To the Point Home Services Podcast

The Home Services Podcast That Gives Back

Episode 135: From Minimum Wage to Maximum Growth

August 30, 2022

Episode 135: From Minimum Wage to Maximum Growth

Published: August 30, 2022
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Our guest is none other than George Donaldson, CEO of Fix-it Group! George has been in this game a long time, and acheived an extraordinary amount of success along the way. Most of our listeners are right in that 3-20MM space with their business, and there’s so much to learn to get to that next big benchmark. George has grown multiple companies from nothing to 10MM in extremely short amounts of time, and is excited to share his story and advice to help you do just that.

From Flippin’ Burgers to Growing Businesses

A younger George was in high school, working for McDonalds and not really sure what his plan for life was. He was a hard-working, highly competitive employee and became a manager at the age of 17. Still, he knew it wasn’t really the career path he wanted to pursue. On the job, George would often find himself fixing things that would break. Another manager, Julie, told him she could him being an electrician. Coincidentally, George’s stepfather signed him up for a ride-along with an electrician on career day. George had his sights set!

George would occasionally play bingo with his friends, and an older woman George would see there was talking to him and asked him what he wanted his career to be. George told her, and she responded by telling him her neighbor was an electrician! A few conversations later, George had his foot in the door. He had to take the opportunity immediately, and dropped out of high school during his senior year to become a commercial apprentice electrician. Two years later in 2000, George joined a small residential company as an electrician and ran a service van. By 2002, George was manager of the electrical department. By October 2004, he became the GM and took that company from 1MM to 17MM in just four years.

In 2008 at 17MM, the company joined Success Group International (SGI), which was owned by Clockwork Home Services at the time, and became a franchise. They were one of the first companies acquired by Jim Abrams and the parent company. 8 months later, George became their first General Manager!

The Southern California Dilemma

As GM, George was reporting directly to none other than former To The Point guest Jim Abrams. He was actually in a famed General Manager class Jim Abrams led that included names like Jimmer Hiller and Leland Smith. George was out in Nashville, working on a few of their challenge stores in 2009. The Southern California territory had 3 branches – LA, Palm Springs, and Riverisde. The Los Angeles branch had turned out to be a pretty bad acquisition. The store was losing a lot of money, and way too many resources were being invested there. During this time, Jim was gearing up for an IPO. This store simply had to get under control.

George remembers praying “God, send me anywhere, to any of their branches, but just don’t send me to LA”.

“God, send me anywhere, to any of their branches, but just don’t send me to LA”

Guess what happened next? They put George in charge of Southern California.

Regional Manager to Owner

Arriving at the LA branch, George immediately got to work fixing the many problems. By the end of the year, a lot of progress had been made, but there was plenty of work to be done. Unbeknownst to George, Clockwork was in talks with Direct Energy to sell the branch and get the loss of the books. When he found out, George was thinking about all that effort he had put in to turn things around. Talking to Jim, George asked how much the company was being sold for. Jim discourage George from pursuing it, but that seed has already been planted. Still, Jim put George in charge of helping the deal along.

George prayed that if that’s where God wanted him, He would work it out. He had the thought out of his head, and didn’t think it would actually happen. His wife had been against the idea of moving to SoCal, and it just didn’t seem feasible. On a layover in Vegas and headed to SoCal to finish the deal, George got a strange voicemail. Jim wanted to speak immediately. George called Jim back and got an offer he couldn’t refuse. It was to stay on as Regional Manager and acquire the company. So he told his wife about it, and she agreed they couldn’t pass it up.

Still, it was a huge risk. The Clockwork accountant at the time even begged George not to go through with it. She told him the company was in such bad financial shape it would bankrupt him if he purchased it. George was really either going to bankrupt his family or succeed, there was no in between. Dedicated to making it work, George moved forward. He stayed on as Regional Manager for a year, helped the company transition over to Direct Energy, and became their biggest franchisee in Southern California.

