The Real MF’ers Episode 2: Camell Williams

Posted September 28th, 2020

If there is one word Camell Williams wants you to get out of this episode, it is DISCIPLINE. Camell is the CEO & Founder of Prime Electrical Services, a commercial electrical contractor located in Apopka, Florida. He sat down with Scott to share his journey from student to contractor to business owner, and why he is still a student of the craft. If you are a construction business owner or a contractor who wants to be a business owner, Camell’s wisdom and stories can save you years of headaches. Camell believes in investing in his team, that business IS personal, and that the best thing you can do for your own success is be humble about what you do know and what you don’t.

Full Transcript Below

Scott Peper  0:38

Everybody. Good morning. Good afternoon. This is Scott peeper with mobilization funding. And I am really excited to bring our second Real MFer series to you guys, and one of my favorite guests. Today I’m going to share with you all his name is Camell Williams. He’s the president, co-founder of Prime Electrical Services Inc, out of Orlando, Florida, and has been a client of ours and become a good friend, and someone I really look up to and admire what he’s done in accomplishing his business. I’m really excited for him to be able to tell his story today. Camell. Welcome.

Camell Williams  1:11

Thank you, Scott. Appreciate the opportunity. How are you?

Scott Peper  1:13

Good. I’m very good. If you don’t mind, Camell, I think what would be good for everyone is to know just a little bit about you your background, how you landed in Florida, where you’re from, a little bit about just the general basis of Prime Electrical Services so folks can understand a little bit about your business, size wise people, etc, that we’ll dive into some questions and go from there. You know, we can tell lots of good stories.

Camell Williams  1:36

Okay, Scott, thanks. My initial visit to Florida was probably back in 83. 81. I’m sorry, I came down here to Florida Memorial University, I went to be what they have participate in HBCU. I just had to have that HBCU experience came out Florida Memorial. Went back to Detroit, late I’m originally from Detroit went back to Detroit. And I gotta tell you, that’s important to point out. The reason I left Detroit because I was determined not to work in the automotive industry. I came down here, got educated about my path and electrical industry and ended up back in Detroit, working in the automotive industry, but on a different level. I mean, I wasn’t on the line, I was working as an electrician there. And it was a great opportunity. I later came back down and I want to say 2006 decided to plant my roots here and started Prime Electrical Services in 2008. Great opportunity. work was growing, everyone said that time is important. I paid one cent of that time. And it was the worst possible time to start a business. This was 2008. But in my opinion, it seemed like the best time because no one was building anything new but everyone was repairing. Hence the name Prime Electrical Services I focused my business specifically on service work being and that was my niche to get back into the electrical industry and own my own company. From then I was in Lakeland, Florida back in 2008. I moved to Orlando and is where we are right now, in Apopka Florida.

Scott Peper  3:21

You  mentioned that you definitively knew you didn’t want to be in the automotive industry. But did you know what industry you want to be in? And how did you ultimately decide on construction,

Camell Williams  3:29

You know what it was, I knew I wanted to be electrical as I told you before, my uncle was a master electrician and on weekends and on summer vacation. My mother I was one of those children that my mother say do something with them, take them out and get them out there. So he would take me out in the electrical industry. Now it’s important that I tell you this when I started construction first my father — my grandfather was a mason and he took me out one weekend and brought me back in and told my mother keep that boy and in school. Wait I don’t want him on my job. When my uncle came along and I found that in the electrical industry It was a chance for me to not only use my love for math and my hands on experience but but to build something and be able to turn the light switch on and see the after effects and then made a difference to me and that’s what I focused on. And I knew it was it would be electrical industry.

Scott Peper  4:26

It’s funny you get a lot of experience from your, the people you’re surrounded with the most all throughout life particularly younger, you know spending that time with your uncle, giving you the guidance and instructions. You know, what else did you learn from your uncle aside from just wanting to get into construction?

Camell Williams  4:41

He taught me to approach everything optimistically and to think about it again. My uncle was also an instructor electrical instructor. So we not only taught me to trade but he taught me how to think in a trade because that’s what we need is to I just needed someone to directly in between he and my father kept me thinking He taught me to understand the business. Because he wasn’t a, he wasn’t a business owner, he worked for another electrical contractor. In fact, he worked for one of the first black electrical contractors in Detroit. And that guy was phenomenal. So just being around him seeing him raise my level to know that that’s exactly what I want to do at some point.

