Walter Crawford’s great-grandfather was a Presbyterian pastor in Tennessee. He can trace his most fundamental business philosophies to those roots. “Up there, a man’s word was everything,” Crawford says. “In those small towns, money wasn’t important. It was more about your word and your bond, your principles and your faith. I’ve always tried to live that way.”

Crawford began his career in the construction industry in Naples in 1990, and in 2003 he bought Heatherwood Construction. In the last 20 years, he’s taken Heatherwood from a mid-size, six-employee company to a leader in the local construction industry with 33 employees. He still focuses on those same guiding principles that his great-grandfather espoused in Tennessee.

“We’re always trying to do the right thing,” Crawford says. “We’re known for paying our bills on time, having good relationships with vendors and helping our clients. We’re a principle-centered company.”

Crawford said he came to construction before he came to entrepreneurship. As a kid, he had an architect for a neighbor, and on his 7th birthday the architect gave him a hammer. Crawford started building things for his family and friends. He even built a stop sign for the neighborhood. “I like to make things,” he says. “That’s why construction is a very satisfying business. Unlike lawyers and bankers and accountants, whose work is not tangible, construction is one of the most emotionally rewarding industries.”

Crawford doesn’t have what he calls a “startup mentality.” Instead, he says, “I’m just a very hard worker.” He started working early, mowing lawns, selling ads for the high school yearbook. He likes to tell a story about when he was first learning to water ski, how he would hold onto the rope for a mile, taking a beating rather than letting go. “I don’t quit,” he says.

He’s also learned the power of delayed gratification, saying, “I always try to have the long view in mind when making a decision.” He urges other entrepreneurs to do the same.

Crawford is extremely competitive, which has served him well in life and in business. He spent 20 years coaching basketball at the middle and high school levels, and he said there are uncanny parallels between coaching sports and managing a business. “Building a team, creating a direction, pushing for victory—they’re identical in many ways.”

One of the most important lessons he’s learned about entrepreneurship came to him on the sidelines of the basketball court. “Expect success,” he says. The difference between teams who win and those who don’t? Winning teams come onto the court thinking they’re going to win. “It’s a good mindset to have,” Crawford says.

He’s applied this same mindset to his own business. “I’m in an industry where you receive nothing for second place. Either you win or you lose.” Being in second place is hard on him, he said, so he works hard to ensure that Heatherwood is consistently at the top of its game.

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