Educate Yourself to Helm a Successful Startup

Longtime engineer prioritizes education to help him in all aspects of his business, from project management to legal training

Educate Yourself to Helm a Successful Startup

Peter Lescure of Lescure Engineers in Santa Rosa, California, designs and supervises the installation of many interesting onsite systems in California’s wine region.

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For almost 40 years, Peter Lescure has performed wastewater and water system design, along with other civil engineering projects, in the popular wine country of Sonoma County north of San Francisco. “I kind of fell into this by chance and grew at it,” says the co-owner of Lescure Engineers.

For anyone contemplating starting a business in a technical area such as onsite work, Lescure urges formal education. His parents were plumbing contractors, so he had some experience with estimates and other office functions.

“I would definitely urge getting some management training and training in project management. I thought I knew how to run a business because I had worked with my folks in their business. Knowing how to balance a checkbook and prepare and invoice and do bookkeeping — that isn’t the half of it. The real tough thing is spotting the people who want to take advantage of you before they get to you and declining their business,” he says.

For that, he values his wife and business manager, Demerus. “You know, women have a different sensitivity for jerks. There were a few times I didn’t listen to her, and I was sorry.”

One potential client constantly picked at details. For example, he grumbled about a charge for the survey crew’s travel time. On the third or fourth round of negotiations about clauses in the contract, Lescure decided doing business with this person would only produce more trouble, and he walked away.

That leads to his next piece of advice: Read contracts, and know what’s in them.

“And get some legal training,” Lescure says. Public agencies put indemnity clauses in their contracts to shift blame to consultants and contractors. “Learn how to read them, how to deal with them, and how to rebut them.”

His law training started in a surveying class in engineering school, continued with land planning law in graduate courses, real-estate law as an elective in a carpentry apprenticeship program, and finally a class in contract law at Santa Rosa Junior College to prepare for the state exam for his General Engineering Contractor (Class A) license. Law is a radically different approach to problem-solving from the engineering approach, Lescure says, not mathematically based, and as likely to be based on earlier legal decisions rather than logic.

His staff is sometimes frustrated with him because he is so picky about language. That comes from his attendance at an EST Forum, a touchstone of the human potential movement of the 1960s and early 1970s.

“What I came away with was an appreciation for precision and the real meaning of words,” he says. That sense has been sharpened by experience as an expert witness. Being prepared by his clients’ attorneys and challenged by the opposing attorneys focused his attention on language.

“Engineering has consequences. Cement and concrete are not the same thing, and those differences are important when you’re hanging out there and subject to liability. You need to pay attention. Don’t be oblivious like the person driving through traffic with a cellphone in one hand and their dog in their lap.” 

Read more about Lescure Engineers in the June issue of Onsite Installer.


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