Many graduates of SBA’s “Emerging Leaders” classes talk about an “Ah Ha!” moment when the lessons, lectures and course work seem to suddenly light up a new path of understanding that will take student business to greater levels.
Moises Montanez, owner of Miami’s Alta Home Remodeling, knows that feeling. As one of 13 students in SBA South Florida District’s inaugural Emerging Leaders Class, he is in the process of remodeling his general contracting business with the knowledge he gained from the class.
“Before the class, my business was four employees working on personal homes. I knew I wanted to grow and I wanted to penetrate the public sector but didn’t know how to do it,” said Montanez.
Moises learned about Emerging Leaders from a Miami-Dade SCORE chapter newsletter. Alta Home Remodeling fit the profile of businesses sought: revenues in excess of $400 thousand; been in business for more than three years and had more than one employee besides himself. He was also willing to commit to more than 100 hours of class time over a six month period.
“Though the businesses owners in our class came from different backgrounds, we learned that we shared many of the same problems and challenges in growing our business,” he recalled at graduation. “The class definitely sees our businesses in an entirely different way.”
People might call Moises an accidental entrepreneur. Having spent weekends in his Uncle Pedro’s hardware store while growing up in Puerto Rico, he learned how to use tools and developed handyman skills. These skills led to an enjoyable hobby he pursued after work. A seven year-stint in the U.S. Army infused him with management and leadership skill. Those opened doors and made him a successful manager with a tool rental company after his military service.
And like the old saying “when you least expect it,” it happened. Life took a hard turn.
“The country was shaken by the events of 9/11, and the company worked for reorganized. All the managers lost their jobs. I was literally thrown into the fire,” said Montanez.
If every dark cloud has a silver lining, then Moises found his with more time to work fixing up a house he recently bought.
“My neighbors saw me doing more work on my house and liked what they saw. Soon they were asking me to help with their house repairs. I ran out of time and began scheduling work. My hobby turned into a small business.”
Moises established Alta Home Remodeling in 2002 with three employees. The company’s original focus on cabinetry work later evolved to tile work, window installations and more. Moises obtained his general contracting license to expand beyond handyman services. But just when Alta Home Refinishing seemed to be on a solid foundation, the unexpected happened again. The 2008 economic downturn changed the company’s business landscape.
“Like most small businesses, the economic crisis hurt us. That’s when I learned the importance of diversification in business. I didn’t know how to contract and tap into public ventures. The Emerging Leaders class helped answer the questions about how to do it.”
With the Emerging Leaders class behind him and a new perspective on business, Moises Montanez is putting his three year strategic plan in motion to rebuild and transform the simple handyman service that grew from a hobby that started in his Uncle Pedro’s hardware store. He is applying the lessons learned and made in-roads with public ventures.
“I got my certification to do work with Miami Dade county and the public school district. I recently received a couple construction contracting opportunities with the school district and although they are not large, I know these will help me grow and diversify my company in the future.”
A second lesson Montanez took to heart is to closely examine his strengths and weaknesses of what the company does on a day-to-day basis.
“I contracted out some of my day-to-day office functions with another small business that specialized in those tasks which gave me more time to concentrate on construction projects and ultimately will save the company money,” he said.
Moises Montanez is part of a network of more than 2000 small business owners benefitting from SBA’s Emerging Leaders Initiative. His recent success with contracting is reflective of more than $300 million in public sector contracts other graduates have landed after graduation.
“There is one more change, I’m making,” said Moises. “I’m changing the name of my company to Alta Quality Builders to better brand the work I’m doing now than when I started.”