Don’t sacrifice your home for your corporate headquarters. Earlier in my career, I made a multi-year decision to relocate to Minnesota for a C-level job that took me away from family, friends, and everything I loved. I vowed never to do that again. When I agreed to become CEO of Restoration 1, I had one big condition. I wanted to move the organization’s headquarters from Florida to Waco, Texas. The founder agreed. That one decision allowed me to recruit the team I desired, to build the offices I needed, and to grow our franchise network in record time. If you are going to work hard at something, it’s best to do it in a place that you love.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gary Findley.
Gary Findley is an accomplished business leader and has held multiple executive roles with a variety of brands. Since January 2016, Findley has served as the CEO of Restoration 1, one of the nation’s fastest-growing restoration franchises, and bluefrog Plumbing + Drain, the trusted name in plumbing repair and installation. Before leading these brands, he served as COO of Snap Fitness, the world’s premier gym dedicated to providing results to members through 24/7 access to high-intensity interval training. Prior to this role, he was CEO of FindleyGroup, a strategic partner to franchise businesses providing customized solutions through all phases of a franchise’s development, and also served as President and COO of Curves International. Findley began his career as VP of franchise sales at Neighborly, the world’s largest home service franchisor with 24 service brands and 4,000 franchise owners.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I started as a development person and had the desire to eventually climb to that top rung of the ladder. I learned that sales feeds the machine and understanding and being successful in that role gives a person an edge. It’s that skill set that has helped me award more than 10,000 franchise locations throughout my career.
But my love for franchising across the service trades, specifically with restoration, came from a very personal experience.
It was August 1, 2012. That was the day my wife Kim and I were supposed to move back into our house in Texas. The place was our pride and joy — 4,500 square-feet of home sweet home on a golf course in a gated community in Waco, Texas. We moved out temporarily in 2008 when I took a job in Minnesota. August 1 was supposed to be our wonderful homecoming.
Unfortunately, our renter had gotten married, flown to Bora Bora for a honeymoon, and left a faucet running in the house. By the time we showed up to move back in, the place was a total disaster. Our home and our happiness were drowning in an instant. We called our insurance company and they lined up a restoration service immediately. The end result took us from heartbroken to happily ever after in a matter of days. I was convinced that those restoration experts didn’t just save our home. They saved our lives.
That’s why I jumped at the chance to get involved with Restoration 1 when the opportunity came along. And my passion for the service trades went from consulting with the founder, to growing the franchise network, to running the whole show in record time. We then added another brand, bluefrog Plumbing + Drain. And I stand by my own personal experience as proof that service professionals are true heroes at what they do for customers each and every day. That’s why I consider it an incredible honor to be the CEO of national brands that do dirty jobs.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
I have learned in all of the companies where I’ve worked that sales teams and operations teams never see eye to eye in the beginning. These functions are rarely aligned. Salespeople are not paid to build the company long term. They are focused on objectives in the here and now. That means they traditionally sell and move on.
However, I learned early on that you have to involve the operations team and let them have input on a sell. They are heavily invested in making good on the promise. They want to not only present a great business opportunity, but also see it become a reality for the long road ahead.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
Persistence, hard work, the ability to hire the right people, and integrity above all else. And I didn’t learn these things in some fancy business school. Instead, I credit these life-long lessons from growing up in a small country town. We learned things by doing them, or they didn’t get done. It was as simple as that. That upbringing has carried me through my career ever since. Some of the best learning comes from doing.
By the time I was a successful executive, I decided to go back to college to finish my degree. In my first business class, we opened up the textbook to read about an organization’s success story, and it just so happened to be about a company that I helped grow around the world.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
- You can be honored and humbled, and still say no to things. I feel like the higher the job title, the more frequent the requests become. Can you speak here? Can you attend that? Can you meet with so-and-so? The list goes on and on. In the beginning, it’s easy to say yes to a lot of things. However, as you grow your organization and the team to support it, the more you can shine the spotlight on those who also have wonderful gifts. If you hire well and you delegate, everyone shares in the end.