Scott Peper  5:23

That’s really cool. One of the things I heard you said, I really want to point this out to the audience, I think is important. And you mentioned 2008. And everyone told you was the worst time and not the time to start, but you thought it was the best time. And I can hear in your voice and knowing you a little better, but especially now hearing you talk about your uncle, that positivity and wisdom and guidance, I think he instilled in you also helped you see opportunities and see the playing field differently than other folks that are even that even though they’re telling you this is terrible, don’t do it. This is the worst comedy, don’t start the business, you found a way not only to add value, but really drive a new business and create a culture around success. And I think I think it’s important to point that out to the people that are listening to this, if you didn’t hear that subtly. That’s the key is how your vision of it is not what everyone else’s vision of it as well.

Camell Williams  6:14

It was the long term visions, but I had, and trust me, it was a hard sell. Imagine telling my wife that, in the middle of this worst time, in a long time, I’m going to start my own business. But my focus was that this business 2008 is going to cause a lot of businesses to fail. I realized that, and the market will pick up in three to four years. And if I started right, then three to four years later, I’d have history. So now when I walked into a general contractor, and asked him to give me opportunity, I wasn’t just starting, when times were good. They can look back and say well, these guys have been in business for four or five years, he’s lasted this long, he made it through 2008 910. Granted, it was small, the smaller number I say small numbers, they were decent numbers. But compared to now, they were much smaller numbers. But I survived it. And I learned a lot. What I didn’t prepare for during those times was their banks were not loaning any money, there was very little capital available and nor was I in a position to to go after it. So the struggle was real. It was real. But the goal was to survive. You know, my, my uncle, as well as a guy I heard from several years later, made a statement to me. And they said, it’s not how well you perform your craft. But it’s how long you can withstand the politics of your industry. And I never forgot that. So I knew if I got into it, dug in deep and stayed there, and eventually reached some success.

Scott Peper  7:48

That’s excellent advice. Just Just keep going. Be consistent with your energy and your efforts and your strategy and make the adjustments when neat when you do and continue to evaluate and innovate. But keep going on work in your favor. You know, it’s a great segue into something else I want to talk to you about. And I think you’re really uniquely positioned to talk about this, from all the reasons just mentioned. But you know, construction is a tough, business overall. And electricity and electricians are even even a tougher portion, depending on different scopes. And I think you’ve done a good job with your folks, both instilling a culture and managing those attributes. Can you talk a little bit about how you do it, and how you manage that and how you help your employees?

Camell Williams  8:32

Yeah, my focus, I have one word in my company. And I always say discipline, stay focused and stay disciplined. Because you’re right, the electrical industry is is a tough industry, because we are not just required. When we look at blueprints, to understand the electrical side, we have to understand the AC side, the plumbing side, we need to read architectural drawings, we need the fire alarm joins, because all these things that tie into our system, you can take plumbing and plumbing as a standalone system HVAC a standalone system, electrical, we need to either put power on those flushable toilets or put power to HBCU. So my team has to have the discipline to not just look at the electrical drawings. But every drawing is sitting there. So I hold them to a higher standard. It’s not always easy, because some guys want to go in and put a switch in and trust me Scott, I have my share of guys who come in and say I’m a journeyman electrician, because I know I lie at my grandmother’s basement, and it works just fine. So I have to deal with that. And I have to always bring them back to discipline. You have to make sure you become student of your industry student of your craft. You know and you hear me talk thru this conversation. I’ll use two words, electrical and contracting. I talk about electrical and focusing on the industry itself. And you and my technicians like field, they have to be students out there, that they keep current with the technology because it’s changing, it evolves. So what I’ve focused is just keep learning, keep growing, and stay disciplined, and you’ll be a great electrician. And that’s been the secret to my success and maintaining adequate personnel in the field.

Scott Peper 10:20

You’ve now taken that discipline, you’ve you’re teaching to it, you’re educating to it, you’re building it into your safety programs. I happen to be in and out of your office and talking to you all the time. And I know what kind of systems and processes you have, and all that stuff isn’t an accident. But not everybody can instill those are no to know how to and if you were going to, if you were going to counsel, a newer entrepreneur, starting not only just a typical business, but any construction business, what guidance would you give him around how to take what you just talked about, but instilling that into your team.

