R&L: I understand that you have a unique way of doing business. Tell me about it.
Mataro: While maintaining high standards of quality for all our installation jobs, my approach is to hire and train young men—high school age or a little older—who are in trouble with the law, in school, or at home. Their parents, schools, or courts bring them to me. These young men are more to me than a mere source of business output. My wife and I house several of these young guys. We try to teach them a little bit of biblical beliefs as well as teamship and friendship. Meanwhile we help them learn a good trade that they can take anywhere in the world and use. That is what sets our company apart and makes it unique.
R&L: What motivates you to practice business this way? Is it an evangelistic faith or more of a general desire to contribute to the betterment of society?
Mataro: God gives me the love and motivation every day to try and do what is best for the guys. My history as a troubled youth in New Jersey gave me a knack for working side by side with these young men and giving them the guidance that they need. We take guys who have a hard time reading or spelling and we work on that. We teach them that they need to be good parents and raise their children properly, and that they must work to help others. Every Saturday is mandatory community service day. We take these guys out and find different projects for them to do. We do a lot of community service, such as building ramps for the disabled or siding the women’s shelter, anything that is hands on. They also give back to the community on these projects by using the talent we teach them, which gives them a sense of satisfaction about what they can do. When they use their construction skills, they see the finished product that same day and physically witness how they have helped someone else. So it’s definitely a leg up for them spiritually, physically, and mentally to benefit others, and themselves, by using their skills.
R&L: So you see it as a good thing that they can use the skills they are learning to participate in the market place?
Mataro: Absolutely. Their whole lives they have been told they will never be anything. Same thing for me in the neighborhood I grew up in. “You’ll never make it to eighteen. You’ll be gone before eighteen the way you live your life and you don’t have a future. You’ll never succeed.” We try to erase all of that in their lives as well as putting God in their heart. We show them that God has never made anything that hasn’t been perfect, even though it might be broken now. God makes us in his image, so everyone has great value and ability to work. We just have to be able to focus our energy toward doing the work that suits us best. These young men are so talented. They just need the opportunity to express that, and the market provides that opportunity for them.
R&L: If society were set up in such a way that the market did not function efficiently, would that present a harder challenge for what you are trying to do with these young men?
Mataro: I view it like this: You have to have a passion in your heart for what you do. If you believe in what you do and you work hard, the money is and always will be secondary. The reward is the fact that at the end of the day you know you put in a good day of productivity, and you can be proud of what you left behind that day. The reward is to have a home or food or clothes or to accomplish whatever goals you set for yourself. But if you don’t want to do better everyday, to constantly learn better ways to produce, and to share what you’ve learned with someone else, I don’t know how a person like that can get out of bed in the morning. I started American Siding seventeen years ago. I flew here from New Jersey with one hundred dollars in my pocket, because I came from a crime infested neighborhood in northern New Jersey and I didn’t want to raise my kids in that environment. I wanted better for them. I didn’t know anyone at all in Georgia but we came because there was an article that said this county was the fastest growing county for construction. So with faith in my heart I got off that plane and started my life. The American economy provided me with this opportunity and I worked hard every day. As my company grew, I wanted to share this experience with young men like myself so that they could take the same opportunity to make something out of their lives. But along the way I’ve had some great mentors, like the Chief Executive Officer and several Vice Presidents of America’s Home Place, who taught me that opportunity is nothing without God. It’s not about entering the market place just to make money. It’s about the adventure of building people up so that they may serve others.
R&L: So it would be fair to say that the real purpose for your business is the young men themselves.
Mataro: Yes, without a doubt. As a matter of fact, right now, with the help of our friends at America’s Home Place, my company is in the process of building a program to further help more young men. The name of this program is Servant Builders. Just this week the grading has been done to build our first home, one of many needed on our seventy acre farm in Toccoa, Georgia, to house and train even more young men in the construction field. Each house will hold up to twelve men. Once they complete the twelve month program, they will be ready to go out into the world and do what God wants, namely, serve others.
R&L: Do you think that many people approach business as a service to other humans?
Mataro: Not enough. Take the corporate reporting scandals on Wall Street. Those executives lost sight of the fact that the reason they have a business is to serve other humans.
