hear suggestions from the floor. Every year, for several years, and this might be interesting to you, Eric, we have done what we call a day of business. We shut the whole place down and put all the phones on automatic answer.
For the whole day, we spend sharing how we did financially with very open books. How are we doing versus our budget? What’s the rolling ten-year history? Where are we going in the future? We spend a bunch of time on what projects we are doing because not everybody can see a fine woodworking group. It doesn’t always see what the timber framers are doing, what the enclosure folks are doing, what Pioneer Millworks, who’s our millwork company, is doing.
Everybody gets to see that in these 300 gorgeous slides. We sometimes will bring in a guest speaker in the afternoon, or we’ll break up and do smaller group sessions. Also, at night, we’ll have fun and games. We bring in food trucks and barbecues and throw axes. We shut down for the whole day. It’s paid and we share information. We’ve been doing that for several years.
As we started to get closer to the ESOP, that was just part of the communication. Here’s where we’re going, where we are, and where we’re about to be. That continual culture of communication helped us to make this transition pretty well. As I say about the ESOP, too, it’s important. I’ve said this now, each of my days of business for several years, this is not some trick to make you work harder. This is not management saying, “You’re an owner now. You should be working harder.” The truth is, it’s an acknowledgment of what you deserve for already working. That has resonated well with people.
How did you get into business in the first place?
I was unemployable. I’ve got lots of sayings. One of them is, “We’ve all heard the problem with labor is management.” I’ve added two more axioms. The problem with management is ownership, but we owners have to be owners because otherwise, we’d get fired. Honestly, you’re a coach. That’s what you do for a living, beyond talking to people like me.
You understand that if people had started to listen to you several years earlier and been coachable, they would be so much better off. They might be happier people or be better business people. I wasn’t smart enough to hire you several years ago. I kept working. I don’t know if that answered your question very well, but sometimes entrepreneurs have to follow their noses.
I understand that idea about being unemployable. I know how you feel. I feel the same way myself. The question I have for you is, you’re running a business with 160 people. This is something where you grow in your understanding because one of the great challenges that someone who is entrepreneurial like yourself has is harnessing their energies in a rational way that allows the growth of a sustainable business. How did you go about that process? Did you need to bring in someone else to help run the operations of the business while you focused more on the entrepreneurial activities? What was that process like?
I wish I could tell you that it was carefully thought out and scientifically approached. One of the things that happened that’s intriguing about us is, several years ago, I moved from our core business in Western New York in the gorgeous Finger Lakes region to Oregon, into the gorgeous Willamette Valley region.
We had, at that point, grown to 165 people, and I was no longer being effective. As you can well imagine, a lot of entrepreneurs are good at starting things and bad at managing them. I felt a certain personal toxicity. I wasn’t enjoying my day-to-day. I said, “I’m moving. Maybe I’ll be a West Coast salesperson, sell the company, or I’ll sit around on the beach.” Nobody believed that last one. We all got together and talked, and they said, “Why don’t you just start a smaller operation out West? A lot of our wood comes from the West. We do have West of the Rockies clients who are hard to service. Go do it out there, and we’ll all continue on.”
I thought, “That’s a great idea. Why don’t we do that?” I landed in Oregon in 2008 in August. You’re certainly of the age to remember what August of 2008 looked like. In some ways, it couldn’t have been a worse time to start a business. I had to find a school for my child, a grocery store, design and build my own house, and start a business in Oregon while helping to maintain a business in New York during the largest recession of my life.
Certainly, I’m not looking forward to doing that again. However, in some ways, it’s also a very good time to start it building. I used to give lectures on business, and I gave them during the recession. David Letterman used to say, “The five X best ways to do something,” then he’d start at number 5 and number 4 and number 3. There are I would start off by saying, “The five best ways to be in business during a recession are Monday morning, the freeway is quite open, and not very busy. The big guy at the call desk is happy to see you. You can forget to schedule the crane for the timber frame raising, and yet one is still available the next day.”
In some ways, it’s a great time to run a business, particularly if you’re as incompetent as I am. Anyway, what happened is I moved out there, and I left good people behind. Those good people simply rose to the top. Not everyone is still there. There’s always going to be attrition, but there are good people who are still there, still doing their job, still part of our management team, and rarely asking me for my opinion necessarily on their day-to-day stuff.
I’m there, helping at the top and on the board. I’m the visionary, if that’s an annoying way to call myself, but there is some of that truth. On the day-to-day stuff, I’m not telling people what to do because they’re smart enough to do it. If you don’t have people who are smart enough to do it, look in the mirror and figure out why.
It’s interesting because we have a mindset in business, or at least we’re told that we have to have some grand strategy and plan that we’re executing all the time. A lot of times, the decisions we make in business are serendipitous and, in many ways, driven by opportunity that comes up and seized. Sometimes, we don’t have complete control over those opportunities. Other times, we’re more active and seizing them. It’s interesting to think how business develops in ways that we don’t expect sometimes.
I’ve often said nothing scares me more than a five-year strategic plan.
I call it dusty binder planning. You pay consultants to come in and give them a bunch of money. You get a binder at the end and then you put it on your shelf. Whenever I work with my clients on planning, I’m like, “You can talk about where you’re going to be five years from now. That’s terrific, but let’s plan for a year or maybe three years tops,” and then we know that no plan survives contact with the enemy.
We do thorough, in-depth yearly budgeting. That process, year after year, creates its own vernacular or rhythm. We track that budgeting closely on a month-to-month basis in all five of our profit centers. We have a rhythm of what that is. Now, we are doing some planning now on the 3 to 5 years only because we have some large buildings and Cap Exs that are coming. We have to look at that, but the typical rule is that’s not our MO.
