Dawn Fuchs Coleman is the former CEO of Weavertown Environmental Group, a 2nd generation company. Dawn shared her decision to join the family business, getting the keys to the company when she didn't expect it, leading a turnaround and growth, and selling the business to a strategic buyer. Five years after the sale, Dawn is living her entrepreneurial mantra, “If you're not going, you're not growing.” Listen in as Laurie Barkman speaks with Dawn about leadership and ways to build value in difficult economic times.
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Welcome to Succession Stories, insights for next generation entrepreneurs. I'm Laurie Barkman. I've spent my career bringing an entrepreneurial approach to mature companies struggling with change as an outside executive of a third generation, 120 year old company, I was part of a long-term succession plan. Now I work with entrepreneurs, privately held companies, and family businesses to develop innovations that create enterprise value and transition plans to achieve their long-term goals. On this podcast, listen in as I talk with entrepreneurs who are driving innovation and culture change. I speak with owners who successfully transitioned their company and others who experienced disappointment along the way. Guests also include experts in multi-generational businesses and entrepreneurship. If you are a next generation entrepreneur looking for inspiration to grow and thrive, or an owner who can't figure out the best way to transition their closely held company, this podcast is for you.
Laurie Barkman (00:58):
On this episode of Succession Stories, I was excited to speak with Dawn Fuchs Coleman. Dawn is the former CEO of Weavertown Environmental Group, a company that her father started. We covered a lot of ground in this interview from her decision to join the family business, getting the keys to the company when she didn't expect it, leading a turnaround and growth, and then selling the business to a strategic buyer. And that was just the beginning of her story. Five years after the sale, Dawn is living her entrepreneurial mantra, “If you're not going, you're not growing.” She's the founder of We Guide You Grow bringing her experience to other family businesses. And she's the author of a new book, Get Your Game Face On: The Secret to Growing Your Company In Any Economy. In today's economic environment, I think you'll enjoy hearing her story and core principles to build value.
Laurie Barkman (01:49):
Dawn, welcome to Succession Stories. I am so excited to talk with you today. We met recently at a Smart Business Conference, you were on a panel discussing family business transitions. And I knew of you through mutual friends from YPO / WPO here in Pittsburgh, but we never had the chance to meet. I've always wanted to talk to you about your experience, so really glad you're here. You're the former CEO of Weavertown Environmental Group with a successful exit. And I look forward to talking to you about that, and now you have a “next act story.” You have a career doing what you love, and I'm really excited to talk to you about what you're doing in the next phase of your career. So there's a lot to talk about. So let's start by talking about the family business and your father. Your dad was an oil man, and he launched the company which was called Weavertown Group in 1981. What did the company do and how did it diversify over time?
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (03:00):
So my father was a truck driver for somebody else for a lot of years hauling bulk liquids. And he said, I think I can do for myself. So he bought a truck, like you said, in 1981. And he did the same thing. He started hauling into the oil fields. But he really caught the tail end of when things got classified as a hazardous material. So he went ahead and applied for all the permits all the way from the east of the Mississippi. So New Jersey for an example was a very difficult state to get a license to haul hazardous materials, as you can imagine. So he went ahead and applied for all the hard states, all the regular states. So we really became recognized as an industry leader for knowing how to hold liquids. Believe it or not, there's a lot of talent behind it because the weight distribution and other things that can happen out there on the roadways. So from there, his clients would call him for a load and he would be there several hours early. And I guess back then in the 80’s was very difficult to find truckers to be on time. So not only was he there on time, he would actually take advantage of getting an extra load. So then the client said to him, hey, we have this over here. Will you take a look at this pit, it needs pumped out.
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (04:02):
So it was really through clients’ interaction that he built some other businesses within his company and transportation. So that's sort of when the diversity began to happen for him, it was really out of a need from our client base.
Laurie Barkman (04:16):
That's a great background. Dawn, I'm curious about your background and your work experience. You eventually joined the company, but it would be great to know about what you did before you came into the business, or did you go right into the company after college? People ask me a lot about what I hear from people who are G2, Generation Two, or G3, do they work elsewhere or did they get all of their work experience in the company. What was your story?
