THE UNIVERSITY MAGAZINE

Making a Clean Break

JIM AND DEBBIE Blake Ferraro were about to turn 40 when they risked their financial security, trading Jim’s corporate job with benefits for a business of their own.

Seven years later, the Ferraros’ gamble has paid off. Executive Facility Services Inc., their thriving janitorial service in Southern California, has grown from 20 employees to more than 100. Each night, the Ferraros’ employees fan out to clean more than 1 million square feet of commercial and industrial space.

The Ferraros, 1984 BU graduates, had three young children by 2004 but Jim admits he was hardly a hands-on father. “I was on six planes in three days,” he says of his hectic corporate career with a school bus provider. He yearned to spend more time with his wife and children, set his own schedule and enjoy the family’s many outdoor pursuits, which include running, sailing and biking.

Although the Ferraros agree it was scary to wager a guaranteed paycheck on a well-planned gamble, Jim says he used the fear as “a motivator, a tool to make the next sales call.” And instead of commuting or sitting behind a desk, Jim spent the bulk of his three children’s junior and senior high school years working from home.

The Ferraros, who met at the Jersey Shore shortly after graduating from Catholic high schools in Bucks County, transferred to Bloomsburg during their sophomore years. After graduation, Debbie became a junior accountant, while Jim started up the corporate ladder.

Fed up with cold
On a frigid New Jersey Sunday in 1987 (“The wind chill was 20 below zero,” Debbie remembers), the Ferraros sat in their condo watch- ing the Giants and Broncos vie for the Super Bowl XXI championship in Pasadena, Calif. “I looked at him and he looked at me, and we asked ourselves what we were doing in New Jersey,” she remembers.

“We weren’t skiers, we weren’t snow people … we needed to go to California,” Jim says of the decision.

Within a one-month span in 1988, they bought their first business, a postal annex franchise designed to provide supplemental income; purchased their first single-family home; and learned they were expect- ing their first baby. The couple sold the franchise about five years later when Debbie became a stay-at-home mom to daughters Chelsea and Jordyn and son Christian.

‘Picky’ about customers
Jim developed his business model while earning his MBA from the University of Phoenix in the late 1990s. “I wanted a business based on my two strengths: customer service and client relations,” he says. He found a small janitorial business for sale, bought a second and merged the two.
The key to the business’ success, he believes, is the strong relationship he develops with his customers. He’s also protective of his employees. “Ninety-nine percent of our work- force is female, and I inspect every site. I want my employees to feel safe in the environment in which they’re working. I look for companies that treat our employees with respect.”

He says he couldn’t have done any of it without his wife. The two are partners—in life and in business —with Debbie taking care of the accounting and payroll and involved in business decisions.

Advice for future entrepreneurs?
“Know the nuts and bolts of the product or service you’re offering,” says Jim. “Listen to your clients talk about their wants and needs before you offer anything. They may not know they need what you’re offering, so you may have to educate your client. And find a mentor who’s been there and done that.”

The Ferraros realize that some may look down their noses at janitors. “It’s not a glamorous business, but it’s a service that has to be done,” says Debbie.
Both subscribe to the saying: “If you’re willing to do what other people don’t want to do, you’ll live the way other people aren’t able to live.” •

Sue Beard, the retired editor of The Record Herald in Waynesboro, Pa., lives in North Fort Myers, Fla.

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