Three Lessons in Navigating a Financial Crisis, with Hoar Construction CFO Jeremy Di Piazza


One hot day in July, Hoar Construction Executive VP and CFO Jeremy Di Piazza (Finance, 1995) was working in his yard, drenched in sweat, when he got a call from his CEO, who had been on a business trip over the weekend with a group of professionals who were connected to some of the largest banks on Wall Street. Di Piazza picked up the phone.

“Get ready,” the CEO said. “It’s coming.”

What was coming? The Great Recession of 2008. Here are three things Di Piazza learned in the crucible:

1. Leadership is Learning to Do the Work.

Learning to lead is learning to do the work. It is learning to roll up your sleeves and get involved in the work along with the people that you are leading. You do it with them. You don’t drag them through it. You don’t pull them through it. You don’t push them through it. It’s about getting involved and getting into the hard part, getting dirty.

That’s how you earn employee respect. Dictating is not necessary. In fact, in many cases it is just as important to collaborate on big decisions. You can ask for the opinions of others around you and listen to what they would choose to do. And use that input before you make a decision, because what you might be getting along the way is buy-in, which is just as important as making the right decision.

2. Use Your Resources.

Pay attention to what businesses fail, and why. Surround yourself with good people who will give you sound advice. And study and read diligently—Di Piazza is a student of economics, and reads as much as he can, daily, about what is happening in the world and the U.S. economy. Because of this, he was not surprised by the real estate bubble, and had already begun to prepare his company for it.

3. Challenges Can Strengthen Relationships.

Some good came out of the Great Recession. “Our relationships got stronger because of the challenges that we faced during those years,” Di Piazza said. “Our best clients became better clients. We had to make sacrifices in our business to keep projects going to honor commitments and promises. And we earned lifelong friends from those decisions.”

And though some of the hard decisions Hoar Construction had to make during the Great Recession involved layoffs—the business shrunk by 15-20% during that time—core team members were retained, and many are still with the company 15 years later.

In retrospect, Di Piazza finds value in the 2008 crisis. “Yes, the work hours were long,” Di Piazza reflected. “Yes, there were moments where we were uncertain about how the next quarter was going to look. But we were always planning. We were always looking ahead. We were always forecasting.”

Listen to Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3 of this episode of Bama Means Business for more insights from Jeremy Di Piazza.

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