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (04:46):
So my story was, I was a junior in high school when my father started his business. So I saw him washing and waxing his truck on the weekend, thought it looked interesting. It really had no clear vision of joining his business. At that time. I've always wanted to be in business from the age of 13. I had a cupcake business through the Future Business Leaders of America that I started. And it's funny, Laurie, the cupcakes were in selling and I said, how come these cupcakes weren’t selling? So I decided to put a message on them for Valentine's day. And these cupcakes went through the roof to where the mothers called me and said, stop selling cupcakes. We can't keep up in our kitchens any longer. So I've always had a nact for business. So with that being said, I moved to Arizona after attending Robert Morris College at the time, not Robert Morris university, as it is today.
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (05:33):
And my sister and I moved to Arizona in Phoenix. And I said, well, what am I going to do now? Cause my plan was to finish my degree after being an in-state resident in Arizona for a year. But what happened next was unbelievable. I started interviewing at different positions. I went with a temporary company and this silver hair guy comes in the office and he really became a mentor to me later on looking back, I see what a profound impact he had on me. And his name was Carl Phillips. And his partner called me on the phone and said, are you Dawn? And I said, yeah. And I just met this guy. My first assignment was showing office space and buildings and leasing facility. And I went got his blueprints out, took him down to his office. And I guess I made such an impression on him because nobody in December in Arizona wears a wool suit.
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (06:24):
But I did because I was from the Northeast. I didn't know any better. I think you should always look great. So his partner called me and said, whatever you did with Carl today, he's so impressed. He wants to offer you a job. My dad told me I had to have a job within six months of living in Arizona. He wasn't going to pay my bills. I said, okay. So I had a job. He called me. I said, I got a job. He said, well, how much are you making? I said, I don't know. I didn't ask. He said, do you have medical benefits? I said, I don't know. I didn't ask. He said, well, you're not very smart. I said, why did I just have a good feeling about it? Well, come to find out Carl Phillips ran a stock brokerage company and I didn't know anything about stocks and bonds, but I got a firsthand seat at stocks and bonds. I became a stockbroker myself. I have my Series 7, I have my branch manager's license. And then the market crashed and I came back to Pennsylvania. But all during that timeframe, my father was telling me, Hey, Dawn, I'm building this business. I would like you to be a part of it. And I came back and I joined his company in 1988.
Laurie Barkman (07:28):
In ’88. So the company had been around about seven years. I love a story by the way about the cupcake, because I think that it gives a real credence to your entrepreneurial gene there. And it also is quite interesting that you got your stock brokerage license. So you have a financial acumen, you have a business acumen, there's something inherently that you enjoyed about business. And here's your dad saying, hey, come into the company. What was your emotional reaction to that? Did you think, hey, I want to carve out my own thing or did you have a sense that yeah, you'd like to work alongside your dad?
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (08:01):
Well, I was really impressed. He kept calling me cause he said, Dawn, I want to be a family business. You're out there working for somebody else. So it was a recruitment over time. He kept trying to lure me back, lure me back. Obviously the negative impact of the stock market, the business had changed Carl's plan was to totally give me his bulk of business. He was disappointed when I left, but I said, Carl, I realized something about stocks and bond trading. I can't control it. I can't predict it. You can have some ideas about it, but I want to know that my balance sheet is my balance sheet. So I said it was time for me to go back home and help my father build this business and this brand. So I always had a brand passion about branding and I came back and I started the ground up.
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (08:46):
I mean, there was no, hey kid, come with me. You're getting an office in the corner, big cherry wood desk. None of that happened for me. And I wouldn't want that to happen. That's just not who my father is. And I don't think it should happen for any family business to be honest with you. So he started me from the ground up. We had a heating fuel island where we fueled diesel fuel trucks. Penn DOT was a big client of ours, construction companies. So I worked a few and it's just like pumping gas, but you're pumping diesel fuel. I did all the cash receipts, all of the sales receipts, the accounts. So I really learned the business from the heating oil business first. We had almost 3000 heating oil clients just in, believe it or not, people still have heating oil instead of gas or electric.
