If you’re around me for any time at all, you’ll likely hear me refer to myself as the “blue-collar CEO.” That’s a title I wear proudly, and it perfectly encapsulates the four key life experiences that have brought me to where I am today: my military service, my background as an engineer, my early exposure as an executive at GE and my subsequent career in leadership at three national private-equity-backed service companies.
My Army Years
At age 17, fresh out of high school, I left home with $150 in my pocket and a duffel bag on my back and joined the U.S. Army. There, I learned about discipline and leadership. I learned how to work with people of diverse backgrounds to reach a goal as a cooperative unit. And I learned how to get to work on time. I owe a debt of gratitude to the military, and I continue to enthusiastically support the men and women who protect and defend our country—both in my personal life and in the companies I run.
The Army also provided my education and first opportunities in the field of engineering. Through that experience, I learned the value of meticulous and strategic planning—a discipline that has served me well throughout my career.
The Engineer in Me
Engineering was the bridge to my first contact with GE Healthcare, when I joined the company as an engineering group leader in 1991. I was privileged to attend the world-renowned John F. Welch Leadership Academy in Crotonville, New York—a life- and career-changing experience for me. My 10 years at GE, where I eventually attained the role of central Atlantic zone operations manager, taught me to run a business, and it became the launchpad for the rest of my career.
Hello Private Equity
One day, I got a call from a recruiter with an intriguing proposition: I was being invited to interview for president of Masterplan, Inc., a private-equity-backed service company. This was my first exposure to the world of private equity, but it came to be the single most influential factor in my career. I was subsequently hired for the role, and over the ensuing 20 years, I’ve had the honor of serving as president and CEO of two additional service companies owned by private equity firms: WASH Multifamily Laundry Systems and, most recently, CoolSys, a market-leading refrigeration and HVAC service company.
Since joining CoolSys in November 2016, I have brought to bear all my experiences in business management and private equity to position the company for rapid expansion through strategic acquisitions as part of a buy-and-build strategy. CoolSys currently has 16 brands operating in 44,000 locations throughout 44 states, serving more than 4,000 customers—and growing!
In two decades of working with private equity firms, I’ve learned that anyone in business can use this tool to produce tremendous generational wealth, and I’ve shared my experience and insights in my Amazon Best Seller The Private Equity Playbook: Management’s Guide to Working With Private Equity. In addition to building successful companies with a strong, employee-centered culture, I derive great pleasure from speaking, teaching and coaching—sharing my experience and expertise with young businesspeople in the same way that so many others have invested themselves in my life over the years.
Sharing My Experience
In fact, the most rewarding work I do is lecturing to executive MBA candidates at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, helping to shape the minds of the world’s next generation of business leaders. That experience even inspired me to participate as a student in the school’s executive program in business management—and it spurred me to finally put the lessons I had learned in my 20 years of private equity experience into The Private Equity Playbook.
The most important lesson I have learned, however, is this: No matter how much you work, at the end of the day, family is the most important thing. So, while I put my all into making my businesses successful, I intentionally carve out dedicated time to be involved in the lives of my wife and children. And I continue growing and learning every day—and having fun doing it!