Life Lessons And Leadership From Entrepreneur And Business Coach Mary Miller
Published DateAuthorDan Sullivan and Strategic Coach
The year Mary Miller turned 30, she experienced bankruptcy, unemployment, and divorce. Today, the janitorial services company Mary founded with her husband, Tony, has 85% of the market share in Cincinnati. Both Mary and Tony have been Strategic Coach® members for over 30 years, and Mary has been an associate coach for 20 years. In this episode, Mary shares how The Strategic Coach® Program has strengthened both her marriage and her business.
Here's some of what you'll learn in this episode:
How prioritizing their marriage over their business allowed Mary and Tony’s business to become more successful.
Why you should learn in a way that lets you teach others.
How Mary and Tony have passed their company along to the next generation of their family.
What Mary describes as “jet fuel” for what she’s trying to accomplish.
How Mary’s company overcame a serious problem with turnover.
Pausing to reflect on the previous 90 days and plan the next 90 days can cause shifts in your thinking.
If you want to make more money, you need to take more time off.
Listening to other entrepreneurs talk can prompt you to have different conversations about the future.
When you’re among like-minded people, no one will tell you you’re crazy.
Being an entrepreneur means you can do business with the people you want to do business with.
Entrepreneurs can make their lives as big or as small as they choose.
You can have fun no matter how difficult life is.
Ideas can come through conversations. Conversations change lives.
To be able to do things that really make a difference, you have to filter through ideas.
Dan Sullivan: Hi, this is Dan Sullivan. I’d like to welcome you to the Multiplier Mindset Podcast.
On today’s episode of Multiplier Mindset, we have long-time friend and Strategic Coach entrepreneur, Mary Miller. Mary and her husband Tony are now 30-year clients. They’re beyond 30 years in Strategic Coach, and they have a wonderful story to tell about their personal life because Mary and I think Tony credit their membership in Strategic Coach as very fundamental to their ability to continually grow their personal relationship, but also their company, which was very small and part-time when they joined the Program, a sort of insignificant janitorial company in Cincinnati, and now they control 85% of the market in Cincinnati with over 500 full-time employees.
It’s really, really interesting because there’s some daunting challenges for janitorial companies, I think anywhere. But the one that they had in particular, and this I take a little credit here for helping them solve this problem and it was that on average they have 300% turnover of staff, and that’s pretty straightforward. I mean, it’s like the fast food business is 300%. That means that you have to fill a position all year, you have to hire six people to fill one position.
The interesting thing about this is that I asked Tony, “How much free time do your employees get?”
And he says, “Well, they get a week plus statutory holidays.”
And I said, “Well, I got an idea on cutting down your turnover.” And I told him, and I said, “Top to bottom of your company, go back and give everybody two more weeks of Free Days.”
And he said, “Ah, it’ll bankrupt us.”
I said, “Okay, you asked the question and I provided a solution.”
This went on for one quarter, or two quarters, I think it got up to five quarters, and every time he came in, he said, “I just can’t track the nut on this turnover problem.”
And I said, “I’ll just record my answer and play it back to you every time you ask me the question.”
So finally he says, “I have to do this.”
And his accountant said, “Well, I’m watching you commit suicide.”
So Tony said to his accountant, he said, “Well, let’s keep careful track of what it actually costs us.”
It costs them, I think it was $1.50. I said, “That’s almost like nothing, $1.50.” I said, “That’s not a lot.”
What it was is that first of all, that particular business, almost everybody is new to the country, immigrant. The other thing is that a lot of them, their English skills were not great. For an immigrant, they have to learn everything from fresh and they don’t even have the language in many cases to actually do it. So that extra two weeks—and the other thing is that it is not their only job. For some of them, this is just one of perhaps three jobs that they do every day, and their spouse is the same. How do you get your kids into school? It takes them three, four times longer to get their children into school. How do you get your driver’s license? It is just really interesting because free time is a very, very central pillar in Strategic Coach. If you want to make more money, you got to take more free time off.
What happened with this was they were able to put same teams out in the same buildings, and so they’re about a thousand square feet per hour per worker faster than any of their competition, and that’s why they have 85% of the market, because the other companies have 300% turnover and they have 60% turnover. Well, that’s an enormous strategic advantage.