I’m not encouraging looseness or lack of discipline, but if you’re doing ten-year planning, I would say set yourself a big ten-year goal and go for it. Get busy now doing what you need to do to run the business in a profitable way. Let me ask you this, then. What is the biggest contrast you’ve seen between Oregon and Western New York?
Both have geographically similar roles in farmlands and water elements, the Finger Lakes region in Western New York, the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, as well as the Coast. A lot of good, caring people. Politically, it’s very different. Western New York is conservative, and the Willamette Valley is very liberal. Those are big differences. That sense of environmentalism is much stronger out here than it is in Western New York. Always trying to make a difference there.
As I said earlier, we’re certainly seeing it much more now than we did 5 or 10 years ago in Western New York. Out in the Willamette Valley in the Portland area, it’s like everybody’s second word. Those are also some big differences. I consider Western New York more homey and Portland more transient. It has attracted amazing people and amazing talent to Portland. Whereas, in Western New York, it’s more homegrown, and I respect that. A couple of my coworkers have these amazing extended families. They all are within ten miles or so, whereas out here, 3 out of 4 people aren’t born here, for instance. The skiing is better here. When I say here, I’m in Portland, Oregon.
You’ve been around for a while. If you had to go back and start your business all over again knowing what you know now, what would you do differently, if anything? If you wouldn’t do anything differently, if that’s a question that’s not hitting home, then don’t feel that you have to come up with an idea. If you have something, feel free to share that with us.
I’m always impressed with these folks. Usually, they’re big, strong men who say, “I would live my life and not do anything differently.” I’m not sure I would do anything the same. I’ve made every mistake there can be, but the difference with me is I have to make them ten times before I figure out how to get them right. This whole thing about hindsight is 2020. That’s a goal for me. I would do a lot of things differently. I would try not to let the business control my mentality 24/7. It’s very hard to do as an entrepreneur.
I wake up in the middle of the night, and I think about business. You’ve got this gorgeous wife lying next to me, and I’m thinking about business. There’s a sickness there that if I could change that, I would try to do that. I would also get more coaching earlier. This isn’t a plug for you and your business. I didn’t think I knew you guys existed many years ago. I would try to listen better.
I have some very good mentors in my life, but mostly, they were trade mentors, not business mentors. I never had a good business mentor. I would probably try to do that better. I would probably not be as ambitious. We started with a $6,000 loan, and now we’re a $30 million or $40 million business. That didn’t happen without a push, and that’s not easy. That takes a lot of work and a lot of sacrifice.
It’s interesting you say that, though, because you put in that work and that sacrifice. You went from a $6,000 loan to a $30 million or $40 million company. You’ve got 106 coworkers. You think about your fellow owners and the impact that you’ve had upon not only their lives but the lives of the community and their families. Without that push that you’ve put in, perhaps that impact wouldn’t have been extensive.
No doubt about it. If you look at people who sacrifice for the community around them as an incredible example of Sister Theresa types or certain politicians who care and are there for the service, it’s impressive. To a lesser extent, folks like me are that way because we have pushed the industry towards a more sustainable higher craft. My coworkers are better off than maybe they would be somewhere else. I buy that, and I appreciate you saying that. That’s what keeps me going. In the dark of the night, though, it’s not always helpful.
It’s not because you have to deal with yourself in the dark of the night and the immediate problems that you have in front of your face in terms of your business. It’s always good to take that time to reflect on the impact that we have that perhaps we don’t even appreciate.
I had to laugh. I won an award that is coming up in December for the Rochester business community. It’s called an Icon Award. There’s like half a dozen or a dozen people who win this award every year. I laugh and say, “That means I’ve been around long enough that I’m still alive. They’re finally seeing some of this stuff.” If you beat your head against the wall long enough, you start to make a dent in that wall.
I want to wrap up here. I appreciate your time. Give us one restaurant recommendation there out in Portland.
Andina. It’s Peruvian, but it’s Peruvian at the highest level. The mom who started it came from Peru. She’s now handed it down to her kids. It’s extraordinary.
This might be the second time that we’ve had Andina recommended on the show. It sounds familiar.
I could give you others.
This is out of the mouth of 2 or 3 witnesses. I’ll make sure that people get a chance to go there if they wish. Jonathan, I appreciate your time. Thank you for joining us on Construction Genius.
Eric, thanks so much. You are a pretty smart guy. Now I know where the title came from.
It’s funny people ask me that all the time. They say, “Are you the genius?” I tell them, “The company name comes from the quote from Edison, ‘Genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.’” I’m just the 1%. All of my clients are 99%.
Nice to meet you.
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- New Energy Works
- Pioneer Millworks
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About Jonathan Orpin
JONATHAN ORPIN is a lifelong entrepreneur and sustainability advocate who founded not one but two successful eco-friendly companies in the design + build and manufacturing industries, New Energy Works & Pioneer Millworks. With over 30 years’ experience operating on the triple bottom line—a simple belief that people, planet, and profit work together to ensure a better future, his philosophy on sustainability, business management, and giving back are reflected in everything he and the companies he founded do. In 2022 Jonathan sold both companies to his employees and took on the title of CEO as they continue as an ESOP, or Employee Stock Ownership Plan. Utilizing an ESOP as a means of succession planning ensures that the sustainable and forward-thinking principles the companies were founded on are continued for years to come not by a single owner or investment group, but by the craftspeople who make up the company themselves. “I’ve long said what makes the ESOP a good fit for us is that our folks have always had an ownership mentality,” says Jonathan Orpin. “I’m excited to make this transition in a democratized workplace with my coworkers, which has long been a goal of mine, but especially now as employees are increasingly seeking greater equity in the workforce.