Who are you, and what do you do?
My name is Nate Cohen, CFO of Cohen Architectural Woodworking. Cohen Architectural Woodworking standardizes and builds high-quality custom commercial millwork components and casework for healthcare, airports, education, retail, transportation, hotels, and more, nationwide. We work in new construction, renovation, and disaster reconstruction. I oversee all financial related items for the business including cash flow, lines of credit, banking relationships, large equipment purchases, investments and more. In addition I lead the project management team which includes responsibility for all projects under contract, serving as a liaison with clients, scheduling, budgeting, and making sure all projects are profitable and delivered on time.
What has been one insight or lesson that has been most helpful in your career?
I learned something special from Dale Furtwengler, my CFO mentor. He said, “Learn how to ask good questions.” Asking good questions can lead to great results. I learned to ask questions in a way that gets people thinking differently, in ways they normally would not respond. By listening, and then asking open insightful questions, people will often reveal something personal in great detail that can be helpful in your business or social relationship.
What has been your favorite mistake? A mistake that in retrospect led to a great lesson and progress.
A lesson I learned the hard way is to tone down the excitement and “count the costs”. Early on in my days as a Project Manager we were working on a small project to supply new cabinets and glass in the construction of a Walmart pharmacy in Louisiana. The glass was to be designed in a certain way. However, the glass vendor we were using misinterpreted the construction drawing and didn’t finish or edge the glass in the right way. We had to throw the glass out and start over. I located some new glass, and based on the vendor’s request to send it as soon as possible, I sent it in overnight delivery, even though we still had about 10 days to complete the project. The shipping costs alone were $2,000. The project itself was only worth around $8,000. So we didn’t make much money. In retrospect I should have used ground shipping at a much smaller cost. This taught me to slow the process down, do a little planning, and, again, ask good questions, before getting too excited to get something done. I have imparted this lesson to everyone on our project management team.
Project forward ten years. How will your industry or field be fundamentally different then? What opportunities do you see?
We are going to see a big change in technology that will make our job easier. Currently in the millwork industry there are multiple software programs that have to be used in day-to-day operations. However the software works independently and there is no integration from one program to another. New technology is on the horizon that will integrate a lot of things we do. It will streamline a lot of work processes and fill in many of the gaps that range from one system to the other.
What are some bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
Many in our profession believe they have to have all the “answers” and must respond immediately to client questions or requests. Some try to push through a solution in a conversation or email without thinking it through. Those rushed responses can be confusing, misleading and downright wrong. I learned it is best to slow things down and tell the client, “Let me get back to you on that.” It gives you more time to properly do your research, develop a plan, and respond with a more educated answer.
In the last two years, what have you become better at saying no to?
In the last two years I have taken on more responsibility in the company and have had to turn down requests that are not a fit with my current personal and professional goals. My time is highly valuable. In the past when a member of our team asked for help I may have completed the whole project for them, from start to finish. Now I am happy to point them in the right direction and get them started, but let them complete the task on their own. I have also become more selective in dealing with emails and requests from vendors, charitable organizations and others.
What is the one book you recommend most often and why?
The Fred Factor: How Passion In Your Work and Life Can Turn The Ordinary Into The Extraordinary by Mark Sanborn, is the one book I recommend to everyone. It is the true story of how a postal worker named Fred turned the mundane process of delivering the mail into a fun and happy experience for the customer. He loved his job and generally cared about the people he served. The mailman had no budget for this and was extremely creative. I have tried to model my life after what he did, finding ways to make our customer experiences extra special. Everyone in business should read this.
What advice would you give a smart and ambitious recent college graduate? What advice should they ignore?
There is a lot of talk among Millennials that they should change jobs every three years or so to get ahead in their careers. I believe the current crop of graduates would be better to find a company in-line with their goals and make every attempt to stay with company for the long term. The reason is that thousands of these companies are run by the so-called Baby Boomers, individuals in their 60s and 70s. These boomers will soon be retiring. There will great opportunity for those who can replace them and take a leadership role within the firm. In order to ascend within the company one must first dedicate themselves to learn everything they can about the business and immerse themselves into the company culture. In addition, they will need continuous professional and personal growth acquired through continuing education. This takes both time and commitment. Those who dedicate themselves to acquiring the skills necessary to becoming a leader within one organization, and stick with it, can reach high levels of professional as well as financial success.
What is your favorite quote, one you aim to live by?
It is not really a quote but my personal mission. “Create Fred experiences for the people around me while being productive and profitable.”
I also love the phrase, “Tell me more.” It elicits great feedback and understanding for any conversation, whether it be business or social.
If a recent graduate wanted to reach out, what would be the best way to connect with you?
They can call me at 573.265.4141 or email me firstname.lastname@example.org.