In today’s episode, we have the pleasure of speaking with Jeff Conner, the founder of Alliance Facility Services. Jeff has previously joined us with his son, Dan, but today we are excited to focus on Jeff’s personal journey and the story of his successful business.
From humble beginnings, Jeff has built Alliance Facility Services from the ground up and maintained a strong commitment to his core values. Join us as we dive deeper into Jeff’s business insights and learn how to keep your business thriving while staying true to your values.
Listen to the podcast episode here!
Welcome back, Jeff round two. Here we are.
Yes, I didn’t bring my guitar.
You got your business suit and your business look.
Today is less, less rock and roll a little bit more polished up. Yeah.
So, Jeff Conner, your business is Alliance Facility Services.
How did you get into the business? Well, first, let’s like what is that? Right? Because you hear that name? And you’re like, What the heck is that?
Yeah, believe me, when? When I tell him my wife’s friends. What it is I do? Hard to believe but I joke about it. And so I’m a janitor. And in fact, I am, in a partial sense. Alliance Facility Services is a company that started in 2018. And we are a national facility management company in all 50 states. And we specialize in customers that have portfolios with broad-based geographic put footprints, like branch banks, like Wells Fargo, which has multiple branches throughout many states, or Bass Pro Shops, almost every state in the United States has its stores.
And so, what we do for facility management that confuses a lot of people that basically the explanation is anything that makes a building function, whether it’s air conditioning and heating, plumbing, electrical janitorial, yes. Landscaping, cutting the grass out front and back. That can be anything that makes me lamping. Anything that makes a building functional for a business is when we take care o
Okay. And is it common for these large corporations, large companies to hire that out? Like, like an outside sort of third-party service? Or do they do it in-house universally?
Very few companies now, because they don’t have to carry the same liabilities and carry the insurance and all that kind of stuff. They just farm it out to a service where we kind of onboard all that and kind of have a closed-book service offering. And that’s why companies that can such I’ve mentioned, such as Wells Fargo, just cut one check, have one scope of work that they want you to follow. You take care of all of our needs. And we have the joke is one throat to choke. If there’s something wrong, we talked to you.
And it probably simplifies it for them, too.
So it cuts their costs. And there’s so much overhead and especially, there’s so much lower margins for companies these days, especially in the retail world, that they’re always looking at ways to maximize their margins.
And then it’s your expertise. So the quality of service is probably better than them managing themselves.
I like that. So how did you get into this?
Long story short, goes way back to when I was a teenager, and I won’t I won’t get into it that far. But I got into the world of I had a summer job as a janitor. And one thing led to another I got into music, and I became a DJ. And then I got hired because I was making $5 an hour at the 99th level market in the United States for radio. And it was like, this is just not going anywhere. For me. I gotta do something else. Yeah, my best friend was working for a large national commercial cleaning company, and said, Hey, Jeff, how’d you like to be a supervisor of a department store here in town? You can make $7 an hour. Wow. $2 An hour raise if you do the percentages? That’s a huge raise. And I was living on my own as a single guy in my own apartment paying all my bills on five bucks an hour. So it’s like man, I’m, I’m rich. Yeah, for a while. And so that’s how I got started. And then I stayed with him for over a decade and I learned all the nuances of that larger retail world instead of your local dentist office-type cleaning, which I was used to in my summer jobs. When I started to learn how to do all the different mechanics of that I became an operations manager of a city. And then I became a branch manager of the state.
And then I became multiple states became a regional manager for that company and went over to a different company, because they, offered me a job with this other company which eventually got bought out by a global National Facility Management Company. And this is the drill genesis of Alliance. A global company that bought them. In the 20, late 20.
Teens used to advertise the fact that they were one of the largest facility management companies in the world. They were the largest employer on the planet and the largest commercial cleaning company on the planet. And so, one thing led to another I became the general manager of what’s called the retail division at that time, and the retail division specializes in these broad-based geographic portfolios. When I started with them, they were an $11 million a year house or shooting a $7 $7 million a year house, annual revenue. And then we as a team built that up to when I left them in 2018, it was a $72 million a year division. The company I was with decided they wanted to take a different direction, and they went public. And that was their first real innocent big mistake in the sense now that they were owned by the stockholders. Yeah, profit became more important than anything else. And so maximizing that profit share was the first thing on their mind.
So they started to make decisions where if a customer didn’t make the kind of percentage profit that they wanted, they would just discard them, they were going to just leave them alone. I knew this about a year in advance being a part of these corporate meetings that I would attend. Sure. And they were going to be taking a direction where they were only going to want key accounts. That’s what they identified. If you weren’t in more than one, we were just going to discard you. If you’re not the six-foot leggy blonde, we will have nothing to do. Yeah, we don’t care this year, a cute little button of a woman that’s great on a dance floor.