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (09:32):
So with that being said, I joined the office. At some point, he brought me upstairs. I can't remember when that was. And then I was on the desk of all things, answering the phone. I'm like, Jesus, this is a long progression to success. And then there was another mentor of mine, Chuck Alexi was his name. He said, why are you wasting your time answering the telephone? I said, I don't know. This is where my dad put me. He says, you're a wasted talent. Come with me. He put me in his sales car and he was hard of hearing. So we would go out and see clients. I would do all the talking. I would close the deals and Chuck couldn’t hear. So during lunches and stuff, he would ask the client to repeat things we already asked him. So I'm kicking him under the table all the time we get back in the car. He says, hey, why are you kicking me under the table? I said, you asked the guy the same question three times. He answered it four times. I said, how much more does the client have to answer you? But we had a great relationship. So from there I got my own sales car and that's really when I really started getting into client development, leadership, closing the deal, the art of the deal. So that's how that progressed.
Laurie Barkman (10:35):
That's great. I love that story. I also like how you talked about mentorship. So Carl was your first mentor back in Arizona, then your sales mentor. And I was curious too…were there any other family members in the company?
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (10:49):
Yes, there was. So in fact it was pretty family intense at the time. My mother was my dad's right hand. She did all of our books in accounting with my sister, Janine. Vanessa was there as well. She was a sales person at the time and I'm the youngest of three daughters. My father's name is Donald. I call myself the unofficial junior being Dawn, and my uncle wasn't there yet, but my uncle ultimately did join the business. And that was it at the time for true family members. But one thing about our company, we really became, I know a lot of people say they have family businesses and everybody's family, but we loved all of our employees so much that I really feel like I came from a family of hundreds.
Laurie Barkman (11:31):
You hear that a lot that family businesses have a very strong loyalty and culture. There's less turnover compared to the average in the industry. There are other certain characteristics. Obviously you cared a lot about your clients and then you cared a lot about your employees so much that you just said that you felt like they were a family. That's great.
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (11:51):
Yeah. I think it just makes it happier for everybody. In our business, we were 24x7x365. And I'll tell you a funny story. I had a campaign I rolled out on all of our tractors and trailers and pickup trucks. I started putting up 24x7x365 in a cool square. It was really artsy. It was fun. It was energetic. And my father came by, and I didn't run things by him. At that time I was running the business. So I was the President. So I didn't really run things by him very often because sometimes we would agree or disagree. But he would give me his opinion. He'd walk away and he'd say, hey, Dawn at the end of the day it’s your decision. If you think that's a good idea, go ahead, go with it. Well, I knew he would not like this idea. So I went with it without him.
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (12:32):
And he came through the parking lot one day, looked at what the guy was putting on the decal and he goes, what are you doing? Guy tells him. And he came up to my office and he said, I think that is a crazy campaign. I says, do you? He said, yeah. I said, well, that's great. That means it's even better than I thought it was. And that was sort of our relationship. He would think some of the things I did was really nuts. And I would think it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. And sometimes he was right. Sometimes I was. Luckily for us more times than not, I was on the right side of it.
Laurie Barkman (13:02):
You had a good intuition. So on that campaign, were you right?
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (13:06):
I was right. He said to me, everybody, and their mother has 24x7 on their trucks. I used to be, you know what, when somebody calls on the 24th hour, nobody's answering and we do. I said, so that's the difference. I think you have to look for your differentiator. What really differentiates your business from your others, not just your competition, just from business in general. And if you work from that standpoint, that should really be your mantra.
Laurie Barkman (13:30):
Yeah you’re so outward focused, being oriented to the brand, oriented to sales and marketing. You have the financial acumen and you have this other side, which is, which is great. So I'm not surprised that you were successful in your role as CEO. I want to rewind just a smidge here on the point when you were getting the sense that the ascension might happen. Because you just shared that awesome story. At that point, you were already president. I want to learn a little bit more about that time between your growth and the company you were doing well, you were growing the sales capacity. And then at some point either you were approached or maybe you approached your father to say, hey, I want to be considered for when you retire. What does that leadership succession look like? I know financial succession is different. We'll talk about that in a second, but from a leadership succession standpoint, what transpired there?
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (14:24):
So what's interesting is my father is funny. First off, I never asked him if I could take over his business. I don't think anybody should. If you're asking, then you're not the right candidate. Somebody should come to you and approach you in my opinion. But that's just me in this month here nor there. But that's my philosophy is. I felt I was doing a very good job and I didn't know when he would want to transition. In fact, my father transitioned his business very early. He was only in his sixties when he transitioned his business. So he only led his business for 20, 21 years. And I can see along the way that he also was a mentor. He was planting seeds to see how I would handle things like he would give me what would you do in this situation scenario? Or I have this going on how would you handle it?
