Shalom Life | February 24, 2015

Top 20 Under 40: David Steckel

Steckel is the co-founder of Black General Contracting, Toronto's preeminent construction and remodeling management company

By: Caitlin Marceau

Published: February 9th, 2015 in Business » World

Shalom Life is proud to present our 5th annual Top 20 Under 40 list. Over the next 20 days, we will showcase 20 individuals of diverse talents and backgrounds that have made a significant contribution to their field both locally and globally. From entrepreneurs to philanthropists, entertainers to doctors, this list places a spotlight on a small sampling of the spectacular, innovative, and passionate Jews that call Toronto home.

Top 20 Under 40: David Steckel

Age: 34

If you’re living in the Toronto area and have ever thought of remodeling your house, then you’ve definitely come across Black General Contracting. Co-founded by David Steckel, Black GC is known for its reputation of excellence, and has done everything from turning rundown homes into the new envy of the neighbourhood, and turning offices into more than just a work area, but rather a place you look forward to being. With fresh designs and insights, Black General Contracting makes the renovation and construction process an easy and painfree one.

We at Shalom Life got a chance to speak with co-founder David Steckel, and got to ask him about how he got into the home building and renovation business, the challenge of creating livable spaces, and how his Jewish culture has impacted his career.

Shalom Life: What did you want to be when you were a child?

David Steckel: I had always loved animals and used to think about being a vet. That lasted until I realised that vets didn’t just play with puppies all day long.

How did you first end up getting into home design, and contracting?

Originally, my business partner and I had intended to get into home flipping. Our first property was in this neighbourhood that no one had ever been to at Queen & Ossington. We loved that first house so much and had such great enthusiasm for the area that we decided to rent it after the reno and our capital got stuck there.

How did Black General Contracting come to be?

We really enjoyed renovating that first property but since we decided not to sell it we had no more capital for another one. So, the next best thing was to take on projects for other people.

I had been working at Scaramouche Restaurant all through university so customer service and managing people had become my specialty. It was a surprisingly easy transition from managing tables to managing projects.

What was the biggest challenge in starting your own company?

As anyone who has started their own company finds out almost immediately, cashflow is king and is especially so in the construction industry. I split my time after University between Black GC and Scaramouche until I paid off a small vineyard I had purchased and planted in Prince Edward County. Once I had that liability off my shoulders I could afford to leave a guaranteed paycheck with the best restaurant in Toronto and go off on my own. Those first 2 years were extremely arduous and stressful. Learning a completely new business, how to run a business and how to pay for everything all at the same time were experiences that I will never forget.

What’s the hardest part about creating livable, and workable spaces for people?

I have been in the service business all my life and there is one attribute that leads to success and that transcends all fields from retail, to restaurants to contraction. That is the ability to manage expectations. There is nothing difficult about construction if you manage people’s expectations. The renovation business is a business of tying Old into New. Of using human hands to join various manufactured products together as seamlessly as possible. Of bringing to life lines seen on drawings. Mistakes, surprises and compromises will always have to be troubleshooted, accepted, and embraced. If you manage your clients, sub trades, employees and even your own expectations from the outset you will succeed. If you fly by the seat of your pants, withhold information or avoid confrontation you will fail.

What’s your favourite aspect of home improvement?

I get to witness a tangible result to my efforts for every single project. I can take a hole in the ground and few months later in that same space, I get to see a house that my team has produced. It really is amazing to have the opportunity to see and touch your accomplishments.

Where are you hoping to see Black General Contracting in five years?

We have three divisions to the company: Commercial Interiors, Facilities Maintenance, and Residential. I would love to have all three divisions running independently of one another along with ISO status.

What’s your biggest accomplishment to date?

I will always remember the time that we renovated a 5000 sq’ office in 12 days. It took a few weeks to plan and line up properly, but the execution of that project was oh so rarely perfect.

Who, or what, has been the greatest influence on your life?

My father is without any doubt the greatest influence on my life. His gumption and tenacity have taught me how to behave in the world of business. His advice has guided me through difficult times and his faith in my abilities has often been the genesis for the creation of those abilities in the first place.

Do you find your Jewish background influences your life in any way and, if so, how?

Absolutely! Aside from the fact that I haven’t had a year without some sort of community involvement on my calendar since 2000, from CJPAC to ICRF to Birthright to UJA, my relationships are heavily influenced by my Jewish life. The automatic connection that is made when one Jew figures out that they are talking to another is priceless. It’s as though you have become cousins with a stranger and the ability to kibitz has been so useful to me in so many ways.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Lucky for me I live in one of the best restaurant cities in the world, because food and all things related to it’s preparation and consumption are my passion.

Where’s your favourite place to be, and why?

My Wife’s family cottage is without hesitation my favourite place on Earth. My cellphone turns off and the stresses of the world immediately evaporate as soon as I get there. Being around family, food and nature is the ultimate panacea for all that ails you.

What’s one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

I’m a huge Sci Fi fantasy nerd.

What’s the one thing you want people to remember about you?

That I would do anything for my family and friends.

What’s one life lesson you wish you’d learnt earlier than you did?

The dangers of assumption. To expect things to change or be accomplished just because you assume they will for whatever reason. That is a horrible habit that I’ve still yet to break entirely.

Tune in tomorrow as we continue with our Top 20 Under 40 series.

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