We want Barbiie, we’re not interested in Wednesday. Yeah. And so I knew I wasn’t on board with that approach. I voiced my concerns about several different business practices that they were doing that were leading up to this transition. And we had our separation in 2018. Prior to that, knowing what was going to occur, I and a few people in my company started to make plans, knowing that they were going to cannibalize us. And they were likely going to lay off a bunch of people, which they eventually did. And we formed an alliance, and we created alliances facility services, and that’s the genesis of our name.
Okay, cool. That’s an interesting, long story. So back to the beginning of you just like getting into this business. Was there anything you enjoyed about maybe the early days of getting that $7 per-hour job? And kind of like being a supervisor? Is it the like, What do you enjoy about it?
Autonomy is quite nice. I mean, there’s a reason that there’s the lonely horror movie in the beginning, there’s that lonely janitor and an office building. Yeah. Now it used to be with his walk has been on and he wouldn’t see the monster or the ghost, or whatever it was, that was going to end up, killing him or the serial killers, the first victim. But you are, you’re alone, a lot of times you’re not in an office, you you can dictate certain hours that you want to keep. And you have a lot of freedom to do that. It’s not a glamorous job. But there is a certain sense of satisfaction that you can kind of look back and actually see the results of your day’s work, and say, Wow, that look, I did a good job.
And there’s a lot of turnover, because there’s a lot of nefarious people that sometimes get into that field, and you’re not exactly the brain surgeons of the world. Sure. And so, but if you learn you learn it, you apply yourself in your kind of make an effort at it, you can definitely succeed.
What is it that like? So, what are some things you learned, like when you worked for a large company? And kind of like your growth during that time? Like what are some key takeaways from working in that corporate world?
Well, the good and bad? I never talked badly about the former company that I worked for, because they taught me a lot. They taught me everything I know now, and they fed my family for 14 years. So there were definitely some good times it was just, the later years at the end was new management that came in and made some decisions that I just didn’t agree with. But, I learned a lot from them. So I would say the good. And the bad of that was, I begin to get exposed to individuals on a much grander scale in the sense of, I remember one of the big items that was interesting was I went to the corporate headquarters of Facebook because they wanted us to walk their facility and give us a price for doing their facility management.
And so, here I was walking the halls of Facebook, and that was just kind of cool. And you got to see I didn’t, Zuckerberg wasn’t skateboarding around the offices. But I saw a lot of the major players that were taking care of the nuts and bolts of Facebook, and then you got to meet personalities, and it’s like what these people aren’t really as overwhelming.
And wow, you’re you and I’m just a little old me. Imagine, but once you become an actor, and you start to become just a bit player, and you’re intimidated by the De Niro’s, and the Chinos and oh my goodness, this is Anthony Hopkins, and, he’s a Shakespeare. And so you get to see after a while, that they’re just people. And so you learn after a while, how they do their, their business, how to do your business, and how not to do your business. Sure.
And so that was, that was kind of the main benefits. The bad part is you go, like everybody else that deals in the corporate world, that whole mechanism that is a corporation and the slow-moving parts, the bureaucracies, and all that stuff. And one of the things my partner and I promised that we would never do is get ourselves gummed up that way, no matter how big we might fortunate enough to be to become, we wouldn’t have that bureaucracy. We keep a lean, clean, easily functional organization, and so far, knock on wood. We’ve done that.
You hit on some interesting points there. I think one is, so I’m reading a book or listening to a book called Good to Great by Jim Collins right now. And one of the key things he identifies is large companies and organizations that went from good to great and like, why they transitioned, like how they made that transition, and stuff. And one of the key factors in that is that it is just like the focus of the company is on like, a cause for like, the greater good, right? And on the cause instead of after money, right? Like, what do you talk about?
Two things from that I’m an old guy. So I the first, the first management book I ever read was from Herb Kelleher, who is one of the founding members of Southwest Airlines, okay. And as everyone remembers, in the beginning, Southwest was fun. They were cheap, they had streamlined services, you you got exactly what it is that you wanted to get from them safe transportation, with no problems, and you had a good time doing it, you didn’t have to deal with all the, a lot of the things that we famously hear about the airline industry now, that’s not fun to flyer at all. And then we see what Southwest Airlines has turned into just in the last year, they didn’t reinvest in their technologies, it sooner or later came up to bid him in the rear end. And here we are today. And so that’s a good arc that you can give an example from with that corporate mentality and what they originally start-up wanting to do and be and then a lot of times what they end up the result.
