I am Laurie Sewell, President and CEO of Servicon. We are a commercial cleaning and facility services provider specializing in infection prevention in healthcare and other large, complex environments. Prior to the pandemic, cleaning was an industry that often existed in the shadows. Everyone knew it was necessary, but few wanted to focus on it.
Current events thrust it front and center, and it’s become clear to the public that it’s not something you can treat as an afterthought. With that in mind, I want to share how Servicon has grown and thrived-especially during COVID-19-based on leading with our purpose and creating a culture of care.
A Brief Introduction
I began my Servicon career with a summer internship while in college and then decided to work here full-time when I graduated. I’ve worn many hats in the company, from doing administrative work, then running our supplies division, to being appointed CEO in 2014.
My story is atypical for such a traditionally male-dominated industry, but I wasn’t aware of that until I attended my first tradeshow. The show attracted attendees from around the world; the ratio of men to women at the event was probably close to 200 to 1.
So, in addition to the challenges all young people face starting their first professional job, I was a woman navigating uncharted waters. However, Servicon has always been progressive and innovative and created a culture that allowed me to thrive.
Since then, I have learned a lot as a woman at the helm of a multi-million-dollar company in an industry where women leaders remain a minority. Crucially, I learned how we can differentiate ourselves by leading our company with a purpose: to elevate the industry and provide healthy environments for people to thrive.
People Come First
Servicon has always had a reputation for operational integrity and outstanding work. It’s why we are trusted by some of the largest, most complex companies in the country. To achieve this, though, we need focus, direction, and an understanding that the work is more than just a job.
Our services keep people healthy, and healthy spaces improve people’s mood, productivity, and general wellbeing. We need to stay on top of the latest innovations and science to validate our efforts. Perhaps most importantly, it’s our duty to care for and invest in our people so that they can thrive.
Our founder, Richard Mahdesian, was known for his caring attitude. A son of immigrants, he ran his family farm when he was just a teenager and developed a respect for those who weren’t born into privilege. He wanted to provide his employees, most of whom are also immigrants or children of immigrants, opportunities to grow so that they could buy their first homes and send their children to college. We’ve never lost sight of this.
We provide career pathways for our employees, focus on building effective communication channels and create spaces for open dialogue. They know we have their backs, and that allows them to meet the considerable challenges that have come their way.
A Tough, Rewarding Time
During the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, when everything from stores to schools was shut down, our team worked tirelessly to keep hospitals and other essential facilities open and operating safely. When other companies experienced high levels of employee absenteeism, our teams showed up and worked harder than ever.
When most companies were struggling to find workers, we increased our hiring rate and grew our team to its largest size ever. Once the worst of the pandemic was over, nearly all of our new workers remained. We also have many employees who have been with us for 20 to 35-plus years. Our employees like our family-oriented values and know that their work makes a difference.
They also know that our purpose is more than a tagline and that we are even willing to make sacrifices to our bottom line to stay true to our values.
Money Where Your Mouth Is
As I said, despite the economic contraction most industries felt during the height of the pandemic, Servicon grew considerably. Our services played a direct role in slowing the spread of the virus and keeping people safe- especially in the critically important healthcare setting.
However, we knew that many of our employees’ family members suddenly found themselves without work and that our team members were now the only financial providers in their households. With this in mind, we provided financial assistance in the form of bonuses to our team members to help alleviate the pressure on their households.
Yes, it ate into our profits, but it also demonstrated that our values are real and that providing healthy environments for people to thrive includes the well-being of our team members.
Choose Your Clients Wisely
Sometimes, you have to make hard decisions about who you’ll work with. To illustrate my point, I onboard all exempt new hires every two weeks. More often than not, I find they have already heard what has become the legend of the firing of the million-dollar client.
It’s a true story. We had a client that, despite my meeting with the CEO personally to request his management treat our employees with more respect, did nothing to improve the situation. When it came time to renew the contract, I (politely) told the company we were not interested. We preferred not to lose such a significant source of revenue, but we had to do the right thing by our people.
We had to stick to our purpose. At the time, I had no idea the dividends it would pay us in employee recruitment and retention. It turns out people are very attracted to a culture that values its employees!
The Challenges of Bigger
Being purpose-driven is not without its challenges, especially as Servicon continues to grow. Last year, we hit a landmark revenue milestone, something that was highly celebrated. Yet as CEO of an independent, woman-owned family business, pure numbers don’t do it for me. They aren’t inspiring. I like to ask myself and my leadership team big-picture questions.
How do we make sure every employee feels valued and appreciated for their work and as a person? How do we continue to lead with our purpose as our employee numbers and business outside of California grows?
We don’t have all the answers yet, but we will continue to keep our purpose to elevate the industry and provide healthy environments for people to thrive as our north star for decision making. It has been a successful formula for nearly 50 years!