11th Hour Issues

The President of Franchise at Direct Energy decided they were going to sell the territory out from under George. After learning that and seeing the direction they were headed, he wanted out. Direct Energy offered to acquire him to try and avoid fallout, putting George in a tough spot. It was either selling his store or fighting a 40 billion dollar organization. So he started going through the selling process. To make a long story short, they were in the 11th hour of negotiations. The LOI was in place. George always has a plan B for everything and was ready to have a whole brand change just in case things went south. But things were moving forward and just about at the end.

George was in Vegas, getting ready to enjoy the company’s annual Christmas party. It was Friday the 13th, and George remembers what happened vividly. Direct Energy came to him and tried to lower the sale price by a million dollars for no good reason. They had people on planes on their way to SoCal already; the deal was basically already done. And then they were pulling this on George last-minute. They were trying to negotiate and wanted to extend the LOI. George shut them down. He told them nope, the terms we agreed on were if you fail to complete the transaction by Monday, I’m out.

ARS and Retirement…Then the Return

George’s backup plan sure came in handy! He left, changed brands, and grew the company further. A year later, ARS came knocking on his door, and was offering 3x what Direct Energy was offering previously. George sold and stayed on with ARS for a few years. Things weren’t quite the same for George, though, as he was more of just an employee than an owner. He did learn and accomplish a lot in those two years, though.

Then, George decided to retire. He became really close with Jim Abrams personally during this time. Jim had also retired, and the two talked quite a bit. They actually had plans to put a group together in the restaurant industry before COVID hit! George was really determined to grow another company. He was looking at a lot of different industries, knowing that you can scale businesses of any size and at any speed if you know what you’re doing. He found a company in Denver, and he’s going again!

Fix-it Group

Today, George is CEO of Fix-it Group. He’s joined “the rest of the world” and is backed by private equity. They bought a company in Denver in 2017, and set a goal to grow it from 0 to 10MM. There was no real brand, no customer base. In the very first year, they grew to 9.7MM and 100% organically. They also expanded the company’s offerings from HVAC and plumbing to include electrical as well. This was the 9th company George had grown, and he had the recipe down, but this one was tough. They joined a private equity group in 2020 as a platform company and are also in Dallas, just starting in Charleston, and are a few months away from being in Arizona.

George’s goal is to grow this company to a valuation of over 200MM in 4 years, and he thinks they can do it in 2023. That’s how fast they’re growing. The goal is to get to a billion as fast as they can.

Leadership vs. Management

George believes that it’s important to understand the difference between a leader and a manager. In fact, he believes that it’s important to have more leaders in place in your business than managers! They actually ask everyone they hire what the difference is between the two.
The big difference between a leader and a manager? Leaders have followers. If you’re an employee and a manager asks you to do something, you do it because you’re asked, and you want to keep your job. Someone has to choose to follow a leader, though, and when they do – it’s powerful. They aren’t doing things out of obligation now but rather at a much higher level and buy-in. If you have a company full of leaders from the top down, you’ll have a whole team running through a wall for you. That’s when you can do huge things, and it’s an integral part of how George has scaled many companies in so little time.

George believes that leadership is a God-given trait. You either have it, or you don’t. But even if you don’t have it, if you’re in a management position – you have to be a leader. Whether or not you have this trait, you’ll have to work on it. You have to lead yourself either way, right? It’s something that has to be developed and nurtured. George works on it himself and focuses on how he treats people. He does what he says he will do, has his people’s best interests in mind, and develops them – with a track record of doing so. He believes in a servant-leadership style of leading and knows that if he serves his team, they will serve the clients, and they’ll all win.

Reach Out and Grow!

George truly loves giving back and helping others succeed. He’s graciously shared his email with our listeners and invites you to connect with him about anything! Whether it’s interest in getting involved with the PE game, growing your business, or anything else, you can reach him at [email protected]. He loves giving advice!

Also, George will be at RYNOx 2023 along with fan-favorite Ken Goodrich and plenty more industry leaders and guests to be announced. Have you booked your ticket yet?