I’m going quite long in this story because I’ve seen Tony and Mary every quarter for 30 years, and Mary is one of our great coaches. I mean, she’s one of our associate coaches. She’s a born coach and it’s such a pleasure to hear the story, which I think this is the 20th time I’ve heard the story, and I enjoy it just as much every time I hear it. Just such a pleasure to be part of this, to be a participant in the growth of two wonderful people and the growth of a wonderful company over a 30-year period.
Mary Miller: Hi, I’m Mary Miller, and I am an entrepreneur. I’m a woman who wants to ignite joy and inspire dreams and purpose and passion in everybody’s life.
For the past 30 years, I’ve been working with my husband in the family business, JANCOA Janitorial Services, where I served as a CEO in a women-owned business, and we just transitioned to our second generation, which was not an overnight process by any stretch of the imagination, but it was something that Strategic Coach and the concepts and tools that I’ve learned over 30 years of being a client in 20 years as an associate coach has helped give me the mindset and the community to support and encourage me and the tools I needed to ask different questions, to focus on the end in mind, and to achieve a quality of life beyond my wildest dreams.
When I started [at] Strategic Coach in 1991, Tony and I had been married for one month. He had been a client of Strategic Coach since December of 1990, so I was really intrigued by what he was learning and the things he was bringing home. The very first workshop he left out his, it was called the Pocket Coach, and he put on one of his goals for the next quarter and the next 90 days was to spend more time with his wife Mary. We weren’t married yet. He was totally baiting me to see how I would respond, and if I responded appropriately, then he would ask. We were married eight months later, so it worked. I think it’s worked for both of us.
You see, Tony and I are both on our third marriage, but we just celebrated 31 years of marriage and I believe 100% that being a client of Strategic Coach, that that’s helped us learn to prioritize, and to build a relationship, and to work on that relationship in a way that prioritized it over the business, but allowed the business to be more successful, too, because our personal life was working well. So it’s really been such a win-win that’s made such a difference.
I totally believe the adage, if you want to learn, teach others, and I always tell clients, “Come in here and receive what you need to know and what you need to learn to achieve what you want over the next 90 days. Chunk it down 90 days at a time to move to your bigger future 20 years from now. But learn in a way that you can go back and teach others—your friends, other entrepreneurs, your team, even your family. These tools are so powerful, everyone can benefit from them.”
I worked in the corporate world for 10 and a half years, but I wasn’t happy. I was going through the motions in life, and there came a time, the year I turned 30, my life imploded. Everything went wrong. I mean, have you ever had one of those years? Yeah, this was like on steroids. Started with a bankruptcy, second divorce, unemployment. I even got an eviction notice on Christmas Eve. It was a really bad year. And I knew I needed, I wanted, something different. I wanted something that I can be in charge of the results and not having to do just what other people told me I should do.
So I found a job. Actually, my mom found an ad for a job with customer service, which is easy-peasy for me. That’s something that just comes natural. But the owners of the company saw something in me I did not see at the time.
I still remember the conversation, calling my mom and dad to let them know I found a new job, and they were super-excited and they asked me what it was and I tell them I’m a 100% commissioned salesperson selling mobile homes, which I knew nothing about, but it was the first time I was responsible for my income, for my life, my quality of life, to support my three kids and not have to depend on anybody else to take care of us. I had to move out of the rugged individualism, that I learned through Strategic Coach to build a community around me of support and nurturing, so it gave me the energy and the power to take the courageous steps to lead toward the results that I really wanted to achieve.
Without that, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today. Whereas we had this job, Tony and I both, that we created this wonderful company, employing over 500 people, and helping them go after their dreams, and in the time we’ve transitioned to the second generation, so now I can spend my time doing what I love and that’s getting other people excited and giving them tools that they can use to build the quality of life beyond their wildest dreams.
The second generation stepped up during COVID. They made sure that Tony and I took care of ourselves. It ran the daily operations, and they had some unique ideas, and my daughter, who is now the CEO, had said to me, “Mom, we’re going to take care of this for you.” And I let her. She’s the queen of wow. She does amazing. She’s the CEO. Her husband’s been our COO for the past eight years, and my brother-in-law is our president takes care of day operations, which is more than 20% of our business each and every day.
