We typically start our ‘interview’ process with alumni by asking one simple question: what is your College Pro story? For Steve, after being involved for over 30 years, his answer started with “You ready for this kiddo? Get some coffee, you’ll have a lot to write down.”
Education: Western University
Rookie Year: 1978 (turf: Scarborough, ON)
Steve at College Pro: Chapter One
Steve started with College Pro when founder Greig Clark went full time with the company - he was part of the original group of franchisees when he began his operation in Scarborough, ON. After his first year, he used his savings to travel around Europe and North Africa for the winter, because “travel is always a real good thing.” In the middle of his second summer with College Pro, after playing on a hockey team with Greig Clark, he was asked to go to Western Canada to help expand College Pro and test the market. Greig asked him what he wanted his title to be and Steve said, “I’m feeling like a Vice President.”
“I’m feeling like a Vice President.”
Steve oversaw around 30 franchisees in his first year in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba: “It was a classic bootstrap by the seat of your pants startup…it was fantastic. By my third year I had to field advisors in Seattle as well. It was an incredible learning curve to set up a business.”
Steve left College Pro as a formal employee from ’82-’86 (but we’ll get back to that later); but he always stayed in touch and maintained a connection through his role on an advisory board. Upon his return, he ran operations in Ontario: “I had a growing group of responsibilities which I really liked. One of the things I worked at very early on was the first edition of the leadership skills program developing the competency models.”
"It was an incredible learning curve to set up a business.”
By 1989, College Pro decided it was time to make Steve president, but it wasn’t all good news: “In July, Greig called me into his office and said, well I got some good and bad news. The good news is you will be a tremendous president, but the bad news is I think I want to sell the company.”
The Next Chapter
Steve was instrumental in the management and leadership of College Pro during its purchase by FirstService – College Pro was their first ever acquisition. The company was in a bit of a recession, so Steve ran a couple of initiatives, including the idea to start a full time, year-round painting franchise, but he couldn’t get the trademark on the name ‘pro painters’.
Now, remember when we said Steve left College Pro for 4 years in the 80s? He actually started his own construction company called ‘Certa Pro Construction’. He learned a few hard lessons (including that he didn’t really like the construction industry), but believes those experiences only made him stronger in the end. Years later, he still owned the Certa Pro trademark, and thus, a new brand was born. FirstService, or the Franchise Company, gave them money to acquire several businesses, such as Action Window Cleaners. It was during this time that FirstService, with the help of Steve as the newly appointed CEO, acquired many of the brands that they still own today.
Steve left the presidency of College Pro Painters in 1992, but kept the CEO role, deciding to split College Pro into Canadian and US divisions. Long story short, by the time he left College Pro altogether in 2011, he had managed over $1.4 billion in sales.
College Pro Skills
Steve has three takeaway from his experience at College Pro:
#1. The ability to prioritize and figure out what’s important and what needs to get done: “It’s really simple once you get through the initial freak out stage. You just have to learn that you can’t do everything, you can only do your best.”
#2. Learn how to delegate: “Pick people that can get their own priorities in order and get stuff done.”
#3. Steve says he watched countless people (including himself) learn how to hold themselves accountable: “When it’s your mistake, it’s your friggin’ mistake! College Pro develops that resilience.”
Steve has a company called Four Box Holdings. The name comes from his ‘four boxes’ – recreation, business, consulting, and charitable work. He uses the company to invest and consult, and is currently financing six businesses (three of which have a College Pro connection). He works on Wednesdays in a small office – and loves it.
Steve is also Managing Partner at imagicglass, a company that creates "custom architectural glass solutions".
About Steve: Fun Facts
- Number one piece of advice? Learn your business. Know your business.
- Steve is a musician and plays guitar, keyboard, and some bass.
- He and his wife are very active, and are particularly fond of winter sports.
- He has 3 children, all of whom were involved in College Pro, whether it was painting, videography, running a franchise, or acting as a General Manager.
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