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (15:09):
So looking back, I think those were my lessons to see if he thought I was on the right page or the wrong page for him to even consider my name for the President / CEO. But when he transferred his business, it was 2001, the steel industry had really suffered in the Pittsburgh marketplace and unfortunate for us that was 80% of our bulk of business, which is very dangerous. I know it’s the 80/20 rule, but that is just not a good model. Things went to heck in a hand basket. We were left with a really big aging uncollected. And I have to tell you, I kept going into the powers that be’s office because I was just a sales..when I say just a salesman, by the way, I have true respect for salespeople. I think they have the hardest job when things are good,
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (15:56):
they're not getting thanked, and when things are bad, they're catching holy heck from everybody. where's your sales numbers. So speaking from one sales person to salespeople, listening to your line, I get it. So I kept going to the powers to be saying, hey listen, things, aren't looking good at a couple of our clients. They owe us a lot of money. I'm not sure we should keep sending crews to clean up their dirt at our expense. And I got patted on the head said, hey, don't worry kid. We got this covered. Well, needless to say, they didn't have anything covered. Everything happened. And to the point where we actually were looking to declare bankruptcy during that time, because we endured 21 bankruptcies from companies not being able to pay us. Most people would not survive, but because we only invest back in our business, we were very, I wouldn't say it was easy.
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (16:44):
because it wasn't, we had some dark days through that process. But with that being said, we did come out of the ashes. And really that is when he transitioned the business. He said to me, we left the lawyers office and we had a pretty significant meeting about what were our options. And I came out on the curb. I said, we can't take a bankruptcy option. That is not us. We can turn this thing around. He said, you're going to turn it around. And he passed the baton to me. Just like that. And then he announced it at Christmas party. And I can tell you, that's pretty scary when you're faced with that kind of financial setback and you get the baton. That's not really fun. But I did turn it around. I changed his team out. I put my team in and needless to say, I sold with that same team. I had no changes in my team.
Laurie Barkman (17:36):
I find this so interesting. I'm always so curious about what happens when G2 or that next generation takes over because you can't do the same thing that's always been done, especially for your situation when it was a turnaround. You had to do something different and I want to learn a little bit more about this. You were named CEO and your dad, did he say I'm out at that point? Did he become chairman and was out of the day to day because he gave you the keys at that point. But how involved was he after that?
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (18:08):
Well, he gave me half of a key. I was the president. He maintained the CEO title. He called his attorney at the time and said, you have to be Dawn's boss because I want to sort of remove myself. So we actually put a lawyer in charge of me. I'll never forget it. He said, oh, I'll never hear from her because she knows what she's doing. And honestly, that happened I never had to meet with them or anything. I just did my own thing. Donald is a really interesting guy. He allows people the room they need to run. He did not micromanage me. But like I said, he would be in my office every day, four or five times a day. What are you doing? What's the team doing? And if he didn't like something, I figured him out very early because he's my dad.
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (18:57):
I know him. Well, he would go try and work his deals with my people and he would try to get them to talk to me. It was very transparent to me, but to him, he didn't think it was. And we would just laugh about it. And they would say, hey, listen, you're not going to get her to change her mind if she said it in her way, she has an in her head, but I did take advice. It was not just my way. Believe me. It was a team way. I don't think you can do a business without a good team with you. And that's what I had. So a lot of decisions we made were collective, but at the end of the day, if I wanted something to get through and people just didn't see that vision, sometimes I just said, hey, listen, I know nobody around the table agrees with this.
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (19:39):
However, I really believe this is the right way. You might be right, and you'll come in and tell me you were right and if I'm right, I'm not going to run down the hall and tell you, I was because at the end of the day, I don't need it. The results will be there. So that's sort of how we ran. And it really worked out well for our team. We did amazing things. Laurie, when we sold our company, we're four times the size we were whenever I got it handed to me and we just did really great things. We not just expanded our business, but our brand, our brand was very, very strong. Our book of business did not vacate us. What we did was it was really high, high angle rescue tank cleaning. Stuff that we did is very sophisticated. It's very dangerous. A lot of people would never even bid a job, let alone do the job. And that's what a tech, that's what we brought to the table. The knowledge that technique, the safety, everything that was paramount to our business. So our clients just loved us.