My second thing, if you don’t mind me just I read an interesting article about the economic downturn that we’re in ever since COVID. Started. Yeah. And these are the times when you will see these major Cornerstone companies just collapse. And it’s because it exposes this, this hollow infrastructure that they haven’t reinvested in or what they have become, and their company will not survive these moments. Or as you have these new companies that are just fresh and energetic with new ideas, or better core values. Yeah, and suddenly these other brand-new companies appear on the scene at nowhere and, take the lion’s share of the market, right away.
I cannot tell you how many times in the last four years since we’ve really been rolling along as a company where I’ll be in some sales meetings. And these national procurement directors or facility managers, or whoever it is, is working for the company in these departments will do this. And they will say, so, we’ve heard of your company, we’ve never heard of you before who the heck are you? That’s what’s going on. And I tell this little backstory. And of course, when you’re talking with people inside the industry, I can actually name the company that I used to work for. And you can Google it and it’ll show you that in 2018 2019, they decided to exit out of 14 countries.
And the division I was a part of was a $72 million division down to 11. Within a year and a half. That’s crazy. And now I think they’re down to like, single digit, like, two, 3 million. They’re just, there’s just nothing from what they were because of these bad decisions. And so I’ll tell them the story. They’re like, Oh, okay, that’s who you are. Now I get it the light bulb goes off.
And that’s what often happens. Corporations, a lot of times, much like governments become bureaucratic, and they become legacy brand companies. So yes, Sears was wonderful back in the 1940s and 50s. Now, they were having a call going on, something happened in the last 50 years that the market share for Sears just largely went away. And you barely see a Sears store anymore, at least what it was.
What do you how do you think you prevent that like, so as like your company grows and stuff and becomes larger and larger, you have more employees, more staff and everything? How do you because some of these companies like they do great for they can be one of those great companies for a long, long time? And then maybe there’s a change in ownership or management or something. And then some bad decisions happen. But like, is there? Like, how do you think you’d like future proof your business or company to prevent some of those from happening?
For example, if I and my partner decided to sell our company to some big corporate giant when we cashed out, I started to, move to Bangkok and retired for the rest of my life quite happily. And I’m just kidding. And, I think least as long as the owners, or at least the second generation of owners, you have to champion and trumpet your core values at all times, you can’t let those values go secondary to just money. Money will always take care of itself, or profits will always take care of itself. If you just take care of the customer. And really, in our case, our people are even more important than our customers. Yeah, because we’ve found that it is probably the case for almost every business.
Look, what happened was all the Southwest Airlines pilots, and flight attendants that were back in the glory days of the 70s and 80s. When they got to stock they got they got a personal birthday card from the owner himself. They were invested in the company every day, they loved what they did, and they had fun going to work. And that is reflected in how they treated their passengers. You know, despite not despite, and an opposite example of what you see, oftentimes a flight attendant on her third, overnight flight, she’s not getting paid very well. And they’re about ready to go on strike. And just one hour. You know, this is the like people, they’re not happy. And then the customer picks up on that. And then it’s a bad experience.
Because airline, it’s no fun. I want a Southwest, flight attendant to fall out of the luggage compartment, sing Happy Birthday, that kind of thing. So you just have to champion those core values. And then my partner and I have already talked about down the road if we get to that point where someone’s interested in purchasing us.. What safety nets and parameters do we have in place before well before that, to insulate and protect our people from being cannibalized themselves? Because there are ways to structure sales agreements and contracts, just like anything other contract, where you can you can protect people and take care of them. So that’s, way way down the road. We’re we do that when we’re having a few old-fashioned, for the annual meeting, and it’s just him and I at the bar, looking way down the road, but those conversations need to be had and you have to remember Remember that you’re nothing without your people who take care of your clients. And you’re nothing without those clients either. So take care of your people no matter what. So you just have to make sure that’s a focus.
And it’s almost like those, being very firmly those core values that you’ve, you’ve set up for your business. And then it’s like when you’re if you get to the point where you’re selling or nor new management is coming in, right? You’re almost interviewing them to make sure that they align with those core values as well before you sell off to them or bring them through and, we have even identified potential clients that have wondered our business and it’s like, you’re just not a good fit. Oh, You’re a bad business. You’re gonna take care of, you’re gonna cost me too much time, you’re gonna cost too much anxiety. You, you complain too much. You want more? You know, you want you you want to suck me dry from all my financial blood and capture it all yourself? I just don’t think it’s gonna be a good fit. And instead of what we used to term instead of the company being a revenue whore take anything that comes out, like, oh, I can make $5 on you? Yeah, but it’s a pain in the rear end, right? I don’t care. It’s $5. Now, you gotta identify that and weed that out. Thank you very much, but I don’t think you’re a good fit.
