Roger Peugeot and thousands of other contractors love it despite the bumps.

Roger Peugeot, owner of a well-known plumbing firm (Roger the Plumber) in a Kansas City suburb, where he also hosts a radio talk show on plumbing, was featured in a Wall Street Journal article Sept. 15, 2009. I hope many of you saw the piece, titled “Plumbing for Joy? Be Your Own Boss.” It was written for the “Work & Family” column that appeared in the Personal Journal section of that day. If you missed it, maybe you can pull it up from the archives by going to http://online.wsj.com and doing a search on the story title. It’s worth reading.

Aside from the kick we get at seeing an old friend and industry stalwart make national news, the message of that article has a lot of meaning for PM readers. The article cited a recent survey by the Gallup organization in conjunction with Healthways, a health management firm, evaluating how occupation affects happiness. Peugeot was interviewed not as a plumber per se, but as representative of business owners, the category that ranked highest in overall happiness among 11 occupations surveyed.

Those of us who know Roger were not surprised to see him portrayed as a happy-go-lucky person. That’s his nature. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that about every plumbing contractor - not by a long shot - but I will say that he’s not at all unusual in this industry. During my long career I’ve been blessed to become acquainted with thousands of PHC contractors and the vast majority of them have struck me as basically happy people.

This is not to say they don’t gripe and grouse about myriad business problems. Heck, this magazine has made its living detailing their complaints over the last 25 years! But as the WSJ article made clear, most business owners find happiness despite their bumps and bruises, despite putting in long and grueling hours, despite this dreadful economy. Here’s how Roger Peugeot explained it to the WSJ reporter:

“Even when things are out of your control, as they are with this economy, you’re still in control of your (customer) relationships. (Corporate managers and executives may) sit and wonder if they’re going to be laid off, or get frustrated with the inabilities of management,” Peugeot was quoted as saying. “If you’re the owner, you may have to say, ‘I screwed up,’ but it’s a lot better than saying, ‘I didn’t deserve that.’”

There, in a nutshell, lay the essence of what makes business owners happy. Oh, a case might be made that money is the biggest motivator, and for many owners that’s certainly true. However, I’ve also met plenty of contractors who make barely more and occasionally less than some of their key employees, yet are content with their lot in life. To them, being in control, i.e., being their own boss, is paramount in value.

In another sense, it’s hard to separate the money issue from control when it comes to entrepreneurs. Owning a business entails the prospect of earning a much bigger income than most people can obtain from even the best employment opportunities. But the flip side of lavish reward is plenty of risk. Business owners risk losing not only their livelihood, as is also the case with employees, but additionally everything invested in the business whether it be their own capital or money put up by lenders, family or friends. The risk-vs.-reward equation cannot be solved without the integer of control that drives the entrepreneurial spirit.

Being in control surely is a lot more fun when business is booming than in this miserable economy. Yet most PHC contractors and business owners in general will end up surviving precisely because they are in control of their businesses. Throughout our economy, hard decisions have been made with regard to cost-cutting. Good employees have been let go. Long-range plans have been put on hold or altered. Many business relationships have come to a crashing halt. But in the end, when the recession finally turns around, the companies that are left standing will be stronger because of the discipline imposed by all the hardship - and the control exerted by the owners.

Recruiting talented people to the pipe trades has been the No. 1 problem faced by the industry for many years. In my opinion, most recruiters haven’t effectively used the strongest ammo in their arsenal - touting the opportunity to become a business owner. Plumbers have a clear road in that direction compared to most other careers they are likely to pursue. Read that WSJ article and clip it out for future use in that regard.

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