Multi-careered and multi-faceted, Mayor Clyde Rabideau has a fascinating story to tell. Born in Miami Beach, Florida, where his father was stationed as a Marine and raised in West Plattsburgh, Rabideau’s story begins after graduation from Saranac Central School. Prior to his career in politics, his first foray into business was operating the Rabideau Corp. construction business in 1978 with his brother, Mitch. Battling the small business start-up odds, the family-owned company is celebrating its 40th year in business. Evidently one small business wasn’t enough of a challenge for Rabideau, who soon ventured into owning and operating convenience stores. Checkout Convenience Stores started in the 1980s with one location in Plattsburgh, growing over time into a chain of 10 stores. “We eventually sold the chain to Sugar Creek of Rochester,” Rabideau recounted. Rabideau became an alderman in the City of Plattsburgh in the 1980s and was elected mayor in 1989. As his tenure in city government ended, his construction business heated up when the firm won bids at Paul Smith’s College. After about five years of commuting back and forth from Plattsburgh to Paul Smith’s daily he bought a house in Saranac Lake, renovated it and lived there during the week. Eventually he moved to Saranac Lake full time. In 2010 he returned to government, winning the office of mayor in his new hometown. He was re-elected in 2014 and is currently serving his second term. When asked about a third term, Rabideau hinted, “We’ll be making that decision in another month or so.” Despite his busy schedule Rabideau met with this writer recently to share some of his lessons learned with Strictly Business readers.
Job Title: Mayor of the Village of Saranac Lake
Hometown: West Plattsburgh
Family: Wife, Janie, sharing a blended family of seven children and six grandchildren
Education: B.S. in Accounting and Law from Clarkson University
Community Involvement vice president of the North Country Chamber of Commerce, member of the Clinton County Planning Board, chairman of the March of Dimes, president of the New York Conference of Mayors
Which of your professional accomplishments are you most proud?
Making it 40 years in business is a major accomplishment. There are not many of us left standing after four decades. I am proud of the fact that I have never missed a payroll. In four decades, that’s over 2,000 Fridays. Sometimes I had to use my own credit card or borrow money from my dad. Whatever it took to make payroll, I did it even on those hard weeks.
In government, it is a little tougher to pick one thing, but I am very proud of the way we brought Bombardier to Plattsburgh after the closure of the Air Force Base. That was really the catalyst for all the transportation-related industries we have now. At that time Plattsburgh was on the ropes. Bombardier really jump-started the renaissance.
What qualities do you believe are necessary for success?
Perseverance, perseverance, perseverance. You’ve just got to stick to it. Remember that there are always different ways of doing things. I was really good at finding properties in Plattsburgh that nobody thought were worth anything, but I was able to develop them into apartment buildings or commercial places. I did this by persevering and by looking at things in a different way.
Did you have any influential mentors?
I have had quite a few mentors. Joe Bornstein and Herb Carpenter were mentors to me. Herb was the retired police chief when I met him. We did some business projects together in the 1980s and he always gave me rock-solid advice. Both of those guys gave great advice. Another loveable mentor was Frenchie Sabourin who was a Plattsburgh Common Council member for many years.
What are some of the lessons you’ve learned in your 40+ years as a businessman and politician?
There is some overlap between the two. In construction I learned the importance of communicating as much as possible with my customers. I pick up the phone, I text or I email before we do anything. I make sure we are all on the same page. I would rather call to make sure than to take a leap of faith and go ahead and do something that the customer truly didn’t understand. I was pretty good at that in my first year, but I am a lot better at it in my 40th year.
Another thing that I’ve learned in construction is to do it right the first time. There really are no shortcuts. You’ve got to do it right so that you are proud of it and so that you can stand behind it forever. There were a few times in my early career where I didn’t really step up to that line, and I regret them to this day. I resolved long ago to make sure we do the best job possible. As a result, we’ve got a lot of great projects we are proud to have done.
What is your management style?
I have mellowed in my management style over the four decades. When I first started, I was more like a football coach trying to get my line to go full tilt, 100 percent all the time, no matter what the obstacle was. I learned that’s good for some things, but for the long term, it really doesn’t work. The average age of the 12 or 13 people in my company today is 50+ years old, and there are a couple of us who are over 60, myself included. I can’t act like I did when I was 25 working construction and demanding the same thing from my crews. I have to be more considerate, more mature and more understanding of the physical and mental state of my crewmembers each and every day.
I am also not afraid to do any job I assign to any person. Whether it’s lugging sheetrock into a building, plumbing, electrical, or just digging a ditch. I will do it myself. Oftentimes I do it just to make a point—we all do this. We are a team working together with a good attitude. I always preach about having a positive attitude. If somebody comes in with negativity, I ask them, ‘Where is your positive attitude today?’ For the younger people coming on board, whether they are college students or summer help, I joke about menial tasks being a part of ‘character development.’ I will grab a shovel and work with them—not just for a few minutes, but for a significant amount of time and at a steady pace. It is important for me to demonstrate what a steady pace and hard work are all about.
Looking back at your career(s), what is something you would do differently if given the chance?
Government is a slightly different challenge. When I was elected mayor of Plattsburgh at 33 years of age I was not as collaborative with board members as I am now and I regret that. I can see now that we could have achieved a lot more working together. There were some significant political battles on the Common Council floor through the 1990s. There were passionate people with different opinions, but there were a few times I could have just as easily picked up the phone and tried to build consensus rather than just getting my four votes and making it happen. But you learn. You learn. The funny thing is, to this day, I am good friends with the guys I fought with the most back then. We joke about our battles now.
How did your experience as mayor of Plattsburgh affect your second mayoral role in the Village of
I had 10 years to think about what I did right and what I did wrong as the mayor of Plattsburgh. When I was running for the office in Saranac Lake I told myself that if I got a second chance, I would make sure that I would sit down with each board member and bring them in on every decision that I would make. And I did that. The fellow who ran against me was in the opposite party, but he was a great guy, so I asked him to be my deputy mayor even though I was already in the minority on the Village Board. And I think the village was a lot more successful because of that collaborative approach. We really are colleagues and friends without political animosity on the Saranac Lake Village Board. We all wear many hats here. For example, during Winter Carnival, one of the trustees and I had to direct traffic. There were no police officers left and there was a lot of traffic in front of the ice palace, so we just grabbed some fluorescent gear and went to work. In Saranac Lake, that’s what you do; you just put on another hat and go. We will drive a pickup truck from Public Works if that is needed; we’ll just do it. We even have trustees who do grant applications because we don’t have enough resources on staff to get all of the work that we need out the door. Everybody just rolls up their sleeves and does the job that has to be done.