As I get older, I find myself thinking more and more about what is most important in life. For me, it’s my family, of course – a wife who is not only my life partner, but my business partner; two grown sons who also work at EPM and are starting families of their own; and a daughter whom I adore and who has just graduated from high school.
As with most entrepreneurs, my family and business lives intersect in a multitude of ways. So, as I’ve been considering what’s most important in life, I’ve been reflecting on where my business has been and where it’s going – and most importantly, why it’s going there.
From There to Here
I began my career in the pest management industry back in the early ‘90s, always working for a small family business. I wanted to be in charge of my own destiny – to be my own boss – so I started Environmental Pest Management in 2003. Those first few years, it was just me and another part-time employee, enjoying the hustle, but not really thinking about where the business was going.
A few years in, EPM established special expertise treating bedbugs and I focused my sales efforts on multi-unit properties as clients. That was the first really big growth spurt for the business. A few years after that, I developed EPM’s work order system, our proprietary software, which led to our next leap forward, and has largely been responsible for EPM owning 80% of the multi-family property market in Central Ohio.
Then, our next big growth spurt was when Karen (before she became my wife) came on board. She was (and still is) a master at follow-through – answering phones, making sure nothing falls through the cracks, being responsive to customers’ needs, and generally solving everyone’s problems. That was the first time I started delegating and letting someone else take responsibility in the business. It was then that I realized that others, who are better at doing things than I am, could grow the business beyond what I alone was able to do.
By 2011, things were hitting their groove. I had this sizable and successful company, Karen and I got married, my sons came to work with us, and life couldn’t have been better.
Shaken to My Core
Then, from 2015 through 2016, I suffered a series of serious health issues. A spot on my chest had appeared, but for months I ignored it. Karen implored me to get it checked out and eventually, after considerable encouragement from my daughter, I finally went to the doc. Much to my dismay, I got a diagnosis of melanoma, which had also spread to my lymph nodes. As I was recovering from a pretty radical and painful surgery, I had this epiphany that I was going to die someday. Maybe (and hopefully) not from this diagnosis, but for the first time ever, I realized I was mortal.
I healed up from the surgery, my scars were starting to fade, and things were getting back to normal when exactly one year after the melanoma diagnosis, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. I had surgery to remove my thyroid, developed an infection, and had a very difficult recovery. Getting back on my feet after this one was even harder than with the melanoma.
At this point I was beside myself. I began asking more serious questions: If I were to die today, what would I leave behind? What would my death mean for my family? What was I doing all this for? In the beginning of my career, all I ever had to think about was myself, but things had changed. My family and business had grown, and they were now intertwined. I started to see that, although unintentionally so, my business and my family had become my legacies.
Unfortunately, my health issues persisted. About a year after my thyroid surgery, I underwent surgery to remove my tonsils and to reconstruct my soft palette. By now, I was realizing that I was not only mortal, but that I could very well die sooner than I ever expected. I was depressed and angry and looking for a way to take back control of my life. So, I just started writing everything down.
The EPM Playbook is Born
At this point, I felt that the best thing I could do – for my own sanity, for the business, and for my family – was to leave behind a blueprint for how to run a successful business. But not just any business; I needed to record how to run this successful business. The first playbook was for Karen. I documented the history of the company, banking details, billing information, passwords, client relationships and contact info, and the list went on. I wrote down everything she would need to know and do without me. The next playbook I wrote was for the technicians. I recorded where to park the cars, how to kill cockroaches, all the day-to-day operational tasks, how the work order software works, and so much more.
Each playbook ended up being around 1,500 pages. This process of writing everything down – of getting it out of my head and onto (digital) paper – was very cathartic for me. And it gave me comfort knowing that if I were to die soon, I would leave behind something tangible and of value for Karen.
What Does the Future Hold?
Since 2017, health-wise, things have been good. Business-wise as well. The company now executes against a long-range strategic plan using the playbooks I developed while recovering from my cancers. And business continues to grow like never before, with 2020 being our best year yet.
I no longer go into the office every day – in fact, I don’t even have a desk there. Karen, our COO, my sons Blake and Brandon, and all of our other amazing team members operate the business — quite adeptly, I might add — without me. This frees me up to focus on the big picture and envision where the company will go next. I’m now free to do what I do best, while others get to do what they excel at.
In the next 15 years or so Karen and I expect to succeed the business to the next generation. I am confident EPM will continue to thrive – for the benefit of my family, for our employees, and for the many customers we serve – for decades to come.
I, and EPM, continue to be a work in progress. I would love to learn what does — and doesn’t — work for you and your business. Please reach out anytime to share your story.