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CM/Cleaning & Maintenance Management® 2005 Person of the Year

September 19, 2010
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Jim Harris, Sr., CM/Cleaning & Maintenance Management® magazine''s 2005 Person of the Year said he is "honored and humbled by the industry recognition," and attributes the bulk of his success to those he has learned from along the way.

Climbing the ladder

Harris got his start in the cleaning industry in 1966, at the age of 27, when he "endured the most demanding interview of [his] career" with entrepreneur Marshall Reisman — consisting of a two-day grilling session with tests, multiple interviews (one with Harris'' wife), and an essay on career goals.

"All this for a management position," Harris said. "I had no idea at the time the size and complexity of this industry."

He was placed at Janitor Service, Syracuse, NY. Working with President Tom Heveron — who excelled at selling and negotiations — provided an education in practical business processes, according to Harris.

His tenure brought a learning experience that has heavily impacted the rest of his career.

In 1969, Harris was recruited by a head hunter retained by Service Systems, Buffalo, NY — a subsidiary of Delmonte, which was later sold to Reynolds, then Marriott, and finally Sodexho — and was hired as a regional director for eastern New York and New Jersey.

Within one year Harris was promoted to national sales director for the facilities group, and was greatly influenced by President Linc Aldridge and western Regional Director Si Manspeaker.

"I guess as I look back, I was a bit of a maverick at Service Systems and very impatient to create change," Harris said.

"Some of my ideas were too radical, and I remember becoming frustrated. It was time to move on."

In March of 1972, Harris started his own contract cleaning company — Albany, NY-based Janitronics, Inc. — which he referred to as "a new arena and a new unlimited opportunity."

"I was so scared that I never gave the possibility of failure a thought," Harris recalled.

Industry networking

Harris'' career path was greatly influenced in 1973, when he joined the National Association of Building Service Contractors (now the Building Service Contractors Association International, or BSCAI).

It was there that many of Harris'' life-long friendships were established and a continuous dialogue with building service contractors (BSCs) worldwide was created.

Among the close associates Harris met at BSCAI were Dan Bishop, Gary Penrod, and Ian Greig.

These and many more have had a profound influence on Harris'' career.

In 1981, Harris, along with Mitch Murch, Steve Kletjian, Skip Marsden, and Dave Meiers — under the leadership of Dan Bishop — co-founded The Maids International, recognized by Entrepreneur Magazine as the nation''s fastest growing maid service franchise.

Throughout the years, Harris became more involved with BSCAI activities and was a featured speaker at the first World Congress in Berne, Switzerland, among many other engagements.

He served on the board of directors for 12 years and ended his term as president in 1988.

Harris attributes a lot of his success to the concept of pursuing continuous organizational improvement, much through the teachings of Dr. Edwards Deming, resulting in systems-thinking applied to inspiring employees and managing daily workflow.

Continuous education and training of all personnel in any of Harris'' organizations are integrated into the corporate culture.

It is his belief that new ideas cannot be assimilated into corporate thinking unless the employee base has been cultivated with learning; and the results are astonishing.

"Our industry seems to grab new concepts without evaluating and allowing time for effective transitioning," Harris said.

"This has resulted in quick rejection and confusion. I find this mostly in custodial operations that promote supervisors from the workforce without required management training."

A new concept

In 1993, Harris founded Concepts IV as an industry consulting group.

"I researched the custodial operations in 714 New York State public school districts in 1991," Harris said.

"What I found was interesting: A very high percentage of administrators were frustrated with their custodial departments and felt helpless to institute improvement. I observed poor workmanship, practically no training, very low productivity, and high costs."

Harris said that it was quickly recognized by Concepts IV management that outsourcing services was not realistic, due to unions, old habits, and bureaucracy.

"We decided if we cannot market our service, we can teach them what we know in systems," he said.

"That was the original idea behind Concepts IV. Since 1993, Concepts IV has worked with over 3,200 organizations through seminars and on-site consultancy."

Around this time, Harris met Larry Shideler, president and founder of vacuum manufacturer, ProTeam, Inc.

Shideler was determined to change the way the industry removed soil from buildings, especially through vacuuming.

"This opened a whole new world to me," Harris said. "It was Larry who introduced me to the Team Cleaning® system that he had developed."

Harris began transitioning his organization to the system, which was very easy because he had established a receptive management team.

He contacted John Walker, who was producing training videos and engaged Bob Cummings to help set up the program.

"The rest is great history," Harris said.

Harris is very active in JanSan industry organizations. Two new groups that he is closely affiliated with are: The Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI) — focused on raising the awareness of the importance of cleaning through scientific research — and the International Custodial Advisors Network (ICAN) — a non-profit association comprised of industry consultants and other educators with a wide range of expertise in building management, indoor environmental quality and service disciplines.

Family ties

Harris attributes a great deal of the business success to two of his four children: Jim Jr., president of Janitronics, Inc., and Jeff, vice president.

"Without Jim and Jeff managing day to day operations, I would not have the freedom to do other things."

His daughter Jill is a medical sales executive, and his youngest daughter Lan Jin is a high-honors student in the eighth grade.

Harris has six grandchildren, any of whom, he declared, could be president of the United States someday.

Jim and his family reside in Albany, NY.

"The industry has been good to me, to my family, and our employees," he said.

"I believe the most important key to success in a service business is the customer and the employee — it is a dead tie. When employees are treated as well as customers, success is virtually guaranteed.

"I am honored and humbled by this recognition and I am wise enough to know that it was the result of many others."

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