Maybe his firm handshake held me. Or perhaps I was influenced by his business acumen (he teaches classes on negotiation). Or maybe it was the humour — Joe also does stand up comedy.
But honestly, I think it was his sincerity that captivated me the most.
I sat down with him for almost 2 hours in Louisville, Kentucky. Inclement weather prevented our golf plans, so we remained indoors. As the snow fell outside the windows, Joe gave me the backdrop of his life, sharing stories of leadership, homebuilding, and motivation.
Here are the highlights from that interview:
There’s Nothing Like Being Able to Say, “I Built That”
When you meet Joe, you’ll be struck by his humility as a person, and also by the pride he maintains in his work. Even while in his office, he told me story after story of why he loves homebuilding. How does he put it? He gets to be a part of people’s everyday lives.
“We constantly preach to our employees: ‘Do the right thing.’” — Joe Pusateri
Parents playing with kids in the yard, husbands and wives on walks down the street — he relishes those sightings because he knows his homes were a part. He loves driving around time and pointing to his work — “I built that!”
The Beginnings of a Company
Joe started the company back in in 1976, then hired his first employee a few years later. They’ve won a variety of awards, including HBA Louisville’s Builder of the Year and America’s Best Builder by Builder magazine. But you may recognize them from TV: They’ve been featured on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (first appearance was in 2007).
So how did Joe get into this industry? Let’s do a quick walk-through, starting on the ground flour:
Joe Built 1 Home. Then His Friends Said, “Can You Build Us One, Too?”
While working as a surveyor in construction, Joe’s boss invited him over to his house.
There, Joe learned his boss had earned $20k in equity by subcontracting the work himself. Joe thought, “I could do that.” So he did.
On the side, he built and sold a home, still keeping his day job. A couple other families saw what he had done and asked if they could buy his next house. He said yes.
The rest is homebuilding history.
Of course, it wasn’t all awards and profits. Joe has faced recessions, near bankruptcy, and even divorce along the way.
In fact, his divorce was a turning point for his life and business.
His brother gave him some motivational tapes to listen to in the car. Joe thought it was sappy, but he went ahead and popped one in.
The lesson was from Zig Ziglar.
He immediately purchased more motivational tapes and played them continuously. He began sharing at his company during their weekly meetings. Motivation became a central component of his life and business.
He also thought he’d never remarry, until he met Vicky in ‘89. She changed his world by saying she wouldn’t date him unless he went to church. To make a long story short, he not only goes to church on Sundays, he goes to a Bible study every Saturday, and he’s been married to Vicky for almost 30 years now.
Leadership: People Watch You (Then Copy)
Due in large part to lessons he was learning from Zig Ziglar and other motivational speakers, integrity became an integral role at Elite.
“We constantly preach to our employees: ‘Do the right thing,’” Joe said.
He has consistently told his employees in over 40 years, that the right thing is what’s best for the customer. Period. Not the cheapest, or quickest, or easiest, but whatever the other person would ultimately want. With their contractors, you treat them fairly, and at the office, you take responsibility.
<“You have to plant a flag in the ground and say this is what I stand for.” — Joe Pusateri>
And Joe knows this starts with him. As one example, he came into the office a few days ago and noticed trash on the ground by their door. There were several people who had already passed the trash and went to their office. He stooped down, picked it up, and brought it to the next dumpster. But he brought it up at the next meeting.
“Whose job is it to pick up the trash?”
Of course, it was no one’s, particularly. It was everyone’s. Joe knows he is under increased scrutiny as the owner. What he does will be repeated and magnified. So he is incredibly particular about his own integrity.
He doesn’t drink (ever). He doesn’t join his golf buddies when they hit up strip clubs. He refuses to accept an undercharge if a contractor accidentally charges below the agreed upon price.
(I told you, this guy’s the real deal.)
If There Is One Thing Joe Hates, It’s When They Don’t Get It Right By a Customer
Elite Homes is known and trusted for the attention to detail and for their reputation of doing right by their customers. But there is something that keeps Joe up at night. It’s the rare occasion when they get it wrong.
He hates it.
He said out of 100 customers, 2 or 3 will be happy regardless of quality. Then there are probably a couple you can’t please no matter what you do. But for the other 90 or so customers, their approval will depend on quality of experience.
For those handful of times Elite had made a mistake, Joe took it personally and is dogmatic about fixing the issue.
What’s the Contribution You Want to Leave Behind?
“I want to be the George Bailey of Louisville, Kentucky.” — Joe Pusateri
You may know I ask the above question from every guest. (It’s a favorite of mine.) Joe’s answer was timeless:
“I want to be George Bailey of Louisville, Kentucky.”
Joe described the memorable scenes from It’s a Wonderful Life, as Jimmy Stewart played the lead as George Bailey: George was suicidal, believing his life had meant nothing, until his guardian angel showed him his tremendous impact: He had unwittingly saved lives and changed the future for others.
The very name of the town had been impacted by his life.
Joe’s dream is to be that George Bailey someday.
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