Camell Williams  10:51

I always tell my guys, I got three As that I deal with attitude, ability and attendance. And if you have any tour boats, I can help you get the last one. So when I talk to my team, I try to stress that they find something that they love. And master this, kind of do what you like, want to run conduit, continue to run conduit, if it’s why you like. But know the industry, focus on what you really love. From the administration side, I tell them to constantly learn, constantly go to — I put all type of financial aid programs in place, I have several of my members have their master’s degree that we pay for I have several members of bachelor’s degree that we paid for, because I stress high on learning. Again, it’s all part of that discipline. Scott, I really believe that my goal should be to teach my team everything they need to leave me, but treat them well enough so that they want to stay. That’s the only way I can succeed.

Scott Peper  11:55

I mean, did everybody just hear what he said, and that is so powerful come out and you couldn’t want I couldn’t agree with you more. And I think discipline is how you started the conversation. But what you build on right there, and particularly the three A’s if you have attitude, ability, and attendance, any two of those, you can teach the third. And that’s those are core values that you really instilling in the fact that you focus on continued learning and higher learning. I mean, I just think that’s so important. I just want everybody here, listen to listening to this and really pick that up. That’s a key thing. How do you talk about how do you bring that into the day? You know, I know you didn’t just have one meeting and bring that up? How do you incorporate it, incorporate that daily, weekly, monthly with your team?

Camell Williams  12:36

I tell them when they when they walk in the door. And it’s real important, we try to teach my team to be independent thinkers. Because ultimately, in order for me to move my business to the next level, I need to be in a position where I can trust my employees to do exactly what they’re supposed to do without coming to me. So I try to explain to them and every time if you bring a problem to me, bring to me a potential solution. That means I’m forcing them to think of think about what needs to happen, and to utilize their skills and let them know that their opinions are very important. I don’t want them to appoint me make a decision. I have consistent meetings with them. I consistently try to guide them. But I tell them, if in doubt, if there’s any concern. And I don’t want to sound selfish when I say this, but I said there’s any concern with this building, there’s two things you need to remember it’s the decision you make going to make prime electrical money, or is it going to save prime electrical much, you have to fall into one of these categories, because ultimately, this is a for profit business. And the stronger the company gets, the more I can give to my team, the more I can help them grow, the more I can put into their education, the more I can put into that bonus structure. So as long as they continue to think, make decisions themselves and I keep reminding them that these are the key rules, save the company money and make the company money — it helps them grow. That’s how I do it on a daily basis.

Scott Peper  14:08

Awesome, man. I’m so glad you shared that is the key and focusing on the time you spend with them and making a quality time and empowering them. I think you’re gonna hit your goals. That’s why people do stay with you because they they want to, not because they have to or need to.

Camell Williams  14:24

Well and it’s difficult and in a small business. Some of the challenges got I don’t know if I’m getting ahead, but it’s important that I focus on some of the challenges we have in order to competitively keep your team an owner has to make sacrifices. Prime Electrical Services offers 401 k which is a barrier and we have a very aggressive matching program. We offer major medical, we offer health and wealth. I mean we offer a lot of things that small businesses typically shy away from because they just plain and simple can’t afford them. But in order to get the quality talent you need in order to give your people our home and Let your people know that you’re concerned about them and you care about them, you have to make the sacrifice. Now that means taking less home, what you’re building a team that’s going to stay with you. And that’s committed to growing with you because they understand your sacrifice. So it’s all necessary.

Scott Peper  15:18

I couldn’t agree with you more, let me transition a little bit with you. You’re a business owner, you’re an entrepreneur, you’ve fought the fights and struggles. You’re also an African American doing in this world. And I think there’s different challenges that are out there. Some are well known Some aren’t. And I think you navigate those so well doing it. And I’d like you to talk a little bit about what you feel are some of those challenges that you’ve had to overcome and how you’ve done it and how you’ve utilized your your own abilities and skills to survive and thrive. And what you would suggest other young, African American entrepreneurs what they can do or should do, or how they should think about that to get to a point where they can be successful and thrive with what’s out there available.

