Paul Galvin of SG Blocks: “Fearless”

Fearless: Every entrepreneur lives with a fear of failure. Public companies can provide public failures. I am fine with the risk of failure, many are not. I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Galvin, Chairman and CEO of SG Blocks. Paul Galvin is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of SG Blocks, Inc., a leading designer, innovator […]

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Fearless: Every entrepreneur lives with a fear of failure. Public companies can provide public failures. I am fine with the risk of failure, many are not.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Galvin, Chairman and CEO of SG Blocks.

Paul Galvin is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of SG Blocks, Inc., a leading designer, innovator and fabricator of container-based structures. Galvin brings over 25 years of experience in developing and managing real estate, including residential condominiums, luxury sales, market rate and affordable rental projects. Prior to his involvement in real estate, Galvin founded a non-profit organization that focused on public health, housing and child survival, where he served for over a decade in a leadership position. Earlier in his career, Galvin was Chief Operating Officer of a division of Yucaipa Investments, focusing on repurposing redundant religious and nonprofit assets. He also previously served as an adjunct professor at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Welfare. Galvin holds a Master of Science Degree in Social Policy from Fordham University and a Bachelor of Science in Accounting from Le Moyne College. He is also on the board of ToughBuilt Industries, which markets and distributes various home improvement and construction product lines for both do-it-yourself and professional markets.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Thank you for having me. Well, I came into the corporate world through a bit of a nonconventional path. My early career was spent in the not-for-profit space, founding and running a nonprofit that provided housing, food and medical care for homeless individuals and families with AIDS, as well as other disenfranchised people, largely in Brooklyn and the Bronx.

My experience in the nonprofit sector reinforced the need for affordable housing solutions in the private sector. I started to realize that the private sector afforded my work much more scalability and things could get done a lot faster. After moving on from my nonprofit, my work focused on delivering housing and medical solutions in a variety of ventures.

SG Blocks was born out of my blended experience between running a nonprofit and working in traditional real estate development in New York City. I thought we could create an eco-chic platform that was user friendly that also did a lot of public good, too. Thus, sustainable, efficient and eco-friendly building design company SG Blocks was born!

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

Years and years ago, I met two (still current!) colleagues of mine, David Cross, now VP of Business Development with SG Blocks, and Steve Armstrong, now Chief Technology Officer of SG Blocks, who were, and still are, pros in the shipping container design & construction business. I knew that when I met these two, the three of us could collaborate and create something really special.

From a macro perspective, I realized that pretty much everybody’s life interfaces with construction & design in some way, shape or form. But with that being said, very few people are actually proficient at it. Steve and David taught me all about the world of shipping containers, and how much more efficient, sustainable, and cost-friendly they were to create amazing structures with. From residential, to commercial, you name it, you can do it with shipping containers. We set forth a path that has led us to NASDAQ and widespread adoption of our technology.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Well, when you start a company from the ground up, there are hard days, months, and even at times, years. SG Blocks is a powerful, gritty, and smart company, out of necessity. We are a small company — we have traditionally always been underfunded, understaffed, with everyone wearing multiple hats at all times. The problem with small startups is that you are working as hard as you can for years at a time, and you don’t always know what the outcome is going to be. You just have to set your intentions and goals and have confidence in yourself and your team.

What I tell myself every day, and what I have always believed, is that if you are willing to work hard enough and put the time in, you won’t fail. Persistence through struggle is the key to success. Hard work and consistency trumps raw talent every time. Talent without discipline is a waste. With that being said, it is important to take time for yourself and reset. I pray, meditate, and try to stay strong emotionally despite the never ending stress.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Things are going extremely well at SG, we are very blessed to be doing so well during these unprecedented times. We have increased employees from 11–120 in just one year. The company has seen exponential growth across the board. All of our sectors are growing, from residential, to commercial, to healthcare. We recently bought a manufacturing factory and provided everyone health insurance, which they previously didn’t have before, which was very important to us. This had led to an increase in staff talent and retention.

