by Jon W. Sparks
“This was not a road I would have chosen initially,” says Stacy McCall.
The president and CEO of ServiceMaster by Stratos, a contract janitorial service, started out as a petroleum engineer, working the technical side of a career that included stints in the oil fields. But experience and opportunity would have their say in where McCall would ultimately go.
Her savvy at understanding process-driven systems led her to start a ServiceMaster franchise in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. That began drawing her toward the people side of organizations, which would eventually take her to the top of the Memphis-based franchise unit of ServiceMaster Clean.
McCall’s devotion to understanding every aspect of the contract janitorial business involved getting down and dirty.
“I went through everything any employee in our organization goes through,” she says. “I cleaned toilets, stripped floors, and did housekeeping. I also went through all of the other experiences that my people encounter in a day.”
That meant people “looking through me as if I was a ghost because I was a janitor,” she says. It also meant sometimes hearing a kind word, dealing with equipment failure, or working long hours because of unexpected problems. “I started developing a heart for my people and what they were going through personally and then professionally when they joined my organization. It helped me become an advocate within my own company.”
Part of that was developing empathy for personal as well as professional issues of employees, who are called service partners. “I was available and a listening ear,” McCall says, “so I learned what trials and tribulations were on our frontline, which helped me create internal processes but also a company culture of caring and engagement, not just with my external customers in the marketplace but my internal customers and my service partners.”
She became attuned to the voice of the customer as well as the voice of her people.
“I say I’m a contract janitorial company but what I understand through the path I’ve traveled is that we’re a logistical people business,” McCall says. “That journey and those experiences created this opportunity of trust and loyalty and gave me the ability to spearhead a culture we’re always driving for in our organization.”
McCall has a series of key beliefs that she readily shares.
“We don’t make widgets or gadgets. We provide a service, and we cannot provide a service without our people and if we’re not taking care of our people internally, they don’t have the ability to take care of our customer,” she says. “We have to fill their cup up or they will be empty and they don’t have anything to give to our customer. I also believe in constant communication all the way throughout my organization. I believe that we should all be constant learners. I believe we’ve never ‘made’ it — we can always do better in servicing our people and our customers. I believe we all make mistakes and if we get it on the table and accept it and then move on, that we are better for it. I believe in trust within my organization. One of our foundations is that we have integrity and credibility internally in our organization and therefore we can translate that externally to our customer.”
With that driving the engine of ServiceMaster by Stratos, McCall is looking to the future and hoping for more full-time opportunities for the Memphis market. “We want to provide a career path,” she says. “I like to talk about changed lives and I hope that in 10 years I have at least 500 full-time service partners working for us day-in and day-out.”
Another critical component to nurturing the business and engaging the service partners is community service. “I’m a commissioner with Memphis City Beautiful and have been elected to the Memphis In May International Festival board,” McCall says. “Our organization provides financial support for local organizations but where we’ve really plugged in is with in-kind donations where our people can be involved in activities, like MIFA’s ‘Feed the Soul.’”
McCall’s service partners handle the facilities before and after events, and sometimes even during them, like the River Arts Festival, the Center for Southern Folklore’s Music & Heritage Festival, and the New Memphis Institute’s 901 Fest. “I compensate them for it but don’t charge the organization for our services,” she says. “That lowers the cost of the event for the organization but then also gives an opportunity for our people to experience these activities, exposed to artists they might not see on a regular basis.”
When it comes to being an effective CEO, McCall says that whatever your passion, it’s essential to know everything about your company. “You can be a subject-matter expert,” she says, “but if you want to be a CEO, you need to learn the entire organization. Then you become a wealth of knowledge for others and they are naturally drawn to you for information or exchange of ideas. And then when opportunities arise, even if not in your exact skill set, it creates another opportunity to learn. Develop your network internally within the organization and externally in the marketplace. Relationships allow you to grow professionally and personally to be in the right place at the right time when those upward mobility opportunities exist to get on a path of being a CEO in an organization.”
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