They put together this amazing gala, and we had our management team, their partner, some customers and vendors. We had 150 people in this beautiful banquet hall, and it felt like a wedding reception. Honestly, everybody’s celebrating who we were and what we were doing and the transition to the next generation that they are majority-owner now, and Tony and I can just relax and breathe, and we’ve never had that.
The 50 years in the business, and again, Christie, Clint, and Ron all attended Strategic Coach and the program How the Best Get Better. The first thing that Clint did when COVID hit is he pulled out a Strategy Circle to work through the best way to communicate to our customers and our team members of what we were going to do to take care of them and to keep making things happen for them the best.
So it’s all through Strategic Coach that’s helped us make the decisions. We had to do our part, but having these tools and being aware of looking at things from a different perspective and being in a room to have conversations with other people about our thinking without anybody telling us we’re crazy, that’s pretty fun.
When I started working with Tony, it was in 1993. I’d left the sales job that I really loved, and it was because my boss decided I needed to work Sunday since Sunday was currently Family Day. Again, if the pain hadn’t gotten so bad, I would never have left. But when I joined Tony, we were literally a mom-and-pop. We had 65 part-time employees, and for us—I realized part-time employees work part of the time. It was not getting us the results, or our customers the results, so we decided we needed to do something there.
Going to Strategic Coach each quarter to have that day to pause, reflect over the past 90 days and plan for the next 90 days, totally shifted our thinking and our possibilities. Listening to all these financial planners. I mean, we are a janitorial company, but we were in a room with all these other businesses and quite a few financial planners, but listening to them talk prompted us to have different conversations about our future. We were so in the day of survival mode that it helped us realize that we needed to plan something different. Who would buy JANCOA? I mean, if that’s the ultimate entrepreneurial dream, build and sell, who would buy it? It was a problem and it wasn’t worth anything at the time, so we made changes, and using the tools and the conversations with Dan and the other people in the room really shifted things.
It wasn’t an overnight success, but this past year with all the awards, we’ve won a ton of awards over the year, not just Women-Owned Business of the Year, but just recognized as we were the number two cleaning company in Cincinnati after Cintas. Cintas is a $3 billion business. We’re number 19 on the size of women-owned business, and that follows a ton of logistic companies and larger companies that is not a service business. They sell widgets, so there’s a lot of, not apples to apples, but we’ve had such amazing success. We have 85% of the market share. That was never our plan. Our plan was to create value, to create value for our team, for our customers, and those items and focusing on those and reflecting on those every 90 days, it was like jet fuel for what we were trying to accomplish.
Being a coach at Strategic Coach is no doubt the best thing I’ve ever done, for me, in my life, and my team, and my family. I love coaching and it’s because of everything I learn from you, the client, and every time I see the energy and sharing what’s helps our business and improve our quality of life, and sharing these with the clients in the room and the conversations, you could feel the energy each hour by chunking this information and being able to share where nobody else—I’m a network queen, so I get out and I love... My son-in-law used to tease me about the random conversations with strangers. I love having it, and I always find connections. But when I’m in this room, in this community of like minds with people who want more in life and not just settle and want to figure out how to be their best for their business, for their family, for the people in their lives that they care about, that energizes me in a way that nothing else ever has.
I have never found another room of people that I could have the same kind of vulnerability and just authenticity to want to be my best. It’s like no-holds-barred, whatever you want to do and to think through it and just process it, this is that environment that’s going to help you get to where you want to be in your life.
There’s no one descriptor of one client that’s more successful than the next. You define your success, what it is that you want, and Strategic Coach helps you articulate that and get the real clarity of what that is for you. And if it changes, it does. It evolves. Life evolves.
Through Strategic Coach, we created a program for JANCOA to help our team members, and it was focused on retention and to keep people to work for us because that’s always been an issue in our industry. The turnover average in the industry, for service, for janitorial, is 400% a year. So we created the Dream Engineer, and our turnover percent in 2020... See, we’re in ‘23 now. In 2021, our turnover reduced 15% to 85%. That’s unheard of in our industry and it’s so powerful the bestselling author Matthew Kelly was inspired to write the book, The Dream Manager, and uses many of our stories of what we’ve done with our team members over the years.
