Executive: David Mulicka
Company: Honc Marine Construction
Key: Preparing a business for your absence can make you more successful.
You'd be hard-pressed to find any entrepreneur today willing to put his life on public display by running for political office.
After all, who wants to put up with filing financial disclosures, raising money from donors, glad-handing at countless events and getting publicly chastised by opponents? All while running a business in an economy that's struggling to recover.
But David Mulicka isn't the kind of man who complains about the state of affairs on the Gulf Coast or in Tallahassee. “The market is good or bad right between your ears,” he quips. “If I don't do something, who will?”
Mulicka, 44, president of Honc Marine Construction in Cape Coral (pronounced “hontsch”), has to deal with countless local, state and federal regulations that govern his seawall construction business. “Every day it's a battle,” he says.
Mulicka says he's had enough of government bureaucrats dictating the way he should manage his business. He's running for state representative in Lee County's 75th district, and he's raised $35,000 from 124 people, already winning endorsements by key fellow Republicans after qualifying by petition.
Mulicka believes he can be more effective as a state legislator even though many regulations originate in Washington, D.C. “The state is the first line of defense to the federal government,” he explains, noting that he's put $7,000 of his own money into the effort.
Land-use regulations are a particular thorn in the side of Florida businesses, Mulicka says, but there are many other regulatory hurdles to job creation. “Sometimes government gets in its own way,” he says.
A fiscal conservative, Mulicka says the state budget has to be trimmed like a business so that free enterprise can revive. “Government will not create jobs,” he says.
Planning to run
Fed up with Washington's move to the left and the 2009 Wall Street bailouts, Mulicka began to plot a path to Tallahassee. The district's current office holder, Trudi Williams, is running for state senate because of term limits.
The decision to run for office wasn't easy because of the wrenching changes in the construction industry caused by the recession. Like so many other entrepreneurs, Mulicka had to make tough decisions, such as laying off more than half his staff so the business would survive during the recession.
“When he first came to me with the idea, I wanted to know he had the support of his family and his company, because without that support it would be impossible to be successful as a state representative,” says State Rep. Gary Aubuchon of Cape Coral. As a homebuilder, Aubuchon faced the same challenges when he became a representative in 2006. “Everybody who's important to him should be 100% behind him.”
Mulicka spent much of 2009 and 2010 developing a plan to run for office. At Honc, he hired four new directors, each responsible for a part of the business. Besides building and repairing seawalls, Honc also provides demolition and environmental services.
The difficulty of delegating was easier because Mulicka says he was able to hire talented managers with decades of experience. These are professionals he probably could not have hired during the boom, he says.
For hands-on entrepreneurs, delegating is necessary but never easy. “You have to trust your people,” says Mulicka, whose new management team has now been in place for two months.
Preparing a plan to run for office is good discipline, too. “It forces you to examine every portion of your business,” Mulicka says. Between payroll, taxes and insurance, Mulicka says that it costs Honc $1,000 a day to stay open.
It's helped that business has rebounded lately. Revenues rose 32% to $7.2 million in 2010 compared with 2009, and he's rehired seven employees who had been laid off during the downturn. Besides an improving economy, Mulicka acknowledges that reexamining his businesses and delegating has helped the company's performance, too.
Mulicka says his wife of eight years, Stacy, also supports his efforts. They have a son, Charlie, 7, who has autism. Mulicka recorded Charlie's laughter on his iPhone. “I want my son to know that his Dad did all he could,” he says.
Mulicka graduated from high school at age 16, in part because his father, Gary Mulicka, taught him math and science when he was a kindergartner. “I'd do 100 math problems before dinner,” says David Mulicka.
Mulicka's father died in a car crash when he was just 7 years old and his mother, Cheryl, later married John Honc. She operated the Grab Bag Grocery & Deli in Bokeelia on Pine Island.
The Honc family is well known in Cape Coral and nearby Pine Island for its various commercial enterprises. "We never had allowances, but we had opportunities,” Honc says. “There was always a job open to us.”
When he was 9 years old, Mulicka asked Honc to buy him a commercial-grade mower so he could make pocket money. Honc agreed on the condition that Mulicka mow the family's yard for free. “At 9 years old, he was out there hustling up and down the street,” Honc chuckles.
Mulicka didn't join the family business until 2002, after a successful self-made career in auto dealerships. He sold cars in California, starting at $200 a week and rose to managing dealerships. He says the car business was invaluable experience because it taught him about finance, customer service and making quick decisions on the spot.
He refined those skills at Honc, managing the downturn by trimming overhead, expanding the firm's services and adapting to changing conditions. For example, in 2005, Honc was building a mile of new seawall per month. Five years later, 70% of the business consisted of seawall repairs.
These are the kinds of tough decisions that have to be made in Tallahassee, says Aubuchon, whose homebuilding company in Cape Coral has partnered with Honc. “Budgets have to be balanced,” Aubuchon says. “We're not out of this yet.”
Because they have ultimate authority in their own businesses, many entrepreneurs may feel ill at ease with Tallahassee's give-and-take politics. But Aubuchon says Mulicka demonstrated consensus-building skills when he was president of the Cape Coral Construction Industry Association. During his tenure, the executive director died and Mulicka managed the organization while finding a replacement to everyone's satisfaction, Aubuchon says. “Any leader of any organization has to a large degree be a consensus builder or it'll be difficult to find followers,” he says.
Honc says griping isn't allowed in the family business unless you take action, so he wasn't surprised when Mulicka started talking about running for public office. “You don't complain about stuff if you don't do something about it,” he says. “Somebody's got to do this.”
Mulicka says he's heeded the advice of other entrepreneurs who have committed to public office. “Don't give up your day job,” counseled Williams, who endorsed Mulicka as her successor to the District 75 seat and is the founder and CEO of TKW Consulting Engineers in Fort Myers. “Make sure you schedule quality time with your staff, at least once or twice a week.”
Tallahassee can be an ego booster, particularly when lobbyists shower you with praise. “There are a ton of people who get all wrapped up in how great they are,” Williams says. “Be true to yourself,” she counsels.
“There's no such thing as too much campaigning,” Williams told Mulicka. She estimates he'll need about $150,000 to run an effective campaign. “Make yourself as visible as possible,” she says.