And it goes back to like, keeping your employees happy, too, because they’re gonna enjoy coming up.
And it’s funny. Conversely, you see the same companies with the incredulity like, how can you don’t know who we are? We’re serious. you’re serious? I know. None of it for us. So let’s talk about leadership a little bit, because it sounds you know, your career path, you’ve probably kind of developed some skills around that. And I think it is like a skill set. Right.
And so you talk to. I just follow the lead of my wife. And, she teaches me all the leadership skills., I’ll cut that clip. , highlight that one. Put a few feathers in my head. No.I think that’s also an important part of being aware. And kind of having that high level over overview of things and being able not to be so myopic, and caught into the daily grind of oh, look at these numbers, or whatever is going on, you have to kind of step back and be able to look at the big picture. My partner and I are, would be great. If we were a married couple, I have the ability to have great three-dimensional oversight with these big grand ideas. He’s really skillful at dotting the I’s and crossing the t’s.
Not that he can’t look at the bigger picture or not that I can’t dot a few i’s and cross a few T’s. But this is our strength. So I’ll take some of these the craziest ideas that you could possibly imagine. And I’ll say, hey, let me throw that at you and see if it’s any of it sticks. I like this, I don’t like that. I like this.. And that’s kind of how we work. And then with the leadership skills, goes back to what we originally started talking about, you learn from what you see and are aware of, how to behave and how not to behave. It’s almost like, I don’t want to be an abusive husband. Because I’ve seen this example, that example of what I don’t want to be like, however, I’ve seen this example of who I like. So I’m going to work towards that. And I’m going to stay away from that. And, you know, and hopefully, it works.. And you think, Oh, my wife will beat me up.
Do you think part of that is I mean, just so it’s like learning from example, right? Or leading by example exactly. And so you can be, you can be put in bad situations where you pick up bad habits, maybe right, so having the right people around you the right leadership around you.
And I remember, this is one of the early lessons I learned also, as well, in the early days of the Japanese car industry, the Toyotas and the Datsuns, before they became Nissan and the Mazdas. And all those different kinds of companies. The top guy at Toyota would occasionally walk down to the factory line, and he would work on the line. And he could do right side by side, the same things that you would see his employees do. Now American companies at one time would have I don’t know, if they still do it, they would adopt a day where that would reverse and you’d se, the CEO, cleaning toilets. However, I noticed this just for a day, it’s almost like a little bit of you know, like a gimmick or say gimmick.
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it’s like do you see where that diner is. You’re not because the other 364 You’re yelling at me. And so like that ability. And I have done that many times. You know, I trumpet the thing where you touch it, you own it. I mean, I tell that to every one of my newly hired managers, don’t just leave it for that person that’s Maria in the middle of the night that’s clean the toilet, you see something you get, you’re expected to clean that toilet and take care of there. You’re not that, that that special, you’re not that big. tighten that bolt grab that weed and pull it out, change that light bulb, whatever it is that you figure, well, that’s, I’m too important for that. No, you’re not. We’re all in it together. And Maria, or whoever can see that, hey, look, this guy is helping me out. He’s not just all talk. He’s action. So you lead by example. And we’re all in it together. We all carry different tools in our toolboxes and weights that we carry. But I am no better than anybody else. I just do a different job.
I think that’s a good point. Because maybe it’s like the respect factor. Like in order to get the respect from your employees. Like you need to be able to show them that like, Hey, I’m not any bigger than you I can get I can get down there and do this work too, or, and I know how to do this work.
Right. Like I’ve done it before and, and how that experience. And I’ve seen that in the corporations, then that’s I think is one of the tell tales of bureaucrats, bureaucracy, slow movement. Oh, no. I’m Senator Jackman. I’m not supposed to be doing this. I’m for the little guy. With your for the little guy help the little guy out? Yeah, in hell. Yeah. It’s all talk. It’s not just all talk. So that’s part of that as well. And all kind of meshes together, who you actually are, both as a person and then as the company you represent.
I like that. So what do you see as the future of your company?
We’ve been very blessed. When I departed the previous company, it was the anniversary of my 14th year working for them, I was gonna start my 15th year. And this cadre, of corporate managers, appeared on the scene in my office, I knew what was coming months in advance anyway. So I was surprised they were so late, where are you been? I’ve been milking this for the last 15 days. And you don’t know that. Just kidding. And so I forgot the question.
