News Column

Maintaining Momentum

October 2003, HISPANIC BUSINESS Magazine

Jamie Gutierrez Vela, president of Midwest Maintenance Co., presides over what is fast becoming one of the heartland's most notable Hispanic-owned firms.

Founded by her parents Paul and Alice Gutierrez in 1965, Midwest Maintenance originally fielded a workforce of eight. Today the firm, which since its inception has been based in Omaha, Nebraska, employs 400 and provides an array of maintenance services. Sales have more than tripled in just the last five years.

Ms. Gutierrez Vela, Midwest's 37-year-old owner, says the impressive run of success owes in large part to the company's emphasis on employee development. Unlike many of its competitors, Midwest offers its workers benefits and access to educational programs, thus ensuring a stable base of employees. This has enabled the firm to boost sales and expand its service offerings.

Ms. Gutierrez Vela has been named entrepreneur of the year by the University of Nebraska's Center for Entrepreneurship and has received a Women of Excellence Award from the YWCA, among other honors.

How has your industry changed in the last four decades?
It has changed immensely. Our production rates have increased at a much higher rate than square-foot pricing. This is partly because of improved systems and equipment, but mostly because of competition and economy-driven price reductions. Twenty years ago our employees were 70 percent African American and 30 percent Caucasian. Today, we are 80 to 90 percent Hispanic. Also, the cleaning industry has gone from mostly part-time to full-time work.

Have the rising costs of health insurance and other benefits been impediments to growth?
Overall, most cleaning companies do not offer employee benefits. Midwest Maintenance is unique in that we offer vacation, health insurance, 401(k), and education opportunities. Rising costs as a whole make it difficult to be price-competitive, but this has not been an obstacle to growth in our case. More companies are interested in working with Midwest Maintenance because they know we do well by our employees and as a result will offer better service.

Would you be willing to take on investors?
I am open to considering any growth opportunities that could benefit the company.

Has employee development always been part of Midwest Maintenance's operations model?
Yes, it has always been an important part of our vision. In the beginning, it was more about humility and dignity important concepts in the cleaning industry. It's essential that we see ourselves as professionals and experts in our field. Later the concept developed to include opportunities for self-growth, education, and promotion. We have found that investing in our employees benefits the company by fostering a sense of loyalty. As a result, we have a capable and responsive team, from entry-level to management.

What other factors have contributed to the growth of your company in recent years?
An excellent staff. We sit down frequently to discuss, determine, and write down our goals. We keep each other motivated and focused not only on sales goals, but on the core of our business, "promoting people."

Do you envision the company expanding beyond a regional operations model at some point?
Yes, and we have already made efforts in that direction. We belong to a group called the National Service Alliance, which is a consortium of 22 building service contracting companies working together to bid on national contracts. It's a great experience for us, as it provides national exposure and wonderful networking opportunities.


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