Providing Roots and Giving Wings
“You can’t manage what you don’t know; a leader’s first responsibility is to continually gather information. Critics are always out there, but there is one critic you can never ignore — your customers.”
My father was a man of incredible personal integrity and honor, but most of my family believes I get my business acumen from my grandfather,” he said. “He was an immigrant from the old country (Sicily), who came here when he was 13 years old and spoke seven languages. He was a true merchant.”
Massey was nurtured in the rich soil of a small business. His family owned a large general store (“a block long”) that served as a grocer, clothier and hardware store for the community. An oak tree, planted the year he was born, still graces the site and has grown almost as large, respectively, as Massey’s business enterprises. From those roots, Massey took wing and built a service company that has enjoyed 28 consecutive years of profitable growth, is the fifth largest in the nation in its market sector, and is the largest privately-owned family company in the industry.
Not What I Planned
After being discharged from the Army, Massey’s mother and grandmother thought he would return to the family business in Louisiana, but instead he went to Texas. There he saw opportunity to pursue his business ambitions and to be near the girl who would eventually be his wife of over 50 years, Carol. It was real estate that captured his imagination, so he arranged an appointment with the most successful broker in Austin.
When they met, the broker asked Massey how long he had been in the city, who he knew in the area and what his background was. Then he said, “Son, you know this job is straight commission?” which Massey acknowledged. Then, he continued, “There are two things you must have to be successful in the real estate business. First, you have to know a lot of people, but before that, you have to know a heck of a lot about the community. What I suggest is that you get a job for six months to a year, which will enable you to meet people and get to know the area.” Two or three days later, an employment broker told him what seemed to perfectly fit the bill – Orkin Exterminating Control Company was hiring.
He never planned to stay in that business; in fact, just a few weeks later he found himself stuck under a house while doing a termite treatment, and asked himself, “Harvey, what is a bright young man with your potential doing stuck under a house?” But Massey persevered and soon found his niche in sales and service management, turning one lethargic territory after another into the most profitable sectors of the company, until finally he was running the metro Atlanta territory where Orkin is based. Within 11 years, at 32, he became Orkin’s youngest vice president in its company’s history, and learned the keys to building a thriving organization.
Lessons Along the Way
The basis of intelligence, and particularly business intelligence, is recognizing patterns and principles. It tells you what’s next, what works, and what can be replicated anywhere. Here are some of the maxims of Massey’s success.
First, “Hire image and attitude then train for skill. Image is everything.” As Massey explained, “People believe what they see versus what they hear. If a service technician arrives at someone’s home looking disheveled, in a dilapidated vehicle, it is highly unlikely they will provide the care and concern that is necessary to be a great company. That is the first thing I consider when making a hire; if you don’t get the ‘look’ right, you’ll never get the ‘act’ right.”
Secondly, “You can’t manage what you don’t know; a leader’s first responsibility is to continually gather information. Critics are always out there, but there is one critic you can never ignore — your customers.” Then he added, “People say, knowledge is power, but that is only part of the equation. It is what you do with what you know that brings power. In business, you have to know why people buy and why they don’t; you also have to know why they quit or cancel. There has never been a business model that is permanent; you have to be continually informed and responsive … look at Blackberry.”
Next, “Your most brilliant ideas will never work unless you do.” And then, “You have to, as the cliché says, ‘walk the talk.’ Your occupation tells me what you do. But how you do it tells me who you are. Over the years I found people trusted me because the ‘how’ was right. In fact, I discovered that the hardest thing in the world to do is to say no to someone you like; business is about relationships.”
Massey mused on a conversation he had with one customer, recalling not only details of the company and the purchasing director’s name, but the exact date he made the visit, though it was over 40 years ago. “I had made a number of sales calls on this company with no success. So I simply said to him, ‘Bill, I need to talk with you and I won’t take a lot of your time.’ I said, ‘If you will explain to me why you won’t buy our services, because I know it isn’t the price, I promise I will never bother you again.’ He pulled my proposal out from his desk and said, ‘When can you start?’”