So the future of your company, I was making a joke, a company. We’ve been very blessed that we knew what they were going to do. But we had an opportunity, we knew that it was coming. And when it happened, then we jumped on it in January of 2019. So we had to wait, like about five months for, the very first check. We started with three companies that the other company had discarded, and they suddenly left services. And they were desperate. And we were there to say, look, nothing’s going to change from what you had before. I took care of you for a decade previous and I’m just, you’re just gonna write a different name on the check at the end of the day.
So we started out the first year, I think we were at, like 1.8 million, I think, for these three national companies. So we had a $1.8 million company at the end of 2019. A lot of companies can’t say that. But we’re just, we’re in a different market of how we calculate our revenue and our parameters. Currently, right now, we’re sitting a little short of $23 million dollar a year company, we intend to mimic what happened in the retail division of the previous company, where we experienced nice growth over a period of time. And we’re going to follow the same parameters. We’re going to even take more opportunities to streamline with the new technologies that are available today, that the dinosaur didn’t really want to get involved with, because that’s not what we do. So we can easily Pivot will never go public. I mean, it would take really something remarkable for us to do that. And even then we would have to have some parameters set up that we would again, protect people sure, because I don’t want to get in that that thing where stockholder A is really upset because you only your market share on increased 25 cents a share. Yeah, too bad. Don’t invest in the company. Don’t get confrontational. But that’s not who we are.
So I mean, we intend them to repeat, hopefully, mimic the same, growth trajectory that we had before. And then we’ll see what happens at the end of the day. But so far, so good. And I think if we just stay the course. Once you build a better mousetrap, then all the rest will follow, and don’t lose, the values that you started out with, and everything will kind of take care of itself. And we’ll just see what happens. I don’t get to concern much anymore. I don’t fret and worry, I, without getting too metaphysical about, the universe is going to be there to answer for me all that kind of thing. And, the secret and that whole thing. I have learned in my old age that just do the right thing and things will most of the time, take care of it. So fall into place, things happen, and things will always happen.
You just fix it there, and then you just move on. So that’s the intention for the company is we just kind of make ourselves available. We try to be that innovative company during this economic downturn, where other companies are just trying to hang on to survive. We’re there for you, we can take care of you. We all come to an agreement that looks like this is where you are, Does this not cloud the issue with any sophistry? This is what you need. And I’ll provide it, and I’ll get you by, we’ll, we’ll get through this together. But I’m here to help., we’re not, and it’s so funny that people, companies will hire other companies, and they’ll become adversaries, and they’ll just beat up that company until that company can’t service them anymore.
And it’s like, it’s just not almost like when your data you’re in the dating world. And you you put on a great face. And then as soon as Okay, I’ll go out with you but I’m jealous. And where are you been? And I’ll need this. So we’ll have open and honest conversations. If you look at our website, our values are right there. We’re open, honest, and transparent, and we take care of our people. And everything else will just generally follow. Yep.
I like that. And it goes back to the kind of like pulling out some of the good things from the previous company, right?
Like all that, like what you learn, they’re applying it and then just making it better with the new company. That’s the idea. I like that. And it’s working. And it’s working. It’s working.
So I like to wrap up with one question, I think you answered last time we talked about your favorite spot to go to when you’re not working.
Well now, it’s going to be Bangkok. I had been there before. And my family is going to go there in about three weeks. So we’re going to go on vacation. But we’re not when I’m not working. I still liked the stage. I go to the stage with my son. Shameless plug. You know, we play in case you missed the previous one, And so that’s always fun. So either my studio, or we like to go out of the country on vacation. And then Vegas is always an outlier. Vegas is always there.
What do you what? Why do you like to travel?
You get to you get you get to meet new people. And I think you just see different cultures and get exposed to a different outlook. And you don’t get so isolated and insulated in your own little universe that this is it. Now there’s a whole world out there. And so try different foods. smell different smells. It’s just fun.
It’s pretty amazing. What’s your favorite, favorite country outside of the United States?
Thailand. I have become a very, I think that might be one of the places I may retire either Thai, Thailand, or Kuala Lumpur. I want to experience Dubai. I’ve never been to Dubai. That just depends on how much we can sell the company for it. But so think Thailand is Southeast Asia is my favorite place.
Okay, cool. I haven’t been able to check that out next. game changes. It’s a whole different. It’s not what you’re led to believe in the media. Okay. You know, it’s not an Oliver Stone movie in the 1960s. Very, very modern, very technological.
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