Camell Williams  15:58

If I had to sum that up, Scott, I would say, first of all, surround yourself with people smarter than you. It’s really important. As an African American, our biggest problem you can, I have to be transparent here, is we don’t have generations of running a business of doing this with first generation, or second generation. I talked about my grandfather being a mason, a brick mason, but he never dealt with the volume that we deal with here in today’s society numbers are, I mean, he never would have thought his grandson would be doing tech work that I deal with. So we don’t have a father or a grandfather someone to go to for our business needs. My uncle was able to teach me the trade but not the business at the learn that and that’s still surrounding myself with people smarter than me, that’s the first thing, find other African American businesses and have an open forum be in a position where you guys can regularly meet and talk. That’s the other side. Third, which is which is really important, is, I think, the most underrated positions in in business, then again, when you’re dealing with limited capital, you tend to not spend money on things you can’t see, things that you don’t realize you don’t think are important. And that’s accountants, you have to have a good accountant. And that’s, that’s invisible to most people. They buy QuickBooks, and they log on and they put in a few numbers, and it spits out the results. And they think they’re cons. And now you need a trained professional.

Scott Peper  17:33

Camell, you bring up your points that you talked about and surrounding yourself with smart people, talented people, different experiences, meeting and talking with others, finding your accountant in the CFO. And then of course providing capital, the one thing that’s in there that I think a lot of business owners, African American, white, Indian, I don’t think it matters any, I talked to all different types of business owners in this particular setting. It’s pride. And you know, you’re a prideful person, but you don’t let your pride get in the way of just straightforward, realistic conversations. I mean, just listen to what you just said just now. And I think getting out and surrounding yourself with smarter people. It shows your confidence level in yourself. Because you know what you know, you know what you don’t. How did you learn those things you provide it? Or how do you? Where did you get that from?

Camell Williams  18:31

Scott, I’ll tell you a lot of it was trial in there, I can say you might have heard me say this before, I probably couldn’t find anyone out here who has made as many mistakes as I’ve made. Because I went out and listen to the mass. I mean, I attended every outreach, every event, every small business seminar that I could go to. And what they would always tell me is, these are the things I needed to do in order to be successful. What they didn’t understand, and what’s most difficult is the people that were talking to me, were not business owners, they had never been business owners, they had never had to make payroll. So here’s what happens. And a small business, you start you have a good credit, you build your credit to that point. And you’re ready to go off on your own. Well, what happens as you go on business, the first thing you have to do everything that you buy, you have to sign for personal, which means multiple inquiries on your credit report, multiple inquiries, and every time you get an card, that credit goes down. So now you’re in a position where you got your new truck that you started for. And you had a great new car. You got your lease building that you signed for you got your accounts with all your vendors that you signed for. And your credit just went from 700 down to 580. Just because of inquiries you pay your bills on time, but now your cash flows. So at this point, you got to walk into a financial institution. Why do we think we got to go to SBA bank and they’re going to give us all the money we need because that’s what they said at the seminars. You walk in that bank, and that guy pulls your credit and says, You know what? You’re back from your balance sheet your credit, we’re not going to loan you money. And you, and at this point, it is too late. So what do you do? You answer that phone call. Someone said, Hey, we’ll loan you money right now today on your receivables, we will give you cash right now. And you take it and it starts a downward trend. All now you had good intentions when you started this. So that’s the cycle that small businesses, and primarily African American businesses, go through. So when I say you have to put your pride aside, you have to realize that business is very personal. And everyone says Nah, no, it’s not personal. It’s just business. No, business is what feeds your family. It’s what pays your mortgage, what pays for the car your wife drive, but it’s good as your children go to? Now you have to ask yourself is your pride worth sacrificing those things? When you realize it, you realize No, it’s not in my business, to me is very personal. So I have to put my pride aside and go in there and learn all I can learn, grow with these people follow their advice, my opinions matter when I get back in my office. But when I walk in their office, their opinions are only thing I need to focus on. That’s part of my growth. And I did it the other way it didn’t work.

Scott Peper  21:24

So you just said something that I think I really want to make sure everybody hears is tying those decisions and your pride and discipline to something that’s most important to you. And what’s more important really than family. When you when you link those two things, from a business perspective to those decisions you’re making are for your family, how are they going to impact your family, you’re going to make better decisions, you’re going to drop your pride. I think everyone listening to this, if you don’t take anything else from this call today, I think that might be the most powerful thing you said already. Because you’re going to make better decisions, when you’re thinking about it from your wife, your children, your other family members, you’re going to you’re going to you’re not going to let pride get in the way.

