I had the pleasure to interview Adam Povlitz. Adam is President & CEO of Anago Cleaning Systems, one of the leading franchised commercial cleaning companies and a leader in technological advances relating to business operations and janitorial services. A previous IBM executive, Adam holds a number of business degrees and certifications, including an MBA in Marketing and Finance from the University of Miami. He is a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt, an IFA Certified Franchise Executive and an ISSA Cleaning Industry Management Standards Expert.
Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
After a brief career in investment banking and then being a cog in the 200,000+ employee wheel of IBM, I needed to find something more personally rewarding. My father’s business, Anago Cleaning Systems, was poised for great success, and he asked me to join the company while I was in my 20s. I never aspired to do that, but using my business and financial skills, I saw an opportunity to help this franchise grow and create situations that provided quality of life not just for me, but for our franchisees and employees. So I signed up, worked virtually every job in the company, built relationships throughout the business, and was named President five years later.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
My greatest challenges actually came during that 5-year period before leading the company. I had to prove myself with a lot of “old school” folks and franchise owners who often only knew one way of doing things. But I listened to their ideas, incorporated some of my own, earned respect, and we found a combination of ideas and innovations that moved the company forward. Eventually, I became the obvious choice to become President based on my relationships with every employee and franchisee and my experience in all aspects of the business.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
My personality is naturally that of a micromanager, obsessed with the little details. But I learned that if you, and the people around you, adopt the right mindset and are consistent, the details do handle themselves. So, in the beginning, I had to be detail-oriented but once we had the systems and procedures built, we worked hard to build that team mindset within the organization. They came to realize that if they were consistent in their work, that success was the natural by-product and there was no need to micromanage.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
- A good CEO must adapt to the strengths of their staff, not the other way around.
One of our younger employees was working in the compliance department, which can be a tedious task of reading boring documents and ensuring that we as a company, are following all rules and regulations. She came to me and told me she had an interest in social media and wanted to help the company reach people online. I asked her for 30 days of social media posts, figuring anyone has a week’s worth of ideas but, only someone serious could come up with a month of content. She provided them quickly and we ultimately gave her responsibility for all our social media. Because she’s engaged and doing something she loves, she can handle social media and her compliance work became more efficient and rewarding.
2. It’s often not the amount of time spent, but the lack of time left each week to achieve everything you want.
Every business has a busy season, there are always fires to put out, and executing your to-do lists tends to leave little time for anything else. I keep an idea list and it contains great ideas from both last month and some even from years prior. It’s easy to let things sit on the back-burner or be forgotten, but I make it a point to review the idea list at least once a month. Having that list available and potential improvements on the top of my mind, I can match up my team’s available time in between the fires and lists. Knowing the innovations and improvements you hope to achieve, but not forcing them tomorrow is an important trait for any leader.
3. The good news is nothing lasts forever; the bad news is nothing lasts forever.
We had a poorly performing franchise owner in a city who, when he put his franchise on the market, we discovered significant issues with the company — financial and otherwise. It was easily the most stressful period in my career with all hands on deck taking frequent trips to stabilize the business. We eventually found the right owners for the situation, warned them of the mess they would inherit. In a year and a half, they have already grown the business beyond where it had ever been. So nothing lasts forever, and that’s a good thing. Right now, we are in a solid growth environment, but we know at some point things will slow down due to the economy or just plain bad luck, so we invest in our business when times are good as part of our plan for those slumps and don’t panic when storm clouds pass through. Good times nor bad last forever.
4. Make it a point to prioritize your own health and well-being.
Through our franchisees, our company creates healthy workplaces for hundreds of thousands of workers across the United States and Canada, so I emphasize the importance of self-care, including and especially mental health. I want my team to know that it’s ok not to be ok and going to therapy is like going to the primary care doctor. It’s so easy this day and age to work late, order take-out, order an extra drink at the end of a long day, and skip the gym when things get busy, but that lifestyle only helps pack on the pounds and make stress even harder to cope with. Eat right, exercise, and be mindful of your mental health.
5. People are not your most important asset: the right people are.
Every time I interview I ask the same question: “How many golf balls fit in a 747 jet?” I usually wait for the blank stare before I explain that I want to understand how they would go about answering that question if that was their actual job. If a prospect doesn’t have an answer or tells me to simply measure the area and use that to determine the answer, I tend to end the interview there because they aren’t thinking robustly enough and will probably be an employee who simply follows instructions to the letter without any thought as why they are doing what they’re doing. I hire someone who considers the big picture and asks more questions (“Are we including overhead compartments? Are we flying somewhere and will there be weight restrictions?”). That is the right person and you can’t ever determine that from a resume.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Shut off your email alerts and send all your calls to voicemail. Not all the time though! I move shut off the unread counter and sound on my email and move the icon to the last page on my phone. Set time aside to answer all correspondence and handle it then; almost nothing sent via email needs to be done this instant. If you’re constantly chasing every inbound issue you’ll never make progress on the important stuff.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My father once told me “Your personal income will not far exceed your personal growth.” He has been an enormous help, not just for his knowledge and history building the company, but he made me earn my position and earn the respect of every employee and franchisee. I listened to each member of our company, I spent time learning (and doing) their jobs, and I gained an appreciation for the system that this company is. He was smart and humble enough to know he couldn’t teach me to be the best leader of his company. Whether it’s in business or in basketball, if you’re not constantly studying the proverbial history of the game and staying abreast of upcoming trends, then you’re falling behind.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
I want to continue to make technology an important part of our success. Most people wouldn’t equate cleaning with technology, but I’m proud of the way we are using technology to have relationships with communities and clients. We use a proprietary app that allows any Anago customer to log a complaint or question and that information goes to the cleaning person and all the way to my office in real-time. In our industry, we’ve found by making it easier to report an issue, you make it easier to make a friend who you resolve it. Instead of jumping through multiple hoops, our customers simply snap a picture of their concern and we guarantee a response within 2 hours. We can also tell what consistent issues are reported locally or system-wide so that we can become more efficient and build stronger relationships.
Personally, I find it important to give back to the community and to take nothing for granted, so we at Anago hold some sort of quarterly program to give back to community. We recently sponsored a backpack drive this summer to make sure as many students in our city at least had a backpack and some basic school supplies to take to school. We pay all our employees well in excess of the minimum wage, pay for the majority of their healthcare, and offer a generous 401K match, but that’s not enough. More importantly, we want them to use their own abilities to help someone who hasn’t gotten that same opportunity yet.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
I’m most proud that our franchise system allows people to not only start their own cleaning business but to contribute to something larger. It sounds corny, but every day we see people realize the American dream by giving a low-cost barrier to entry to business ownership; in return, we offer support, training, and all the tools they need for success. I hope my legacy is that thousands of people enjoyed a higher quality of life for themselves and their families because of what we’ve helped build here.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
There’s a popular meme that reminds people that they should treat the janitor with the same respect as the CEO. As the CEO, literally, of janitors, I hope that people can take time to thank a janitor, or a doorman, or a bus driver, for their efforts to improve our daily lives. Everyone deserves respect and dignity and that starts with a look in the eye, a firm handshake, and a thank you.
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