Finally, Massey said with some reflection, “You can’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands. There isn’t a Sunday when I go to Mass that I don’t give thanks for all I have received, but I always ask that I be a better steward and be equally good at giving as I am at receiving.” By all indications it is a prayer that has been answered, repeatedly.
Catch a Rising Star
Orkin was grooming Massey for the presidency, but he came to a crossroad. There were two sons already in the business, so to him, the ceiling was clear. Also, when your star rises as fast as Massey’s did at Orkin, it catches the attention of the whole industry, and Terminix began approaching him. It was just the challenge he needed. After just six years with Terminix, the company went from $40 million in annual revenue to over $100 million, gaining revenue and profit every year.
At Terminix, Massey felt the “golden handcuffs” closing around his wrists, and knew a certain position or salary wasn’t what he wanted. He came from a family that owned their own business and that is where he wanted to go. He found a failing company in Orlando called Walker Chemical and Exterminating and bought it in February 1985. Ned Cook, the chairman of Terminix told him, when he gave his resignation, “If I talk you out of it, one day you’ll blame me that you’re not worth $200 million. But I’ll tell you what, if it doesn’t work out, I’ll buy your business and you can come back to work for us.” Massey said it was the nicest thing the man had ever said to him. He renamed the company Massey Services, Inc. in January 1987 to better reflect the focus of the business.
Efficient and Effective
To paraphrase Peter Drucker, the service industry is efficient, but it isn’t effective. However, Massey knew he could build a service company that was both. In his estimation, the greatest challenge at the new company was convincing his new staff that they were worth more than what they were charging since their pricing structure was below market and was stunting them from profitability. He put his principles to work, focusing on company standards and measurable goals and, of course, the image the company projected, buying new uniforms and putting 57 new vehicles into his fleet.
Leaving a secure corporate position to take over a company with a $4 million debt at a time when he had two children in college and one in high school seemed to be very risky to many people, but Massey understood the challenge and the principles of turning an ailing business around. He reflected on the feelings he had, while staying at the Mt. Vernon Hotel in Winter Park, preparing to talk to his service technicians a week after he closed on the deal. Catching a Chinese dinner before the meeting, he opened the fortune cookie to reveal the following message, which he laminated and carries with him today: “You will make great gains in any project you undertake,’ Wed., Feb. 27, 1985.”
He trained his people in everything from cash flow to building an efficient service route. He instituted an annual awards banquet, which recognizes the achievement of his managers. At one time, they held it in his home, and this past year there were over 1,300 in attendance.
Cut from the Same Bolt
When Massey’s son Tony was a senior at the University of Alabama, he called his father and asked him to come to Tuscaloosa, alone, to talk. Massey admits his first thought was, “Oh, no, what has happened?” Instead, Tony told him that after he graduated he wanted to return to the family business. Massey had given his son similar advice to what the realtor in Austin had told him decades earlier – work for another company and learn as much as you can. Tony surprised his father by saying, “Who can I learn from that would be better than you?”
Tony graduated with a degree in corporate finance and investment management and joined Massey Services as a manager trainee. He also had been a termite technician for Terminix, so he knew the business from the ground up. Apparently, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, as he possessed the same leadership and management skills his father demonstrated, and rose through the ranks as assistant director of finance to administration and personnel director before becoming a general manager.
In 2004, he was named executive vice president of operations, and in 2006, on his 40th birthday, he was promoted to president and COO. Speaking of the influence and example his father imparted upon him, Tony said, “My father has always provided important life lessons. For example, my sisters and I learned the definition of discipline from our father. It was a standing rule in our house ‘to make yourself do what you ought to do, when you ought to do it, whether you want to do it or not.’”
Even as his humble beginnings in rural Louisiana gave him roots and gave him wings, Harvey Massey continues to lay the groundwork, not only for his family and the hundreds employed in his business, but for an untold number through his visionary leadership for what is next in Central Florida. He continues to catch opportunity with one hand, while tossing it to the community with the other.