Laurie Barkman (20:36):
And you had a pretty clear strategy it sounds like. Those people that you brought in around 2001, 2002, as your management team, you were pretty clear with them. This is a turnaround. We need to really grow this business and we need all hands on deck for strategy and execution. They were with you, as you said, till when you sold the company, how did you align your team to that mission? What was really important as you look back now in terms of bringing everybody on board?
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (21:04):
So what was nice is I didn't have to hire outside. I did hire a health and safety gentlemen that I did bring in from the outside. The other people were there. They just weren't in the capacity. I felt that they could play on. So they were multiple promotions. I took a guy from the field and made him a vice president. I mean, who does these things? Normally there's a transition to GM or Operations. I took him right from the field to a VP status. I just knew they had the talent. They had the vigor, they had the finesse, the knowledge, everything I felt that we needed to make it happen. So I was lucky that I had an in house. I didn't have to take a chance on somebody on the outside.
Laurie Barkman (21:47):
So let's flash forward and talk about the sale of the company. Can you give me a little bit of background on that, was the company on the market?
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (21:55):
No, we weren't on the market. I did over the years, get a lot of calls from venture capitalists that wanted to buy a piece, the second bite of the apple, that whole theory, and that never really appealed to me. I always felt that if we sold our business and back to my Wall Street days earlier, our company specialized in IPOs. So I was very familiar with taking a company public because that's what we did, the red herring process, all of that stuff. So all my roots really came back for this transition. Whenever this call came in. So the venture capital, I never was really interested. I felt a strategic buyer is somebody I would be interested in and they wouldn't chop up the company. They would need the addition or the bolt on to their business. So lo and behold, I was in the office one day and a funny story.
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (22:39):
A lot of times my calls never made it to me. We have four Dawns at the time, if a message on the telephone really got to the right person on a Dawn line, it was a blessing, right? And they would say, do you want female Dawn, male Don. It was crazy to get through her switchboards. So with that being said, I'm at my office. My phone rings and I always pick up my phone. I don't care what the number is on the other end. I always pick on my line. I picked up the phone and this gentleman introduces himself and he introduces he's with this big company and that they would be interested in talking to us and we'd be interested in selling that they knew we were a G2 and they didn't know how long I wanted to stay. And they got right into it.
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (23:20):
They did not have a company representing them. It was the company that called me and I said, no, we're not for sale. And he asked me if I would think about it. And I said, why would think about it? But we really weren't for sale. We see this as a long-term play. We want to remain privately held. And so I really wasn't interested, but it was sort of in the back of my mind. And the reason it was in the back of my mind is I have had an uncle. Unfortunately, he passed away. He was a very successful business owner and the same thing happened to him. He had an offer in the second mortgage lending space, which honestly he pioneered that whole second mortgage lending space, grew his company all throughout the US, it was multiple 55 offices.
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (24:06):
I really found him fascinating and he passed on an offer. So that was in the back of my head too. I thought, who am I to not listen or see what these people were about? Do I really know that this thing is sustainable to generation three. At the time our kids were in high school. When I looked at the four of them, my sister has two. I have two. I wasn't sure if I saw the talent coming up through the ranks to lead and run this environmental cleanup transportation, because the company really does need somebody that wants to get up at two in the morning and this generation- I’m not saying anything about their generation- but I'm not sure at two and three and 4:00 AM. If I saw that yet, where they would be fire and passionate in the belly to get up out of bed and go to work.
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (24:51):
So I thought about all of that. And I did call he called we met. It was a short, brief meeting at the DC club in town. It's still funny this day. He says, she gave me potato chips and a pop and sent me on my way. He left some information. Then I decided maybe it's the right time. And that decision rested with me, I said to Donald, I said, Hey, what do you think? He said, listen, you run this company at that time. Now I was President and CEO. obviously I eventually got the CEO in my title. And he said, I can't make this decision. And I realized it would be too hard for him when a founder has to make the decision to sell their business. I can't imagine what that's like. That would be like selling one of your children out. So he said to me, flat out, I, this is your decision. So I made the decision to sell.
Laurie Barkman (25:48):
Did you have any other advisors or did you have a family council or advisory board or anyone that you could to about it?
