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Become an Expert in Your Field, Even if that Field is Cleaning Bathrooms.

An Interview with Mitch Lustig of PMM Companies: 5 Things You Should Do to Become A Thought Leader in Your Industry.

Mitch oversees Sales, Marketing, and Business Development for the organization. His more than 30 years of experience in the sales and marketing industry, coupled with his strong operational experience, has helped elevate PMM Companies into one of the premier janitorial, disinfection, and facility services organizations in the Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia (DMV) region.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

When I joined the company as a partner with my brother, 95% of our business was residential cleaning and 5% was commercial cleaning. After the first month, I realized residential cleaning didn’t have the same scalable potential as commercial cleaning. After much discussion and deliberation, my brother and I decided to sell the residential cleaning portfolio for pennies on the dollar and jumped head first, with enthusiasm and urgency, into the facilities maintenance arena, mostly by accident — more on that below.

Before joining my brother, I was a hard-charging salesperson for Reuben H. Donnelley, the advertising arm for the Yellow Pages, pre-divestiture. Working within an industry that solely serviced a monopoly, “Ma Bell” was a very fortunate situation for any salesperson with drive and ambition. After 6 years of a fruitful opportunity selling Yellow Pages ads, the business made a 360-degree change when the phone company split up, and competition made its way into the Yellow Pages business.

While I was successful in the Yellow Pages business, I always wanted to own my own business. When the market began to shift, I decided it was time to take a risk.

My brother had just decided to put his cleaning company up for sale. He had already found a buyer and was in the process of executing the sale. I approached him and asked if he’d consider another offer. After considerable discussion and contemplation, he decided to keep the company, and I was to join as a partner.

Once we worked out the business side of becoming partners and sold the residential portfolio as previously mentioned, the harder process of acclimating to a brand-new business and industry was front and center. The company couldn’t support two salaries, so my brother left me to push forward while he took a new but temporary job away from the cleaning business. The transition wasn’t easy but, with daily phone coaching from my brother, I was able to keep the “wheels on the wagon.”

The journey continues after my 35 years at the helm of growth for PMM. Happily, my brother’s hiatus was only for six months, and together we grew PMM Companies from that small residential maid service to one of the largest commercial cleaning companies in the Northeast — employing over 1200 people.

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?

I don’t believe I’m special. I’m not always going to be the smartest person in the room, nor do I lack fear of the unknown. I believe I am an authority on thought leadership because, despite all my inevitable shortcomings, what I do have is a belief that growth never stops, and my entire career has demonstrated my ability to move forward and evolve with that growth.

I was the only person responsible for sales and business development within my company when I embarked on this journey in 1989. I took the sales skills I learned in corporate America and expounded and customized them to help me scale my service company. What I didn’t know, I learned and I never took no for an answer.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I have many memorable stories in a 3-decade-plus career in facilities services. I can remember one of my first weekends as an owner of the company. We had scheduled two apartment cleanings for a Sunday morning. I had done my preparation and planning by walking with the maintenance manager of the apartment community the previous Friday afternoon. I was eager to meet the two apartment cleaners on Sunday morning at the property to make sure the information I had received was communicated to our staff. The two employees were supposed to be at the property at 9:00 a.m. and I waited patiently. The morning turned into midmorning, and nobody had shown up. Unfortunately, this was pre cell phone, and I couldn’t reach either of them on their landlines. Guess what happened? I rolled up the sleeves of my newly dry cleaned shirt and made the executive decision to clean the apartments myself. This may not sound very noble, but I had zero experience cleaning vacant apartments. I can still remember the level of effort I extended cleaning the bathrooms and kitchens of the two apartments. I clearly remember pulling into my driveway at around midnight. That was the moment I realized, I would lead by example and always remain humble.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The funniest and one of the costliest mistakes I made when we first started scaling our business was the purchase of a window blind cleaning machine. It made total sense! At the time, we thought we were on to the newest and most revolutionary piece of cleaning equipment. There were millions of window blinds within all types of buildings that could now be ultrasonically cleaned. The ability to thoroughly clean the blinds with a fraction of the ordinary amount of labor was an exciting proposition. Unfortunately, it was very difficult to convince customers that this was a viable option, and the additional cost for this level of cleanliness was not well received by the market.

It was a line item that building managers were unwilling to shoulder and, consequently, we sold very few jobs. The lesson we learned from this is to always do your research and ask your customers what their needs are before defining them for yourself. Realize there is risk in any new venture you undertake.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is? How is a thought leader different from a typical leader? How is a thought leader different from an influencer?

A thought leader is someone you trust to lead, motivate, inform, and/or mentor you in a variety of topics. You see their perspectives as respectable and credible because sharing their perspective has no ulterior motive; they have nothing to gain from giving you a purely unadulterated perspective on a topic.

