Lastly, never be complacent about anything. Even if you think your company is running smoothly, look for ways to make it better. As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company” I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Kurland. An award-winning CEO of a successful facilities […]
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As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company” I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Kurland.
An award-winning CEO of a successful facilities management company, Michael is committed to leading with purpose and giving back to his community. With more than a decade of sales and marketing experience in the facility management industry, Michael launched Branded Group in 2014 and has led its year-over-year exponential growth and cultural transformation, which has been accomplished through the cultivation of a highly-regarded team of industry experts who strive to be better to their customers, communities, themselves, and to each other. This commitment has resulted in deep and long-lasting customer, vendor, and non-profit partner relationships; innovative programs that drive customer satisfaction; and a respected position in the industry.
As a result of Michael’s commitment to his colleagues, industry, and community, he was named as a semi-finalist for EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year® 2018 Orange County Awards Program. Additionally, Branded Group has received multiple industry and humanitarian awards including Great Place to Work® certification and ranking on the Inc. 5000 for three consecutive years.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
The majority of my career has been committed to the facilities management industry. From 2007 through 2012, I was the vice president of sales for a growing facilities management company in Long Island, New York. During that time, I helped grow the company from $7 million to $50 million in revenue. In 2012, the company was sold to a private equity firm. They promised not to change anything, but ended up changing everything. I knew I could do better. When I was founding our company, I knew that I wanted an organization that would “be better” — better to our clients, our subcontractors, our community, and our employees. That was the beginning of Branded Group.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I think the “Aha Moment” was when I realized that I wanted to do facility management better. I shared some of my ideas with a few of my colleagues and they were in agreement. We could do facility management better. What’s interesting is that we did not reinvent the “doing” of facility management, we reinvented the “be-ing” of facility management. We aligned purpose with profit and we were determined to be the best at customer service, vendor management, employee relations, and giving back to our community. Today, our team members share this commitment and I believe we are achieving our vision to build a conscious business that inspires future humanitarian leaders.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
The hard times were mostly in the first year, like most new businesses. Customers came and went, and we had to work hard to keep the sales funnel full. However, I never considered giving up. I think my “failure is not an option” attitude kept me going. While I knew I could get another job if I had to, I also had employees who were depending on me. I couldn’t let them down. I was going to do everything in my power to ensure that Branded Group continued to grow and prosper for my team who had become like family and worked so hard to make us successful.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
The short answer is we made it. We made it through the comings and goings of customers, vendors, and even a global pandemic. I believe it was because of our commitment to our vision that enabled each of us to “dig in our heels” and work smarter. Our President, Jon Thomas, implemented a variety of innovations when he came on board that made us more efficient. He streamlined our operations so that everyone was working more productively. Our hiring and training practices have been refined so that the people we bring on board are a value add to our company culture. We are continually revisiting our processes to see how we can save time, money, and resources. We want our team to be focused on delivering top-notch customer service and helping our clients preserve their brand standards.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I get asked this question a lot. From operational standpoint, it’s our efficiencies. We do the same services as others in this industry for about the same cost. We’re not reinventing the wheel on the jobs we do. We’re not reinventing the wheel on our cost structure. While our costs are in line with the industry, it’s the process improvements and efficiencies that enable us to work smarter, not harder.
When you can run jobs more efficiently, then the customer is ultimate winner. We’re doing jobs faster and more cost-effectively, and we have great customer service. That’s our winning three-part formula.
The other thing that differentiates us is that we’re not in it to just make money. We have a commitment to social responsibility and we give back. Our clients know that every call they make to us is making a difference in the community because for every complete service call, we donate a meal to a food bank in the Feeding America network. In fact, years ago, we won a major client contract because we shared our social impact program and they resonated with what we were trying to do with Branded Group. Sure, we can fix anything your facility needs to have fixed, but we want that to mean more. We want to make a difference in the world.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
I don’t think I have any funny mistakes, but I do think I learned from my mistakes when we were first hiring people. There was a steep learning curve regarding hiring good people and getting them acclimated with our company. We had to figure out what makes a good applicant and it’s not always about skills. You can teach anyone anything, but do they have the softer skills that are needed like critical thinking, excellent communications, interpersonal relations. I think we have learned over time how to hone in better on employees who will be a complement to our culture.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
I don’t have a piece of advice I wish I wouldn’t have followed, but I wish I would have trusted my gut a little bit more during some challenging times. I’ve learned this important lesson over time and now when I pay attention to it, my decision-making is easier.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
I would say perseverance is definitely first on the list. Don’t give up. I also would say my humility and my relatability. My perseverance was tested 100% during COVID and I’m proud that I’ve been able to hire back my team, 75% of whom were furloughed, and then expand the team by 15%. My relatability is mostly with my customers. Clients from my previous job followed me to Branded Group and now, seven plus years later, most of them are still loyal clients. As far as humility, I’d say I am able to admit when I have made a mistake. I pivot appropriately and take responsibility.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I would say you have to practice self-care because if you’re not mentally and physically strong, you’re not going to be able to enjoy everything you’ve worked so hard for. Maybe you can work 24 hours a day, but at some point you’re going to compromise your health. Running a business is a marathon. It’s not a sprint. You have to practice self-care and encourage your team to do the same. We have a variety of wellness programs for our team that encourage them to focus on their health every day, whether it’s taking regular breaks to avoid Zoom fatigue or simply drinking more water. We care about our team members and want to do all we can to support them.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
I think the most common mistake is being penny wise and pound foolish. You have to be cost conscious and stick to your budget, but if you see an opportunity to hire someone at a little bit higher of a rate or invest in a technology that will help you in the future, do it. It may cost you more up front, but it’ll be worth it. Also be humble enough to pivot when mistakes are made. Move on and keep going forward.
If you want to be an entrepreneur, you have got to go all way. You can’t have one foot in the deep end and the other in the shallow end, and expect consistent results. I realize some people launch side hustles while they are still working to test the waters, but for me, I was all in right from the start. My mindset was “I’m going to open this company and I’m either going to sink or I’m going to swim.” Not everyone can do this of course, but the point is even if you are doing something on the side, be all in with it as much as you can.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
Personnel, one hundred percent. Even in good times and bad times, finding good people is always challenging. It took us five or six years before we got our hiring process really honed. Today we hire those who complement our culture. We hire quality people. My Mom always told me, “do something you love and the money will follow.” I focused on what was important to me. I focused on what was important to the company and the success came. You cannot create a good culture overnight, but if you stick to your core values and you get people on your team who also subscribe to the values that you find important, you will have a successful business.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”? Please share a story or an example for each.
First, I would highly recommend every new entrepreneur read “The E-Myth” by Michael E. Gerber. This is an outstanding resource that will help you to avoid the common mistakes about starting a business. Secondly, hire experts as I’ve mentioned above. Third, decide from day one to have a purpose for your company other than making money so that you and your team members can make a difference in the world and leave a legacy. Fourth, always prioritize wellbeing and self-care for yourself and your team. Lastly, never be complacent about anything. Even if you think your company is running smoothly, look for ways to make it better.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would love to find a way to teach people how to bring gratitude into their day, to begin a gratitude practice. Whether you’re rich or poor, hungry or well fed, there’s always something to be grateful for, even if life is really, really hard. Before you put your head on the pillow, reflect on your day and think about the one thing you’re grateful for whatever it is. Then you will go to bed and you wake up with a different mentality.
How can our readers further follow you online?
They can connect with me on LinkedIn or they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!