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (25:55):
No. I think loose lips sink ships. I didn't need to talk to someone about whether or not I wanted to sell the business. Our family, my immediate family did not know until two and a half weeks prior. And I know a lot of people might say, Oh my God, that is crazy. But there was only two shareholders. So unless you have multiple shareholders, you really don't need to notify anybody because the shareholders are the ones that are going to decide to sell or not. And then my immediate inside team, which consisted of four people were the only people that knew. My assistant didn't even realize we were selling the business because I just think that my credibility, if the deal did not close, would be ruined by my people. And I couldn't live with that. I never cared if the deal closed or not, it really didn't matter to me to be honest with you. And I felt if I told the wrong person and they told two people and they tell five people, next thing it's on the street. And I had told my employees for years, we would remain privately held. So I held that very near and dear to my heart. So that's why I told less people. No, we didn't have advisors.
Laurie Barkman (27:05):
So there, it was definitely a financial decision. I'm sure the deal terms were amenable to you, but then there was this emotional decision. Did you wrestle with it for days, weeks? How long until you gave a yes to the strategic buyer that you were interested in selling?
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (27:21):
Geez, it took a long time, several months. And then we got into due diligence. It still was the CEO at that time. He since moved on to another company, he said, I didn't know if he would get this deal closed because I saw the love you had for your business and the passion. And I said, I can have a passion for any business, to be honest with you. So I that's how I saw it. Business is business. We did sell. And at that next day, I said to him I work for you now. I meant it and I went to work for them. I actually got promoted. They are a Wall Street company. I inherited another business that they had acquired similar to ours. They were in the water blasting business. I picked up a Director job there. I traveled for them for two years. And then I parted company.
Laurie Barkman (28:08):
So you worked for them for two years. That's pretty uncommon. A lot of times when the deal closes, the original family is out.
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (28:16):
We were lucky. Now part of our deal was we all had to stay. My whole leadership team had assigned non-competes. We had to say, we would stay on for two years, some people a little longer. So there was a defined agreements. They weren’t just buying the company, they were buying the management and leadership team, which I was very proud of.
Laurie Barkman (28:37):
I understand that. I had a somewhat similar experience and coincidentally, it was right around the same time. You and I can talk about that more offline and for the listeners, maybe we'll cover that in another show. I'd love to learn a little bit more about your life since you've moved on from the industry. And you were in that industry for many years and you had a lot of passion for it, and I appreciate you sharing your experience in selling the company. I'm curious about what you're doing now, and would love to have you tell me about your firm, which is called We Guide You Grow and the work that you're doing with clients.
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (29:14):
Great. So I started, We Guide You Grow three years ago and I said to myself, I want to take what I've learned and share it. And I wanted consultants. I, I just, that were for me, I like to be a partner with my clients. I like to be at the table with them in a big way. Sometimes consultants, you can overpay them and they under deliver. I want people to have true value with what they get, if they do call my company. So I do a variety of things. It's really all customized for a client's needs. So my projects are very, very different. Sometimes it's conflict resolution within a leadership team. Sometime it’s placement of key talent for them that maybe they were having a hard time locating. I have a way of how I look for talent, how I interviewed talent. PI may be a piece.
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (30:04):
I do help them grow their business. How can they grow? Not just their top line because I think a lot of times we focus on top line. I spend a lot of time on the bottom-bottom line. How do they improve their bottom line? How do they get the best financial response that they can, maybe it's a price increase, how do you communicate a price increase? So I do a variety of things for my clients. That's sort of my wheelhouse. I'm not afraid of any project. I'm not afraid of any business. I think ultimately business is the same, frankly, whether you're a manufacturer service company, medical. I feel the principles around business are the same. And then lastly, I wrote a book and I know we can get into, Get Your Game Face On. I love talking about it. I think the core principles for me has been being fair, being assertive, being consistent every day. And whether you do that in your private life, whether you do that in your business life, I think if you really, really dissect those words, I think you become positive in your approach. You become approachable, you become transparent, people know who you are. So that's sort of what I'm working on now and the passion I have for that. So between the book and clients, placement of key executive and talent, I'm a pretty busy gal.
Laurie Barkman (31:29):
Yeah. You sure sound busy and we'll talk about the book more in a second. I want to just ask a question. You were in the business, running hard, getting up at two in the morning, four in the morning to go to work and then that comes to a stop. And then you find yourself transitioned from a personal standpoint, financial standpoint and business standpoint. What was that like as you were exploring your options and really thinking through your second act career, if you will. I there's some great podcasts out there that talk about next act stories. And I love hearing people's stories about how they got from point A to point B. How did you get from working at Weavertown to then the strategic buyer, to now, to your own firm? Was that an overnight, it just clicked or did you really have to do some sort of self-exploration and thinking about what you wanted to do next?
