Maintain perspective: be realistic and don’t kid yourself. The lows will get better and the highs will only last so long. This is life.
As the founder and principal, Michael oversees the design as well as the day-to-day development of every project. Having worked in the industry since 1998, Michael saw the problems inherent in home renovations and realized there was a better way to do things. He founded Michael Wood & Co to elevate not only home renovations but the client’s experience throughout the process as well.
Known for his integrity and management skills, Michael also brings his creative spirit, technical savvy, and remarkably detailed executions to every home. He has the expertise to deliver large-scale residential projects on time and within budget. With his extensive experience in interior/exterior design, architecture, and construction management, Michael leads a skilled team of professionals based in NYC.
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?
Even in my earliest days, I had an affinity for design, particularly residential. I feel space as much as I see it. There is something very soothing about transforming a house into a home.
Although I had some schooling, I learned the most by working in various sectors of the industry — design, architecture, construction, cabinetry and furniture fabrication, project management — which provided a foundation that informs my work to this day.
My current firm launched almost 20 years ago when I happened to meet agent here in NYC who was looking to make some minor modifications to his West Village loft. We got along so well that we ended up doing a complete renovation. He was an up-and-coming Wall Street executive who referred me to several of his colleagues. The rest, as they say, is history.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
It was the West Village loft project that formed the idea for my business.
The design and construction industry, particularly in NYC, is legendary for cost and schedule overruns, which I saw resulting from a wide range of trade stakeholders with short-term agendas combined with creatives who have minimal understanding of the business side of the process.
It also didn’t make much sense to me from the property owner’s perspective, in that they had the least amount of leverage and the utmost to lose. It was as if nobody wanted to “own” the project.
So I combined my learned understanding of the industry with design and architecture to create a business model that is really quite simple: we represent the Owner first and foremost and manage everything from beginning to end.
In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
I think by nature, an entrepreneur has to have three aptitudes: an innate sense of creativity or inventive thinking, a tolerance for risk, and some organizational skills. I believe the first two are hard to create within oneself — you either have it or you don’t.
The latter is learnable and should constantly be developed if one is to be a success. There is no choice in our industry but to be organized. Every project is a unique dynamic of personalities, agendas, and market conditions that must be organized and motivated towards a common cause.
The good news is that even after some three decades in the industry, I learn something new during every project, which I find to be a lot more interesting than monotony, and a great source of personal growth.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
At my very first job (age 14), I had a boss who encouraged innovative thinking even though the tasks appeared rather straightforward and menial. He taught me to understand, as all entrepreneurs do, that nothing is more important than customer loyalty, and to factor that into everything I did.
To be empowered and guided in that way transformed the job from a task into an opportunity and hence, into something that I really enjoyed doing. It led to promotions, new opportunities, and formed the foundation of a business model that I believe into this day.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
There are the aesthetics of course, in conjunction with our “one-stop shop” — design, architecture, and management. Most importantly, it’s the professionalism and long-term thinking that we instill into everything we do. Of course, that means attention to detail and designing with enduring quality in mind, in order to provide our clients with a meaningful return on their investment. But it’s so much more than that.
It’s also about building relationships for life with both our clients and the trades. 95% of our business is referrals or repeat clients, in large part because our relationships flourish well beyond the completion of construction. There are some in our industry who prefer to just move on, often ending on bad terms, which leaves the Owner with nowhere to go for maintenance and follow-up in spite of such a massive investment.
In turn, we invest in our trade relationships. We cannot deliver quality execution without reliable and enduring professional craftspeople and contractors. Teamwork, respect, and communication are essential.
As a client once put it when referring us to a colleague, “Do you want your life to be hell or not? If not, hire Michael”. In short, we provide our clients with peace of mind.
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?
No matter the business, I don’t see how one can grow nor sleep at night without the following:
- Integrity: facing truths, owning your decisions/mistakes, understanding that it’s ok to say, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.” Always be a person of conviction and trust.
- Connect: nobody is beneath nor above you; we are all humans in the same struggle. We leave impressions with everyone we meet. Think about how you want to be remembered.
- Be thick-skinned: wallowing is not a method for moving forward. Dealing with the Wall Street types in NYC taught me plenty in this regard. You have to fight for every inch but that doesn’t mean being heartless. But taking things personally will only hold you back.
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?
One can always second-guess a decision or piece of advice after things go wrong but I don’t see that as productive. Yes, we must learn from the experience and not pretend it didn’t happen but we also have to let it go and not blame others.
Some of the lowest moments are often motivators, an opportunity to learn and grow.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed? Don’t forget about the business
The overarching approach that most impacts morale and productivity in a positive way is to lead with empathy. Once again, it is very easy to get caught up in the details but if you don’t have a team that feels heard, respected, or appreciated, it’s very difficult to grow.
- Reward the accomplishments, but be firm yet understanding when there’s a shortfall. I don’t see punishment as productive. By being an adult and treating others the same, you will create an environment of growth and loyalty.
- Encourage ongoing and open communication: sit down, talk it out, be approachable, and listen without preconceived notions of the issue at hand. This will encourage team members to channel their concerns, break down walls, be more productive, and see their workplace as a healthy, nurturing place.
What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?
- Live authentically. If you are an open book and portray the real you to the outside world, you will, sooner or later, earn trust and gain credibility.
- Live professionally. Keep your word and deliver as promised while being firm with your convictions. Not just to your team but your clients as well. When you consistently lead with words that are followed up with concrete action, respect for your authority will follow.
Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?
It is essential because authenticity and the human connection are enduring. We carry it long after it has been made and the experience will be rewarding for both you and your clients.