The pandemic has reinforced my belief that concentrated effort and blocking out all of the outside noise in order to focus on what is important is key. There is no consolation prize for almost getting something done. The whole company is working as hard as ever to pursue a shared goal, and I think that’s really special.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

SG Blocks is truly such a special, unique company. We are a designer of container-based structures, but we are really so much more than that. We work with architects, developers, builders, and commercial clients to build incredible safe, strong and green structures. So, what does that mean? Our materials are hurricane and earthquake safe, which is only growing in importance as our climate changes. They are sustainable, eco-friendly, and huge time-savers. Our buildings have a small carbon footprint.

SG Blocks is first company ever to receive an ESR from the ICC (International Code Council). This was the literal mainstreaming of our technology which is a testament to our vision and the talent of our engineers.

With all this being said, what makes our company stand out are the people who work for us. The spirit of our people really embodies SG as a company: tough, gritty, spirited, and ready to change the world.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

I’ve made 1 million mistakes since day one and most of them aren’t funny. But we keep marching on!

Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?

I think in our society and culture, a lot of people try to tell you that you need to know what you want to do from an early age or that you need to figure it out very early on in your twenties. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. For example, I majored in accounting in college because my father told me I had to. It wasn’t what I was interested in — I wish I had studied psychology or sociology. Those subjects, which I studied on my own time, lead me to my interests in relationships between people, which in turn then lead me to form a human service organization.

You have to follow your own path. It is your only chance for success and happiness.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Fearless: Every entrepreneur lives with a fear of failure. Public companies can provide public failures. I am fine with the risk of failure, many are not.

Dedicated: SG Blocks has become such an integral part of my life, I don’t ever really ‘log-off’ for the day. It’s pretty much 7 days a week for me (which I know isn’t the healthiest habit!) but I feel so lucky to have a calling in life that I feel so passionate about. I like to work in spurts, with short breaks in between to spend time with my family and two adorable French bulldogs.

Passionate: Lukewarm is never good. I’m either extremely passionate about something or I don’t really care much at all. Passion is so important in running a business, because it’s what gets you through the tough times, the long nights, the unavoidable and occasional disagreements with colleagues, etc.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I’m looking for that answer myself! I work hard, but I do make sure to take little breaks throughout the day to recharge, even if just for a few minutes. For example, I always log-off my phone around dinner time to be with my family, and then sign-back on for a couple hours after dinner. You have to remind yourself the work will always be there. Spend time with the people you love, but finish your work daily.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

There are a few common mistakes that I see a lot, and some of these are mistakes I have made myself. I think CEOs & founders often choose financial partners and not real partners. Meaning, it’s crucial to surround yourself with good people who have the best interest of the company at heart. Often times founders find themselves not benefiting from the fruits of their labor. Choose your first partner very carefully, as how you start and set the tone for the company is imperative. If you surround yourself with good, smart people who support you, with hard work, you have the secret recipe to success.

In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

I think people underestimate just how hard it is to run a small company, like SG Blocks. Everyone has to work with a sense of urgency, which I don’t think a lot of people realize. We aren’t a company that has been around forever and we don’t have thousands of employees. We have to be scrappy. There is no time to waste. It’s definitely not the same work environment as say a larger company.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Choose your first partners wisely.
  2. Pace yourself! The race is long.
  3. Build a solid support system. Creating a company can be a lonely process.
  4. Write down your yearly goals, and then reflect on them at the end of the year. Celebrate successes, as they get your through the tough times.
  5. Have an exit in mind when you start.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Something that I think could make a huge difference: Every company considering donating 1% of payroll pre-tax to a charity whose work speaks to the company’s goals and/or mission. 1% may not sound like a lot, but it really adds up! This small act can make such a huge difference.

As someone who worked in the nonprofit sector for quite a long time, I can tell you that people don’t realize how much a little can go a long way, with the power of numbers.

It is our goal to implement the above at SG Blocks, and we will report our progress on social media.

How can our readers further follow you online?

I’m not much of a social media guru myself, but you can definitely follow all things SG Blocks! We are on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Give us a follow!

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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