That’s what’s going on there. The executives are worried about the numbers, but they are not worried about the people whom the numbers affect. It’s based exclusively on production. Consistency is the key to life, to be consistent at what you do everyday and to try to improve on it. I am a person who has a goal to produce something of value and we work with these young men and they produce quality workmanship, doing an honest day’s work and learning a good trade—not a trade that is overly back breaking, but a good, solid trade—that they can feel good about everyday. You can put vinyl siding on a house in two days, and the house never looks the same. That is what we try to teach these kids. We explain the Christian faith to them, that faith is the basis for everything. We have to have faith to see something that isn’t there. We have to believe in the Lord so that even though we don’t see him, we can be confident that he’s there. So we try to instill the faith that allows them to see things that aren’t there yet, not only the siding on a house, but also their intrinsic value as persons created in God’s image. The way to stop the scandals on Wall Street or anywhere else is to be honest with each other. If I had a bad day at work I should be able to express that honestly: I didn’t produce as much as I would have liked to today. I had a bad day. I had a lot on my mind. I should of gotten on ten squares of siding, but there was a lot of traffic. I got to work a little later, and I only got on six today. When the boss comes up to us and asks how our week was, our impulse is to say “great” like a reflex. With my guys, I try to break that reflex down. So when I ask them how their week has gone, I want them to break it down for me honestly. I want to hear something like: “I had a great Monday and Tuesday, but Wednesday I didn’t get up as much as I should’ve, but I kept it in mind that I needed to catch up by the end of the week, so I put in the extra effort and time and I did the best I could. How does that sound, boss?” That is the ethical way to practice business. Accountability starts with us as individual leaders, and it is transmitted through our leadership by example.
R&L: You mentioned honesty, accountability, and faith. What other virtues should corporate executives have?
Mataro: They should take seriously their responsibility toward everyone who’s under them. For example, you’re writing an interview for a magazine or a company. In order to produce a good interview, you have to feel good about its content. The content comes from my words, but they come out rough on the tape. You polish them into a readable transcript that I approve and then come out with a good product. When you print this interview, you should feel like this labor was not in vain. At the end of the day you should feel that you have a good, honest transcript for the interview and produced what you consider to be a good result. You take pride in that. It all starts with understanding self-worth. That is what we are trying to put in all these young men. Corporate executives need to put all of that ahead of having meetings and crunching numbers and worrying about the criteria for getting loans. If we make our people more accountable to us and open ourselves to be more accountable to them, we won’t have to lie. We can’t lead them to believe that we are going to chop their head off every time they don’t meet a number, no matter how much they want to or how hard they have tried. Fear motivation is no way to build or run a business. Only with trust can people grow.
R&L: What do you think of the short term investment mentality so prevalent in today’s market?
Mataro: I don’t think we should ever think short term. Did the Lord only save us for short term? Did he build us for short term? Last time I checked he hung on that cross for us to have eternity, so that we can be forgiven for our sins not just for the weekend, but also for eternity. Everything we do should be based on the long term, or at least it should be. Every time you wake up in the morning, you should not be thinking of today. I think that seeking immediate gratification is the quickest way to failure. Someone will suffer for that immediate gratification. In order to secure everything for yourself today, you will have to short someone for tomorrow. The get rich quick mentality has got to go. Take the thinking I’ve learned over the years from all the good people at America’s Home Place. No matter which one of their offices I visit, the thinking is the same. You’re only as good as your last house. These guys are knocking out 1,200 houses a year now and are growing fast, but the house that they are worried about the most is the last one. Why? Because that’s the one that represents them, not only the 1,199 houses before it, but the last house, the last homeowner. Every house you do reflects who you are, and every word that comes out of your mouth reflects who you are, and people sometimes speak a little too quickly. They unintentionally speak non-truths, because they don’t pause long enough to think out the question that was asked to them. They answer too quickly and find themselves stuck because it already came out.
R&L: For all your efforts with these young men, do you achieve positive results? Do these young men turn themselves around based on the principles of faith and morality that you teach them?
Mataro: These young men have been in the paper sixty-four times in seventeen years. They’ve received awards from the mayor and had a front-page news article about how their company does business differently. After 9/11 all the guys came together, raised up money, and painted a 280 foot fence on a major road red, white, and blue along with words of prayer for all the families. These guys were the town misfits at one time and now they’ve grown up to be the town leaders. When the mayor of the town gives your guys and the company an award for what they have done for the town over the years, you know in your heart you are doing the right thing.
R&L: Aside from these successes with these young men, is your business profitable?
Mataro: Thank the Lord, it’s very profitable. It’s more profitable than I ever imagined it would be. We make thousands of dollars every month in profits. But we use those profits for other projects, like the ones I was talking about before. My wife and I own seventy acres of land with horses, a few ponds for fishing, four wheelers for the guys, and we live in a beautiful house. We use all this space so that the guys we take in have a good place to live. We want to do all we can to discourage them from leaving and finding the same old trouble. By offering them a better alternative, we also teach them that we earn profit not just so the business or a person can sit on a pile of gold, but also that it can and should be shared with others. Servant builders is what we feel our company is all about.