I first met Jack Simonson Jr. in 1989 at a seminar I put on in Chicago for the National Kitchen and Bath Association. I don't remember anything special about him at the time, but he remembered me. An avid reader of this magazine and my articles in particular, he contacted me a couple of years later to put on a seminar for a local PHC trade association he was involved with. He was barely of legal drinking age and working for his father in a little one-truck company known as The Irish Plumber in the Chicago suburb of Villa Park. Despite his tender age, Jack was proud of his heritage and eager to learn everything he could about the plumbing business he was primed to inherit.
Unfortunately, not many of his colleagues shared his attitude about learning and growing. Only six people registered for that program. Jack did everything he could to drum up interest among his colleagues, but over and over he heard the familiar mantra of this industry: Everyone was too "busy." They were so wrapped up in chasing their tails, they couldn't devote even a couple of hours of their precious time to learn some business pointers that would have shown them how to organize their business so they wouldn't have to incessantly chase their tails. They could make more money working way less hard. But they were too busy to learn how.
This is the way the industry was then, and this is the way it is now, with precious few exceptions. I get frustrated at seeing the same mistakes, the same aversion to knowledge and growth, being evidenced over and over. The only thing that keeps me going is working with people like that youngster Jack Simonson, who was determined to grow his business.
C-2000 ConnectionIn 1992, I and 15 other progressive PHC contractors from various parts of the country founded Contractors 2000 to fill an educational void in the service sector of the industry. Still a one-truck operator, young Jack Simonson joined Contractors 2000 the following year, 1993. He was still in business with his father at the time, but Jack Sr. was turning more and more responsibilities over to his son. Jack attended virtually every program and every C-2000 Super Meeting, and was one of the most energetic networkers in an organization that's filled with world-class "schmoozers." He was everywhere, asking questions, making friends, visiting other PHC companies - including my company more times than either of us can remember.
Jack is one of the most curious people I've ever known. He's always asking questions, and seeking new experiences. Still in his early 20s, he ventured to China as part of a tour by the World Plumbing Conference group. Around the same time he talked his now deceased father into going along with him to Frankfurt, Germany, for the 1995 ISH Show, as part of a PM tour group. Jack Simonson Jr. was always looking for new experiences. A happy-go-lucky bachelor, he plays hard, too. Yet, he seldom misses an early-morning educational program.
Amazing GrowthLearning is good, but it's not worth very much if you don't put into practice what you learn. This is what separated Jack Simonson from most other contractors I know, even within Contractors 2000. Jack kept implementing the lessons he learned about how to grow your business and become a profitable company.
Grow he did. Thanks to aggressive TV and Yellow Pages marketing, The Irish Plumber became a household word in the greater Chicago area. One of his cleverest TV ads is actually a service tech recruitment ad, asking techs if they have what it takes to work for The Irish Plumber. "If you have at least five years of experience and pass a drug test ¿" says the announcer. Guess what? That's more than a recruitment ad. It tells people this is a first-class firm that hires people they can trust inside their homes.
In the 10 years since I first got to know Jack Simonson, The Irish Plumber has expanded from that tiny one-truck origin into a full-service plumbing and HVAC firm operating 30 service trucks and generating some $8 million a year in revenues. That's not a typo - $8 million a year!
What's more, the majority of that growth occurred in just the last three years. In July 1998, I wrote an article titled "The Ultimate Profit and Loss Statement." Although I didn't identify him at the time, it was The Irish Plumber's statement for its Fiscal Year 1997. At the time the company registered sales of $2.6 million. In the next three years it has grown to $8 million in revenues! That's phenomenal. I don't know of any company in this industry that can brag of this kind of rapid growth. This makes them one of the largest single-location residential service firms in the country. It makes me proud to be Jack's friend and mentor.
Feeling MelancholyAnd now comes both the happy and sad part of this tale. The happy part is that, at age 31, my young buddy Jack has just achieved the kind of success most people on this planet can only dream about. He recently sold his company to ServiceMaster for a sum that would not be an act of friendship to reveal, but which makes this bright and energetic young man a multi-millionaire, even after the tax bite.
The sad part is that I will miss him as a colleague. I counseled Jack not to sell. I didnÕt want to see him leave an industry that needs many more people like him to serve as examples of what can be achieved with the right blend of business acumen and ambition. I advised him that in the long run he could achieve the same degree of financial success without giving up his legacy. But I understand his point of view. He is now in a position to do just about anything he wants to do in life.
Jack has agreed to stay on with ServiceMaster and run his old company as a salaried manager, but there are no long-term obligations on either party. Down the road, he may buy other businesses, especially ailing businesses that he could take a shot at turning around. HeÕs even talked about possibly going to college. He certainly could afford any school that would accept him, and without worrying about student loan payments or delivering pizzas to make ends meet.
It is so satisfying to see young people achieve dreams like that. Not many people in this industry can grow within the span of a decade from a single truck doing less than six figures in revenue, to one of the nationÕs largest independent residential PHC service firms. I just wish the name of The Irish Plumber would stay intact for eternity to remind everyone of such a grand achievement. Unfortunately, thatÕs not in the cards. Sooner or later ServiceMaster will force another identity on the business. The company may or may not continue to be successful, but it most certainly will not have the same soul.