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Making His Own Name

 

The fourth part of this four-part article looks at what made Janitronics' leadership transition successful.SysteamClean represents the capstone of Jim Sr.’s career. He talks about it enthusiastically as he calls Merrihew into a conference room to show me an animated slide show narrated by Jim Sr.That excitement over SysteamClean is OK by Jim Jr. By allowing each other to carve out their own space within the company, both men have thrived, making the best of a situation that doesn’t always end well for family businesses.“He actually protected me,” says Jim Sr. “He was concerned about me, making sure I was involved. He never got arrogant. He would come to me for counsel. There were times he didn’t want counsel. We’ve had some really rip-rooting disagreements on stuff, but it never lasted more than that one day, never carried forward, never affected our relationship ever. And to this very day, we just don’t have a single problem.”To be sure, both men have vastly different leadership styles, which they freely admit. Jim Sr., who didn’t receive a traditional college education, calls BSCAI his college. He credits most of what he’s learned to other colleagues in the association, which he says gave him an “incredible shot in the arm.” He is also, as befits a company founder, more of a risk taker, willing to dive into an idea headfirst. Case in point: SysteamClean, into which he says they’ve invested a “small fortune.”Jim Jr., on the other hand, groomed at Babson to take over a family business, is more calculated, relying on what’s concrete to move the company forward. Jim Sr. proudly tells me a story about when his son impressed a customer and landed the account for Janitronics by quickly rewriting spreadsheets and presenting the hard data on a portable Macintosh computer purchased that day.Jim Jr. is also a man of fewer words. His assessment of why the transition has worked: “We’re a good team.”Indeed, despite their differences, the two Harris men share a similar demeanor that has allowed for a relatively seamless transition from the view of other employees at the company, says Pat Fragomeni, a regional manager who has been with Janitronics for 26 years.“They’re very passionate about this organization,” says Fragomeni. “They’re very dedicated. From the years working with Jim Sr., you come by here on any given weekend, his car is always out front.”Despite a heart attack two years ago that understandably slowed him down, Jim Sr. is still heavily involved, coming into the office almost every day.“I forgot to retire,” says Jim Sr. “No one reBut make no mistake, after both men struggled to find their respective roles within the expanse of cleaning related companies and projects that they operate, Janitronics is now Jim Jr.’s company. Jim Sr. is the first to admit it. The succession was successfully completed.“It was a unique way to do it, I will say that,” says Jim Sr. “If you were to get me in front of a group of people on how to do a succession, I couldn’t begin to tell you how the hell to do it — except let the two people work it out amicably. But [Jim Jr.] is firmly entrenched in the No. 1 position. He’s my CEO as much as he is everyone else’s.”

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