- Legal action might be just what’s needed. In previous C-level jobs, I always admired running systems with very few legal headaches or lawsuits. Then I began running an organization where franchisees had been allowed to do their own thing and, in franchising terms, not follow the rules of the federal Franchise Disclosure Document. This would be like a rogue McDonald’s franchisee deciding to sell pizzas. I couldn’t let it continue, and I was willing to take legal action to not only correct the situation, but also honor the rest of the franchise network for operating above the line. We won the decision, and that sent an incredible message to our system about the integrity of the business relationship all parties should and would honor. We grew to more locations even faster after that
- Interest from private equity is like a marriage. Choose your partners wisely. I have been part of PE deals in another job where the monetary promises were not fulfilled with senior leaders. I don’t fault the investors as much as the franchise founder on my side of the table in that past life. However, it left a scar on how those proceedings could go horribly wrong for the people who had put their blood, sweat and tears into building a business to attract a buyer in the first place. Fast forward, and as CEO of Restoration 1 and bluefrog, when our growth started generating interest from multiple suitors, I was in a much different role to impact the outcome of an acquisition. Transparency was so important from the very beginning. Not only did we choose incredible partners who closed on an amazing deal during a pandemic, but everyone came out happy.
- Don’t sacrifice your home for your corporate headquarters. Earlier in my career, I made a multi-year decision to relocate to Minnesota for a C-level job that took me away from family, friends, and everything I loved. I vowed never to do that again. When I agreed to become CEO of Restoration 1, I had one big condition. I wanted to move the organization’s headquarters from Florida to Waco, Texas. The founder agreed. That one decision allowed me to recruit the team I desired, to build the offices I needed, and to grow our franchise network in record time. If you are going to work hard at something, it’s best to do it in a place that you love.
- When it comes to work and family, yes, you can have both. I spent decades watching CEOs run national and international organizations at the sacrifice of time with family. The demands of the job were all-consuming. I, myself, made the same 24/7 commitments to the businesses that I helped to grow across the country and around the world. I learned to view it as a hazard of the job. The financial rewards were often tremendous, but I also missed the births of grandchildren and time with my wife and kids as well. Today, I consider myself a shining example of balance like I’ve never known before. I am a CEO who works hard and also plays hard. I have managed our multi-brand franchise organization to historic growth levels and simultaneously enjoyed more time with my immediate family than ever before. I now have a ranch that is my refuge — an escape for everyone that is a short drive away from all the action. And I can respect the boundaries that business and family each deserve.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Make time for yourself. Hire the right people who know what they are doing. When you are done with work for the day or on vacation, be off. While I am still always reading and answering my emails, I try to stay out of any unnecessary situations that require time from my schedule.
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?
I started my career in franchising when I was about 20 years old. I went to work in development selling franchises at The Dwyer Group (an organization that is now called Neighborly). We would work split shifts so we would go home in the afternoon and come back and work until 9–10pm. I would often go up and sit in Don Dwyer’s office and he would share with me more about how to get where you wanted to be. He really did take the time to mentor me and this was when I really started to get excited about a career in franchising. This was the tipping point because coming from being a redneck living in the country, I saw that anyone could have success by hard work and discipline. Don was first to arrive to work and the last to leave. It became a challenge for me to beat him.
I also saw him grow a business that led to long nights at the office and time away from his family. Perhaps, by his example, I also have a deep appreciation for finding a better balance for work and family in my own life.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
Professionally, I want to build a group of service brands that are leaders in their industry.
Personally, I want to become the best person I can be spiritually and personally. And I never want to compromise my values.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
I hope to be seen as someone with high morals and high integrity who was a great father, husband, Poppy, and friend with the desire to always help others and lived a life that was pleasing to God.
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!
It would be to give opportunities to people who would not always have an opportunity to better their lives. Franchising is a great gateway to that, which is why I love what I do and the brands that we grow. In return, I want the success of those individuals to prop up the respect that these industries deserve.
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