UConn is neither the biggest nor the most prestigious college in the Big East Conference, yet they have just won the national basketball championship for the second time in two years. What is perhaps even more remarkable is that this comparatively mid-size school has been to the Final Four 7 times and won the Championship 6 times – 1999, 2004,2011, 2014, 2022, and 2023. Their players are certainly as good as the other top competitive schools like Kentucky, North Carolina, or Duke, but not measurably better. Their support system is robust but can’t hold a candle to Kentucky or North Carolina or Duke, yet their basketball record is more than remarkable, it’s unprecedented. What’s the magic? 


UConn’s head basketball coach, Dan Hurley, after winning back-to-back national championships was asked how his team planned to handle high scoring Zach Edey, Purdue’s 7’4″ giant center (the tallest player in Big Ten history). The coach revealed a strategic approach that resulted in UConn’s 75 to 60 victory over the Purdue Boilermakers. UConn is March Madness champion for the second year in a row not because they have the biggest or the best players, but because a sound team of players coupled with coach Hurley’s unique strategy won the final game.

Hurley explained his strategy: “You can’t stop a giant like Edey. We figured we’d just have to let him play his game but stop all the other players around him from scoring. We didn’t think we could win if we turned the game into a ‘battle against the giant’. All Purdue’s other opponents spent their energy trying to stop Edey. We set out to stop the rest of the team. It worked.” 

“Strategy” is Not a Dirty Word

I have been preaching strategic planning for thirty years, but I have not been getting through. For the most part contractors who attend my seminars begin to roll their eyes and get up to go to the restroom whenever I use the word “strategic”. These type A, hands-on leaders see strategic planning as abstract business theory because, in their experience, contracting cannot be planned long term but comes at them job by job with no two projects exactly alike. Something like the competitive environment of a college basketball coach.

Contractor Strategy

A large regional school builder in the Northeast I consulted with about twenty years ago provided me with my Coach Hurley moment. The company worked in a highly competitive school building environment and fought fiercely for every contract. But when the opportunity to bid on an exceptional huge and complex high school project with the most modern design in the region, my contractor decided to bid high and deliberately lost the bid to his biggest competitor. His estimators and staff were shocked and dismayed that he would let their fiercest competitor win this plum project so easily. 

Here’s what he told his staff: 

“That project, although prestigious, was such a complicated design that no one could estimate it accurately and win, and then build it for a profit. I knew our competition would use up most of their bonding capacity if they got the job and would be tied up for years trying to complete the project. At the same time, there were three more traditional high schools coming up for bid and, with that competitor out of the picture, we could easily win one or all of them and build them for a reasonable profit.” 

That’s strategic thinking.

Strategy Begins in The Present

Most contractors are hands-on doers and bold risk takers. They’re infighters, good at punching in close and ducking the haymaker. They like to mix it up and roll with the punches. But, if you ask them where they’d like to see their company in five years, they will usually duck the question and say they never really think five years out because they’re too busy trying to win the current projects. If you ask them how they are going to do that, they will usually launch into a detailed explanation of their strategy (without using the word) for completing current work and bidding on the next projects. In other words, they apply some form of strategic thinking to problems at hand (like Coach Hurley) but have never been taught the process of using that same sort of thinking to guide their company long-term into the future.

The Next Three Weeks

For the next three weeks we will discuss how to recognize your own strategic thinking skills and how to formalize those skills into a strategic planning program. 

For more information on strategic planning, read more at: STRATIGIC

For a broader view on growth, read more here: GROWTH

To receive the free weekly Construction Messages, ask questions, or make comments contact me at research@simplarfoundation.org.  

Please circulate this widely. It will benefit your constituents. This research is continuous and includes new information weekly as it becomes available. Thank you.