Farewell to a friend

Departments - Travels with Jim

May 2, 2016

Jim Huston runs J.R. Huston Consulting, a green industry consulting firm. www.jrhuston.biz; jhuston@giemedia.com

It was last October at the GIE+EXPO in Louisville, Kentucky. I was at the Lawn & Landscape booth perched on a stool at a round high-top table gazing intently into my laptop computer. I immediately recognized the voice of my visitor when he said, “What are you up to?”

We talked for 10 minutes about family, grandkids and the EXPO. We didn’t talk shop, we just chatted about the friendly stuff that fills the air when two friends casually connect for the first time in many, many years. That was the last time I spoke with Charles “Chuck” Vander Kooi, who died in March.

Charles “Chuck” Vander Kooi
Photo courtesy of Vander Kooi & Associates
Road warriors.

Charles “Chuck” Vander Kooi and I worked together at Charles Vander Kooi & Associates (CVK&A) from 1987 through most of 1990. Chuck did the seminars while I was in charge of the consulting division and conducted most of the estimating workshops. It was in these workshops that we taught attendees the multiple overhead recovery system (MORS). A third associate, Steve Smith, ran the computer division and developed the Lotus 1-2-3 landscape estimating program that the company sold and serviced.

I joined CVK&A in early 1987. I met Steve Smith when he came to Southern California to train a landscape contractor how to use CVK&A’s newly released landscape estimating software. Steve told me that CVK&A was looking for a consultant in SoCal and asked if I was interested. I said, “Yes” and off the three of us went throughout North America conducting seminars and estimating workshops, installing computers and software, and consulting with green industry companies.

Like Wyatt Earp and his band of “immortals,” we worked together for three years traveling throughout North America. Those were fun, yet formative, years. Chuck and I thoroughly discussed all aspects of the MORS estimating strategy, estimating philosophy, and construction and services management.

I am eternally indebted to him for his help during the initial stages of my career. Like so many, I cannot believe that he is gone.

At the time, Chuck was also an assistant Baptist minister and we’d inevitably intertwine business discussions with ones concerning theology, Christian apologetics, philosophy, religion in general and politics. We did so on planes, at airports, in hotels, at trade shows and at his home in Colorado when I’d visit him and his wife, Hazel.

For the first six months working with Chuck, I took copious notes, ran hundreds of budgeting and bidding scenarios through my head, and studied his system day in and day out. Chuck encouraged me to do so. It was after hundreds of hours of analysis, that I finally understood the MORS estimating method. I began to apply spreadsheet analysis to it.

After more analysis of hundreds of budgets and bidding scenarios, I began to see the patterns – the benchmarks and critical numbers – that evolved from this data analysis process. It was this process that began at CVK&A, and led to many of the benchmarks and critical numbers that are featured in Lawn & Landscape’s November Benchmarking Your Business issue.

A gifted speaker.

Chuck was the most entertaining speaker that the green industry has ever seen. I vividly remember sitting in on one of his seminars in Toronto in 1988 or ‘89.

I was laughing along with the crowd when it struck me that I had sat through this exact same seminar at least fifteen times before. As entertaining and mesmerizing as the seminar was, I had to force myself to get up and go do something more productive.

God forbid that you were sitting in the front row and got tagged as Chuck’s “Billy-Bob” scape goat. Once so tagged, you became the butt of his jokes and the center of everyone’s attention. Fortunately, those who got so tagged usually had a good sense of humor about it and laughed at themselves along with everyone else.

Laughs in heaven.

Chuck loved his God, his family and his career. He also loved people and desired to see them better themselves. I am eternally indebted to him for his help during the initial stages of my career.

Like so many, I cannot believe that he is gone. He often shared with me that one of his favorite Scriptures was: “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost?” (LK 14:28 NIV).

Never one to sit still nor run from a challenge, you can bet that, at this very moment, Chuck is conducting an estimating seminar for members of the heavenly host. Imagine them sitting there, frantically taking notes and trying to keep up with him.

Worse yet, imagine the one who gets tagged as Billy-Bob. I just hope that he has a sense of humor. I know that Chuck does.