Camell Williams  22:04

And one other thing that it’s really important. It’s so intimidating, walking into financial institutions, because there’s no secrets, they don’t leave anything on the table they want to see are your pay stubs. You know what you paid what you spent on dinner last night, I mean, they turn, they turn to you. So it’s a lot easier to do that to someone, you can put a name to the face and who’s willing to talk to you and say I need this. Because this and I need this because of that. And it’s a little less intimidating when you do that. Just imagine buying a house 10 times over. That’s what it’s like when when they get a loan your money in it, and it can be exasperated, really can.

Scott Peper  22:45

You’ve talked a lot about really good topics. And I’ve tried to focus people on those specific things. But is there is there one thing that you believe really separates a contractor success or failure?

Camell Williams  22:58

Yes, knowing your business and mastering the ability to balance your business. There’s two ways that a contractor can fail. One is by under eating, or starvation. The other one is overeating. I mean, and those are the two ways and so you have to get a balance, you have to know when to say no to a job. When to move forward with the job, you have to truly understand your financial numbers, understand whether or not you can finance this job, whether your forecasting is correct. And you have and you have adequate forecasting. I mean, those are the things that I would tell any small business don’t just go and I’ve seen it happen 1000 times I got a $2 million job. And this is going to change the company. Well, maybe so but once you do your due diligence and realize that three months down the road, you’re going to be out of money, and someone else would be finishing this job. So I stressed it to everyone know your business and balance your business appropriately. Know when to say yes. And when to say no.

Scott Peper  24:06

It’s great advice. I’d add one thing to that too. I want to make sure people know that. I myself in this business. I don’t I’m not the person that is the best at finance and forecasts and understand a business. I have a fantastic partner and a CFO. That hands me those tools. And when I see them in a format. I know how to make those great decisions that way. But you don’t have to be the chef. You just have to know how to evaluate the plate at the end.

Camell Williams 24:33


Scott Peper 24:35

I think what I want to make sure is the connection. You don’t need to go to accounting schools, you need to just find somebody that can give you the information you need in a simple easy format that you can make decisions off of.

Camell Wiliams  24:45

And follow their advice and listen to them. You know that that’s again, that’s what your pride as we put aside, you have to listen to them. You brought them there to give you the best advice and it means nothing if you don’t listen to it.

Scott Peper  25:00

Last question for you. Is there one thing you wish you knew if you go back to the very beginning, and think about anybody that’s out here now starting their business there one thing you wish you knew or you wish you were told that you hadn’t addressed today, or that you just want to highlight from something you’ve already talked about today. That’s the one thing you wish you knew in the beginning that you know, now, maybe we save somebody some years of headache.

Camell Williams  25:22

Man, I’ve had this conversation so many times, and I’ve talked to people and I would think that seriously when I walked into it, if I understood that being good at my craft, would not ensure success in me being a contractor. I wish someone had explained it to me, someone had said, because I felt so much you risk, I felt that I was the best electrician out there, which means I’m going to be a phenomenal contract. And for several years, I ran my head into this block wall thinking that my skill in the industry would make me a success in business. I wish someone had sat me down and told me no, please become a student of your business. As much as you are student of the craft, become a student of your business. Surround yourself with good people have no I’ve said that before, but I can’t repeat it enough. Surround yourself with people who know more than you take the time learn and grow but understand your business. And no one told me that I never knew it. I thought I can buy software that could do it all for it didn’t work. So I found out that do the hard way,

Scott Peper  26:35

I’m gonna leave it there. I don’t know if I could improve on that any better. And I just want to tell you again, thank you so much for taking the time, the effort, the energy to share your stories, your honesty, your discipline yourself and what you’re doing. I think we certainly help people today if, if there’s anyone out there that’s listening to this, they’re going to get least one or if not more things from this conversation we’ve had and your honesty and your ability to share it and talk through it. I know people are going to be better off and I just want to say thank you very much for doing that.

Camell Williams  27:08

Scott. It was my pleasure. Thank you very much for having me.

Scott Peper  27:10

Well, everyone, I hope you guys enjoyed this time. If you have any questions you need anything, you can always find this on our YouTube channel. You can always find this on our website. There’s tons of resources out there that are all free to you. You can download them you can get them there’s cash flow models, all kinds of stuff about business construction topics that we provide totally free to you just on our website on the resources page. So feel free to go there. Thank you again canal. I appreciate it. Everyone have a great afternoon, evening or day. Take care.

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