They are different from a typical leader in that a typical organizational leader doesn’t have to be recognized as an important voice in their field or in a profession to be effective in managing people, departments, or projects. They simply have to motivate people to take action whether it be to do their jobs or to come to work every day with a good attitude.

An influencer usually has no “skin in the game” and only uses their following and voice to create a buzz, or a reaction to a particular person, group, or event. They may not even believe in the product or service they are promoting; it isn’t their job to believe, it’s their job to share with their audience. They are the human form of tactical marketing. Instead of looking at a magazine ad that is sterile and lifeless, watch this influencer talk or hold my product in their hand so the perception of value looks real.

Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader? Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?

Evolving into a thought leader is a journey with many benefits and challenges. It’s always important to invest in yourself and your organization. Becoming credible in your field means becoming a SME (Subject Matter Expert), which takes knowledge, experience and a commitment to improvement and learning. The importance of thought leadership is trust and value for your customers. Potential customers will more likely choose your company if you’ve earned their trust and value in the marketplace.

Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?

Thought leadership can grow opportunities because potential customers want you to provide solutions to pain points within their companies. If thought leadership provides a solution that is unique, or proven, it will invariably increase your chances of earning more business. During COVID, our company was able to be thought leaders in best cleaning practices during a pandemic. Our ability to disseminate this information in webinars and one-on-one presentations allowed us to be included in new bidding opportunities that arose during the pandemic. A higher degree of capability and knowledge was necessary to perform the new scopes of work necessary to clean buildings during those tumultuous times.

Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader.

Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry?

Below are five strategies that I believe a person should implement to become known as a thought leader based on my own experience.

1. Know when to talk and when to listen. When you are meeting or presenting with new prospects, allow them to talk and tell you what their pain points are. Don’t define your client’s needs (remember the window blind story?). Let them tell you.

2. Become an expert in your field. Even if that field is cleaning bathrooms. Whatever your business is, you should know it front to back. Become a SME on all facets of your product or service.

3. Have patience; we are all human. When implementing new programs and processes internally take your time to make sure all the stakeholders have time to grasp and acclimate to anything new. Not everyone works at your pace.

4. Embrace change because it never stops. We all learned through COVID, change comes without notice, and it doesn’t take a pause for us to catch up. Embrace that the world will continually offer new opportunities for growth. If you acknowledge that change is inevitable, we will be better equipped in everything we do personally and professionally over time.

5. Look for solutions, not problems. In a growing company you will always have new agendas and goals to contend with. Not everybody is equipped for change and, consequently, they don’t know how to offer solutions; they may be stuck. Be the person who doesn’t emphasize the problems but is willing to “roll up their sleeves” and offer the solutions.

In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach?

One of my favorite thought leaders is Marshall Goldsmith. Many consider Marshall the worlds #1 executive coach and thinker. His Active Questions process is used by Fortune 500 executives and leaders worldwide to hold themselves accountable and achieve more. I love the positive psychology and management theories that he advocates.

I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?

Thought leadership doesn’t come with a manual. Anybody who steps up to encourage, guide, lead, accept responsibility and remain consistent earns the right to stand up to the title and show their worth as a people motivator, inspirer, and leader.

What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

To avoid burnout, you need to schedule activities in your life that make a positive difference outside of your career. The most important things like family, friendships, relationships, hobbies, passions, and other areas of interest are the drivers to a well-balanced and meaningful life. The important piece is to schedule your activities as you would an appointment or assignment. If you place your social activities on a calendar, your intentions become realty.

My passion is collecting wine. I’ve been an avid collector for over 20 years and have a diverse collection of several thousand bottles from around the world. The ability to share my wine with friends and family while dining and enjoying good conversation has become a source of pleasure and relaxation, not only for me, but others.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire 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.

Influencing and supporting can go hand in hand. Taking time to make a difference and show appreciation for the people around us who don’t get the same type of recognition as others is a great place to start. Listening to their desires and challenges is a way to embrace the best of all of us, while showing empathy and possibly providing suggestions or improvements that are possible. Taking time to ask the janitor at your child’s school how they are doing is a very meaningful exchange between two people who share the same types of dreams and aspirations for themselves and families. Every human being wants to be appreciated, recognized, and valued, no matter what your occupation or social status.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Being perfect is an enemy to continually moving forward.

Part of progress comes through trial and error and evaluating the results of your actions. If you become paralyzed by failure or obstacles, you will never progress and improve.

Making mistakes and adjusting is part of dynamics of improvement and change. Over time processes and methods become better. Every new idea starts with a beginning. Embrace the possibilities and be willing to mold and change. Over time, you’ll be rewarded for moving forward, even when you feel a little stuck.

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have lunch or breakfast?

I love the inspiration and passion of Chris Cuomo. He supports doing the right thing and isn’t afraid to be controversial.

Reprint Rights Granted 2023. Please contact us for original interview info.

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