Joseph Uno sets out to develop someone to take over his firm

May 25, 2012
Article by: Lynn Nakagawa
Published by: Pacific Business News (requires subscription)

As a business owner born in the middle of the Baby Boomer generation, Joseph Uno is approaching retirement age and hopes to pass along his business within the next decade.

While his son is not interested in taking over his construction cost consulting firm, J. Uno & Associates, Uno has decided to expand his business and bring on new hires in the hope that one of them might succeed him.

Performing a preliminary site inspection at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam are, from left, Brett Katayama, project estimator; Joe Uno, owner of J. Uno & Associates; and Richard Koong, senior estimator. TINA YUEN, PBN

Performing a preliminary site inspection at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam are, from left, Brett Katayama, project estimator; Joe Uno, owner of J. Uno & Associates; and Richard Koong, senior estimator.

Uno, 56, is one of millions of U.S. baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, who have reached or are approaching retirement age. Many business owners his age face the same issue of whether to sell, close, or craft a succession plan.

Last year, Uno sat down to do the latter. His succession plan includes a new division for his business and expanding to a larger office.

J. Uno & Associates provides cost-estimation services primarily for architects and engineers who do public-sector and military work. It uses a database to verify how much materials for a project will cost to ensure that the project doesn’t exceed its budget.

Uno said he has become more careful about his most recent hires after letting go of an employee who wasn’t a good fit for the company.

In addition, the stakes are higher now as Uno trains new hires with the idea that one of them may someday take over the business.

“I feel a great deal of responsibility to mentor and teach the new hires and go through how to do things line by line,” he said.

His recent hires include two cost estimators — a recent college graduate and a graduate student in engineering at the University of Hawaii Manoa.

Kenneth Gilbert, president of Business Consulting Resources Inc., said business owners need to be aware of a number of things regarding succession planning. An important component, he said, is to make sure their identified or potential successors are on board with the plan.

“The plan needs to be communicated and the identified succession team needs to be a part of it,” said Gilbert, whose firm provides consulting services in succession planning for small and medium-sized businesses as well as for corporations.

While Uno irons out the details of his succession plan, he is confident that his client base will continue to grow in the coming years. Many of his clients have been with him for years, including architecture firms such as Richard Matsunaga & Associates that don’t have an in-house estimator.

Glenn Murata, president of Richard Matsunaga & Associates, said it was Uno’s added insight on projects that made him easy to follow when he left a similar company to start his own business in 1989.

“He contributes to the overall value of the design because he’s not just a cost estimator,” Murata said. “He enjoys contributing and proposing suggestions for the project.”

Uno’s eye for geometry, drawing and architecture developed early. He said technical drawing piqued his interest even as a child.

“I was about 10 years old when my uncle, who was an engineer, gave me a drafting set,” he recalled. “I was very interested in it and played with it a lot.”

After graduating from Aiea High School, Uno fell a few credits short of obtaining an associate’s degree in drafting from Leeward Community College. He instead chose to enter the work force and ended up in construction cost estimation.

He would later obtain a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Hawaii Pacific College, now Hawaii Pacific University.

After operating his own business for over two decades, Uno plans to focus this year on expanding his new construction management division and investing in his newly hired employees. He also is tripling his office space, going from a 400-square-foot space to a 1,200-square-foot office on Ward Avenue.

The construction management services division is intended to add value to his business and boost revenue, which last year totaled approximately $700,000. To that end, he hired a woman with over two decades of construction management experience to lead the division and will hire more when appropriate.

While cost estimators help to determine the scope of the project, cost managers work to streamline operations by working with architects, engineers and contractors to plan and coordinate projects.

Looking ahead, J. Uno & Associates could benefit from national projections that show that both cost estimation and construction management will be areas of growth in the next decade. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that employment of cost estimators is expected to increase by 36 percent from 2010 to 2020 — faster than the average of all U.S. occupations. At the same time, employment of construction managers is expected to grow by 17 percent.

Disclaimer: The information or opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the individuals involved and do not necessarily represent those of J. Uno & Associates, Inc. and its employees.