Equally, if you are seen as an open book and one who prefers to face things professionally, trust, credibility, and authority will follow.
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?
I think there is a lot of pressure on start-ups to rush or make decisions before they may actually be ready to do so. The best examples are rush hires, rush contracts, or passing on ownership too soon. Few decisions have greater impacts yet none are more complicated to undo.
Most entrepreneurs learn to trust their gut — that instinct comprised of a well-balanced mix of heart and head — but that takes time to develop, so trust the process. A work in progress for me, even after 30 years.
The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it.
As you may have picked up, the journey of an entrepreneur is not much different than the journey of life. It’s about the ups that reaffirm what you believe and the downs that keep you humble and put things into perspective.
Easier said than done sometimes, but if one focuses on the downs, it spells doom. One really must find learning in each or there is no way to move forward.
Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?
A lot depends on the level of ownership one has both as a % of the business and with their beliefs. A 100% owner has no choice but to be invested 24/7 both physically and emotionally. The “freedom” of business ownership is something one really has to love living with.
I think that’s easier to switch off at 5:00 or on weekends when you don’t “own” the business. And I can see how for some, that makes sense and is a better fit.
But as you develop the mental muscle of an entrepreneur, the highs and lows are less dramatic and taken in stride. It’s a challenge I enjoy so to me, it’s worth it.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
There was a moment at the end of my first project in NYC, the West Village loft when I revealed the finished space to the client.
I was quite nervous for obvious reasons, but mainly because he was a very hands-off client during construction, entirely leaving the details to me.
He carefully toured the space without uttering a single word and finally said, “This is exactly what I wanted.”
A moment I will never forget.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
Another moment I will never forget and a lesson learned about rushing and not trusting one’s instincts.
Years ago I thought we had a project in the bag that would have immediately raised our profile. The client even agreed to the proposal and asked for the contract.
Yet I knew in my gut that something wasn’t right. It was too easy. I should have asked more questions but was afraid to do so as the project appeared to move forward.
We didn’t get the job and as disappointing as that was, deep down the news didn’t come as a surprise. But I learned, adjusted, and to this day the experience has made me stronger.
Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?
There isn’t much choice other than to take a hard honest look at oneself and learn. The Triple-A approach:
There could in fact be a million reasons why we didn’t get that project but I kept the door open by showing respect for their decision and learning from the experience. Win or lose, be a professional.
Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”?
One way to ride the highs and lows is to control or minimize the ride itself by continuing to invest in one’s welfare:
- Be human: self-awareness is essential. Accept that you are not perfect nor will you ever be. Balance reasoning with emotions by acknowledging and understanding what affects your behavior.
- Maintain perspective: be realistic and don’t kid yourself. The lows will get better and the highs will only last so long. This is life.
- Broaden your horizons: never stop building your emotional and intellectual muscles. Read, engage with others (particularly your loved ones), appreciate the arts, and travel. Nothing is more enlightening than immersing oneself in a foreign culture.
- Exercise: perhaps somewhat obvious, but our mind and emotions are within the same vessel, and both will suffer if not given equal care. For me, a relaxed bike ride through the park almost immediately clears the mind of clutter.
- Be consistent: follow items 1 through 4 and repeat. Every day, day in and day out. In order to deliver peace of mind to my clients, I must first have some myself.
We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Resilience to me is about relying on your grit. We’ve talked a great deal about keeping the highs and lows in perspective, but the more you practice the stronger your emotional “muscles” will get and the easier it will be to persevere and bounce back.
It is sometimes easy to leap to an extreme but I’ve never once found that to be productive. Rushing, lurching, or over-reacting rarely results in positive outcomes, so I try to do myself the favor of filtering the emotions with a healthy dose of common sense. Whatever I may feel at the time, it is hardly the end of the world.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?
I’ve been on my own since the age of 17, and although hardly hard done by, it was an early growth experience having to take responsibility for everything including housing, food, and laundry.
Today I recognize that time to be a driving force behind my affinity for residential design. A “desire” to create a warm and inviting home that never stops providing me with a great deal of satisfaction.
In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations?
I find blind positivity to be a bit overrated. We can’t just decide to be someone we are not and I prefer to deal with my emotions and values honestly vs. burying them in false bravado.
On the flip side, negativity is a consuming emotion that can engulf and become darkly destructive. Back to the 5 points above: maintenance of your physical and mental health is ongoing.
What helps you to do so?
Perhaps this comes with time but being mid-50s — in that, I have likely seen more sunsets than are ahead of me — certainly sharpens one’s perspective of time. Moments matter and they cannot be recaptured.
So when the negative moments hit, I acknowledge the emotions, recall the times was I able to persevere and call on that same energy.
It helps to ask if being upset is really how I want to spend my time. I then begin to refocus and gain the needed perspective to move forward.
Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.
In our business, there are often conditions that are discovered mid-process that cause a planned design or specified material to not work.
While unsettling at the time, there is little choice but to face the problem and come up with creative solutions, something we love to do and the reason we’re in this business in the first place.
In other words, turn a negative into a positive and hence, a productive outcome.
What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?
To me, the definition of greatness has little to do with monetary attainment, although that often follows when one is hardworking, realistic, and authentic.
“Never keep up with the Joneses. Drag them down to your level. It’s cheaper.”
– Quentin Crisp
To me, this says that no matter the wealth and stature, we are merely human, and that to live a good life it is essential to keep your ego in check (perspective) and have a few laughs along the way (authenticity).
Crisp was a man who, in spite of enormous ridicule and personal challenges, was compellingly honest with himself and with others, and was eventually rewarded for it with reverence and recognition.
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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!