ORLANDO, FL — American Residential Services, Inc. (ARS), a division of ServiceMaster, recently held its 2001 management meeting at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel here. If the enthusiasm shown during its annual meeting is any indication of future growth, the company appears headed in the right direction.

Approximately 350 managers from across the country converged on the meeting, which featured speakers from the corporate management team at ARS, including newly hired president and ceo of ServiceMaster, Jonathan Ward. Ward was the former president and coo of R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co., a commercial printing business.

The crowd of ARS managers filled the meeting hall to capacity.

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One of the three speakers who gave inspired addresses was Bill LeBaron, president and ceo of ARS. He cited some of ARS’ achievements in 2000-2001.

“We invested $200,000 in training programs, purchased 1,700 new vehicles at a cost of $46.8 million, invested $15 million in Yellow Pages advertising, and have enhanced our benefit package by over $3 million this year,” he said.

According to company officials, ARS experienced a 56% growth in income last year and a 76% growth in profit. LeBaron said the company would continue to grow internally and through acquisitions, which included 50 companies acquired in 2000, representing sales of almost $97 million. He said total income for 2000, including the mechanical division (AMS), was $805.8 million. The company is budgeting for $950 million in 2001.

LeBaron cited 11 contractors who reported profit margins of 20% or higher in 2000. He hopes the example set by these contractors will trickle on down to other ARS managers and their employees.

“The test will come at the end of the day when we ask, ‘How well did we connect with our people?’” he said. “Morale is very important. There shouldn’t be any disconnects in our company.”

LeBaron concluded his talk by leading the audience in a few chants of “Simply the Best” — the meeting’s overall theme. He wrapped up his presentation with a film clip to the tune of “Taking Care of Business” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive.

Aim To Be Driving Force

Jake Williamson Jr., who has transitioned into the role of advisor for ARS, took a moment — several, in fact — to congratulate managers on what he believed to be a banner year. Williamson is the former owner of Metro Heating and Air Conditioning in Raleigh, NC, and former Southeast regional manager for ARS.

In his estimation, there were several reasons why the company had solid results in 2000, including acquisitions, internal growth, increased revenue, more profitability, consistency, and a successful “transition” year (as ARS was acquired by ServiceMaster in May 1999).

“There is an autonomy here that wasn’t here with the old ARS,” said Williamson. “The old ARS told me what to do. We have leaders now who are leaders, committed to growth. Good leaders give credit to their people when things are going good and take responsibility when things go bad.”

Williamson added that ARS is dedicated to promoting family values and continuous communication with its people.

“ARS is being in the right place for the right person because people are appreciated, respected, fairly compensated, are given responsibility, a growth path, and are treated fairly,” he said. “There is also a very positive work ethic here.”

Williamson said he believes ARS will be the driving force for ServiceMaster for years to come.

“ARS was bought by Service-Master to be the growth machine for the next several years. It used to be up to Terminex and ChemLawn to drive growth. Now it is up to us.”

Reaching For The Top

Ernie Mrozek, president and coo of the Home Maintenance and Improvement Group (HMIG), the newly organized segment of ServiceMaster, used a sports analogy to talk about his vision for ARS. HMIG includes ARS, Service-Master Clean, Merry Maids, Furniture Medic, and AmeriSpec.

“We’re not satisfied to make the playoffs,” said Mrozek. “We want to win the championship. We want to be dynasties like the New York Yankees and the Chicago Bulls.”

He cited some challenges that faced ServiceMaster in 2000 and how the company made significant accomplishments in spite of them.

“We had labor shortages, a mild summer in some parts of the U.S., a very cold winter that spawned more insurance claims, higher medical costs, continued weakness in stock prices, etc. But ServiceMaster revenues reflected a 5% growth with almost $6 billion in revenues. And we benefited from outstanding results from ARS and AMS.”

According to the company, ServiceMaster serves over 10 million customers through all of its divisions. Mrozek said he wants to see the company reach the pinnacle of the service industry.

“We want to become the world’s premier provider of ser-vices,” he said. “We want to make things simpler and earn the repeat business of our residential and commercial customers. We have three common strategies: to be the employer of choice; to provide world-class customer service; and to live our values.”

Publication date: 03/19/2001