When David Alexander accepted the position of CEO at TruGreen, he had first-hand knowledge on why the company was struggling.
“I fired (TruGreen) a few months before I was offered the job,” Alexander says, adding that he rehired them the weekend after he was hired. “I cancelled my service because they weren't doing what they said – because they weren't showing up when they said.”
So, it wasn't a surprise that Alexander intially balked when he was approached about the CEO job. But after discovering his values aligned with TruGreen's parent company, ServiceMaster, he changed his mind and joined the struggling company.
Those no-shows were a good indicator of why TruGreen had an 8 percent revenue decline in 2013 revenue, lost 400,000 customers in two years and went through three presidents in three years. The company was also spun off from publicly traded ServiceMaster and is now owned by the private equity firm Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, who also owns a majority share of ServiceMaster.
But that split from ServiceMaster gave Alexander and his team at TruGreen the flexibility to get back on the right path. Alexander says 2014 was “probably the best year in a long time” for the company in many areas and revenue has increased by $40 million.
“We probably measure, I don't know, 25 or 30 different metrics, all of which we exceeded in 2014, so it was our first year as a standalone company, and we literally cannot be more pleased with the kind of year we had,” he says. “We added 44,000 or 45,000 customers. So, it was a pretty phenomenal year for us.” One major hang-up was the routing software TruGreen shared with other ServiceMaster companies including Merry Maids and Terminix – companies that performed services indoors and didn't have to change plans when it rained.
“We're using the same software dramatically customized for us, and then we have some internal software we've developed that is also very valuable for our business,” he says.
But the software wasn't the only reason for TruGreen's struggles, and those problems were weighing a lot of employees down. Alexander had to do the basics and make sure employees were showing up on time and servicing customers' lawns the right way, but he also had to boost morale and shape a culture that would make staff proud of their employer.
As the largest lawn care company in the United States, the masses judge lawn care companies by how TruGreen does business, leaving Alexander with a lot of influence on how the industry is viewed in the public's eye. In this exclusive conversation with L&L, Alexander talks about his first months on the job, why he describes the TruGreen acquisition mode as historic, what he sees in TruGreen's future and much more.