So, just who is Paul Ridilla? Possibly the one word that best describes me is maverick. Webster's dictionary defines that word as: “an independent individual who does not go along with a group or party.” Please understand, I'm not stubborn or inflexible, but I have always searched for, found and benefited from that proverbial “there is always a better way” mind-set.
Let me share some of the reasons and circumstances that justify doing it “my way.” (Remember Frank Sinatra's hit recording, “My Way”? That's a pretty good résumé of my own life.)
I was born in Latrobe, Pa., in 1931, ninth in a contractor's family of 13. This was the start of our Great Depression and I needed to be independent to survive. I went on my Pap's payroll at age 8 doing all crafts on mostly residential and small commercial construction projects. Everyone in my family is a born craftsman, even the girls, and we inherited that ability to build whatever needed to be built, repaired or replaced.
On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and America went to war. We did not have a full-time military, so they drafted the eligible men from age 18 to 38, and the government encouraged women into the factory jobs. We did not have enough guns, ammunition, ships, planes, tanks, etc., nor were our factories equipped to build them. The government rationed food, gasoline, tires and building products in order to support our troops.
This war effort required mega construction manpower to convert our peacetime factories into wartime production. Since my Pap and our family were builders, we went into the factories, removed the existing machinery and foundations, poured new foundations, installed wartime machines and connected everything necessary to produce what our troops desperately needed.
I worked after school and weekends doing industrial construction without an apprenticeship or any type of training. Easy to see how all of this would produce a maverick, isn't it?
My Pap was totally open shop, but my oldest brother started his own union construction company in 1944. This gave me insight to the good and bad of union, open shop and double-breasted operations.
I was a superintendent running jobs at age 16, going to the job before and after high school classes. (Keep in mind, though, I did start working at age 8!) At 22, I became executive vice president of Dill Construction (my brother Johnny's company) and successfully quadrupled the company's size and profit.
Retirement came at age 40, and I started my consulting business to help other contractors do what we were doing. My goal was to work in all 50 states, which took me 15 years; I also have worked throughout Canada. (Being an avid hunter and fisherman, it is always a fantastic bonus to visit Canada!)
When BNP was considering publishing Plumbing & Mechanical, I was asked to write this column to help the magazine's readers. This opportunity multiplied my opportunities to “give something back” to our great industry.
I also wrote my book, “Born To Build,” to help parents recognize, understand and guide their gifted children into our industry.
All Work & No Play ...My work has always been challenging, exciting, rewarding and fun. But I'm not a workaholic without other interests. I give every ounce of my ability and energy every day at work to provide enough spare time and money to spend time with and enjoy my family and fulfill our dreams.
I married the most wonderful lady I've ever known, and probably the only one who would put up with me all these years. We've raised eight children, have 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. She and I have traveled to Europe, South America, Hawaii, Canada, Mexico, Alaska and most of the rest of America. We always enjoy seeing the world, but our favorite place to be is with our kids and grandkids.
Although I carried a 10 handicap at Arnold Palmer Country Club in Latrobe, hunting and fishing top my list of hobbies. My best hunting experience was taking my grandson Barry Johnson deer hunting for his first time (he was age 12 then; now he's in his first year of law school). On our last day, he bagged a nice buck. We were both near tears when he posed for the photo that appears with this article.
When we lived in Pennsylvania, we maintained season tickets to the Pittsburgh Pirates and Steelers games, and went to many golf tournaments, especially if Arnie was playing. Since moving to Florida, I mostly attend little league, high school and college sports where my grandchildren are playing. And, of course, I do like watching baseball, football and professional golf on television.
As you may have assumed, my all-time favorite hobby was and is designing and helping to build and remodel homes for my wife and children. I've gotten a real kick out of sharing my knowledge and experience with them. However, they tell me the best part is hanging over my shoulder watching me draw the floor plans, elevations and some areas in perspective and then watching this house on paper become their beloved homes with everything just the way they want it!
I volunteered as an apprenticeship instructor to pass on some of my expertise to our future craftsmen. And, as an arbitrator for the American Arbitration Association, I enjoy helping to resolve unsettled claims.
Even though I am a maverick and do things my way, my thinking has always been somewhat conservative: do what is right, don't take advantage of people, keep healthy, don't take stupid chances, help others, don't drink or smoke - you get the picture. I am a “clean liver.” However, I was scheduled for consulting with a contractor in New Hampshire, who was a free-fall sky diver, and he invited me to go along with him when I came to work with his company. At age 65, I was curious and thought this would be not only interesting but fun to do.
When I told my family about my up-and-coming adventure, my son Jack was secretly envious; but my wife and daughters were horrified and thought for sure I would die or at least be badly broken up. The accompanying photo proves I not only lived through it but, even with a wind-contorted face, I was smiling all the way down.
I am safety director for seven companies here in Central Florida and am qualified to provide OSHA's 10-hour and 30-hour training courses. (I'm also very proud to be a 10-gallon blood donor.) In addition, I am a sponsor for Florida's Continuing Education Credits program for which every licensed contractor is required to obtain 14 hours credit to renew his license every two years.
I attended one semester of civil engineering at Bucknell University in 1949, and came back to our family company to do what I liked best. I've attended dozens of after-hour college courses and seminars since then to gain the critical “book learning” I needed to run our company.
My personal goal, when I began my consulting business, was to spend at least a one-day training session explaining to every foreman how to coach, motivate, discipline and reward his (or her!) employees. We call this “three P's in a pod” (pride, productivity and profit). Our critical skilled-labor shortage would disappear if we changed indentured apprentices to skilled craft interns doing proud craftsmanship work with well-trained mentors.
It is obvious that Paul Ridilla will never be able to reach every foreman in every trade of our industry. Surely you realize there are millions of retired craftsmen, foremen, superintendents, project managers and contractors with similar knowledge and experience who would also be very happy to give something back to our industry.
We have millions of green employees who desperately need their expertise. This is my Green & Gold Mentoring program. You should recruit any Gold mentor you know, ask your employees about their friends and relatives, talk to DIY retail employees and your supply houses, and eat breakfast early at any restaurant that is open - they are there!
I guess that pretty much covers who I am and how much of an adventure life has been for me doing things my way. As Frank Sinatra sang, “Regrets, I've had a few, but then again, too few to mention.” I can really relate to that.
I'm proud to be an American, a husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather and a contractor/ craftsman/consultant. I have had one hell of a good life, and I wish everyone were as lucky as me.
I'd like to extend to each and every one of you a happy and prosperous New Year, and would be flattered to help you make that come true. If you need help, please call or e-mail me.