My wife and I have decided to downsize our home. Our oldest is off to college (or Juniors hockey) in a year and I’m tired of having to text our younger kids that it’s time for dinner when they are playing in the other side of the house! There is something special, something humbling, something intimate, thinking about living in half the space.

We are in the process of interviewing builders. We want to eventually build a home in an old Denver neighborhood called Observatory Park. It’s named after the historic Chamberlin Observatory, and is located just blocks from The University of Denver. It has charm and defines the “neighbor” in neighborhood.

Last week I interviewed the first of three potential builders. We met at a local, non-chain coffee shop near the Park. I headed to the interview with a list of twenty questions. But after Scott Kirkegaard answered my first question, I decided I didn’t need to ask the remaining 19 questions.

Scott Kirkegaard graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in marketing. He is a partner in A.J. Kirkegaard Construction where he has built a solid reputation as a custom home builder. Founded in 1956 by Arnold Jens Kirkegaard, AJK became widely known and respected for the quality of its work and the integrity of its word. Arnold passed that tradition through his son, Bob, and eventually his grandson, Scott and grandson-in-law, Jon.

My first question to Scott was “What are you most proud of with your home-building business?” Here is Scott’s answer.

“My partner and I have built over 30 homes in Observatory Park over the last fifteen years. What I’m most proud of is not the beautiful homes we’ve built, but the beautiful friendships I’ve built with our clients. I could call every person we’ve built a home for and ask them to allow you and I to visit their home. They are not clients. They are all friends.”

Hired! Cancelled the other two interviews. Got all I need for a sound decision.

Anyone can build a beautiful home, but not many can build 35 beautiful custom homes and remain friends with all of them. Tells me all I need to know about Scott Kirkegaards’ character, integrity and value of relationships.

Jill and I have built a home in the past. And we wouldn’t refer that builder to our worst enemy.

Makes me wonder. Should we be more proud of the products and services our organizations and companies provide, or the authentic relationships we build with our customers and clients along the way?

Anyone can build a widget. But it takes a special heart-led leader who can also build teams, build a strong and healthy culture and most importantly, build friends – not clients.

Here is what I learned from Scott Kirkegaard last week: If your goal is to build your business, then you will spend a career managing transactions. But if your goal is to build relationships, you will spend a lifetime managing your clients’ referrals.