So yeah, it’s evolved. It doesn’t look the same as it did when the book came out in 2007, but it would never have happened if I hadn’t had these conversations with Strategic Coach, with these other clients, and with the Coach to process my thinking and to overcome and capture the opportunities to make my life bigger and better.
What I love about being an entrepreneur, what I’ve come to realize, is we have to trust ourselves. We have to hone in on our instinct and that’s what these workshops do, it’s like going to the workout, getting ready for a marathon. Being an entrepreneur, it’s like a marathon. It’s not a short-distance run. It’s in for the long haul, and we have to find a way to always focus on being our best to be able to do that. So I’ve learned how to take care of me without somebody telling me what I should or shouldn’t do. Yeah, customers will try to tell me that, but I’ve released customers. We’ve terminated contracts for customers that didn’t treat our team members right or didn’t understand the value that we are creating in our business.
Being an entrepreneur means I can do business with who I want to do business with. It means I can make my life as big or as small as I choose. And there’s no good or bad, there’s just different, and that’s the blessing. It’s my life, and I’m going to make it the way I want it to be, and I want to make it in a way where I’m inspiring others to pursue their dreams, who will create a quality of life that makes a difference for them, their family, their business, and their community, because that’s what makes life so much more fun, and you could have fun no matter how difficult it is.
For us at JANCOA, when we decided that we really wanted to grow our business, and I was fired by a consultant second day of a five-day contract, that was one of our big “Aha!”s, and he said he couldn’t help us, so we had to fix our people problem, and we were average at the time in 1993. Then I realized later I never accepted being average at anything in my life. I always wanted to be better. That’s where inspiration comes, so I asked the question, I changed the question of, “Why don’t people want to just come to work? Why don’t they just do what you want them to do? What would I have to do to be a company where people would want to work for us? If they want to work in our industry, why choose JANCOA? What can I do to help them be successful in life, and they want to come to work? What can I do to help them be excited about their future?”
Nobody dreams of being a janitor. It’s just one of those things that people do when they’re in transition in life, and they forget that they’re in transition, and they get stuck. Even being an entrepreneur, we can get stuck, and being part of Strategic Coach community and with their online access and the books and the friendships, oh, my gosh, the friendships over 30 years—I’m sorry, I got a little choked up. Thirty years of being in the Program are just undescribable and so powerful and that’s what inspires me.
Ideas come through conversations, conversations change lives, and when you’re in a safe environment where you can be vulnerable and you can ask different questions—and sometimes it’s not even a conversation directed to you, you can hear two other clients sharing something and then “Bam!”, and this room’s just a harvest.
I read an article years ago in Time Magazine. The average person has 35 to 45,000 new ideas every day. Us entrepreneurs, we’re the only ones that think we’re supposed to do something with everyone that those ideas. But at Strategic Coach, it helps us learn to filter, to be able to do the things that really will make a difference. If we chased every rabbit hole of an idea, which many of us have done and continue to do, then we don’t have time to do what we really want with our time, because as infinite as ideas are and possibilities, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, that doesn’t change. Coach helps us get that clarity so that we’re spending the time the way we choose to, and just not reacting when something comes up or an idea hits onto us.
There was a client years ago, he told the coach, “You can’t stop this genius!” It’s true, because our thinking doesn’t stop. It’s up to us to choose what we’re going to give energy to. How are we going to deal what goes on in that six inches between our ears, so that we can get the results that we want and not feel like we’re chasing our tail?
The first 30 years of my life was transactional. “You do this, you get that. You do this, you get that.” It doesn’t work. It doesn’t bring happiness, it doesn’t ignite joy, and it doesn’t create for a fun, courageous, successful life.
So that’s what I wish I knew sooner, that if I had the faith and worked through the obstacles instead of, to quote my second husband, “Why can’t you just accept that life is bad?”, because I don’t believe that’s the truth, and so he’s second husband, not third. But Tony and I have been married 31 years, and to find somebody that you can be yourself, and learn how to have questions and have conversations, to bring the best out in each other, and that’s what us entrepreneurs do in all our relationships, and I love it.