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (32:20):
Well, I did something that most people probably can’t say they did. I went and got married.
Laurie Barkman (32:26):
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (32:27):
I was seeing somebody at the time we sold our business and we really had a good time dating for several years after that. And then, ultimately he proposed and I got married. So I had a window there that I never had for myself because when I worked so hard, I never really had time necessarily to develop all my personal life, my children and family. I was a single parent for many, many years. I have two children, wonderful, beautiful kids that are adults now. And, so I took a little bit of time off for myself and that was really fun. There was a loss of business for during that time. I missed it. I missed the thrill of a deal. I missed negotiating, I missed developing a client list. My husband started a business during that time.
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (33:19):
He has a commercial cleaning company, Clean Aisles. So I helped him with that, helped him launch his business. And so that was fun. And he was sort of my test pilot, if you will. Not that I didn't think I could launch another business or anything, but finding cleaners in a state of unemployment at the time was very low, now we're at an all-time high unemployment rate. We weren't when he started. So you had to be really creative to find people that wanted to do commercial cleaning. So that's what I did. So I was pretty busy with that. And then We Guide You Grow as all at the same time.
Laurie Barkman (33:56):
Okay. And how about your decision to write a book? What went into thinking about that? I've heard that writing a book is really challenging.
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (34:04):
So I always wanted to write a book, so it was always something out there. I just had no time to sit with my pen and paper. I always liked to write. I've always been a letter writer. I enjoy it. My newsletters at work, it comes natural to me. I don't agonize over it. I just sit with a blank canvas and I got words on a page pretty quickly. I always said I was going to write a book. I won an award for leadership from Junior Achievement and a young lady interviewed me from Peters Township High School. And she selected me out of all the winners and interviewed me. And she says, so what haven't you done yet? And this was back when I ran Weavertown Environmental. I said, I want to write a book someday. Well, I had a book launch party all during, right when COVID had started, of all times to launch a book.
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (34:50):
And then it says on there, growing a business in any economy, I don't think I saw a COVID or the pandemic happening, but I still think you can grow your business in spite of it. So I had my book launch party two days before we were told to shut in place and never leave your home for awhile. And I invited her and she was so moved that I remember that A- she interviewed me, B- I told her I was going to write a book. So I brought her to the book launch to show her that you can still fail your dreams if you stick with your idea.
Laurie Barkman (35:20):
That's really sweet. I'm sure that was a very meaningful thing for her. She'll remember that and tell that story for a long time. And yet the title of your book is it's almost like not like you had a premonition, but it is something that you wrote here. The secret to grow your company in any economy. No one could have predicted what we've been all facing and in terms of unemployment and the loss of enterprise value over the last few months, it's a tricky question. I'm going to ask you, but I'll ask it anyway. What advice do you have for family businesses considering options for selling their company?
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (35:52):
Well, that's a toughie because it's personal to each person in the family. I know whenever we did announce to our immediate family, I did hire some professionals to help with the dialogue because I didn't want them to think I kept something so big from them. But they all had difference of an opinion, but I think it really goes back to the people that are actually in the company working at every day. That decision probably they're closer to the subject matter than a shareholder that may be is removed and gets a distribution, dividend check annually, quarterly, or whatever their business is paying out.
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (36:29):
So I think that we should think about that as we think about selling a company who really has the decision in it. And I think those that are closest to it, those that are running it, leading it. I think they probably have the bigger decision to be made. And it's hard. It's very hard to sell something that your family and the community gets recognized for. If you're a national company or international jobs, all the people that you hired, it's just so personal. I just think you have to take time with it. Pray about it if you're prayerful in nature. I just think that's how you come to the answer.
Laurie Barkman (37:10):
Yeah. Everyone's answer is going to be different. And certainly the circumstances are different, especially now when valuations might be different than they were a year ago.
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (37:19):
Even with valuations it is darker. I watched the news yesterday. I saw some great family businesses, restaurants that I love that I hope they can stay in business. I mean, this is really, really honestly crazy times that we're in. But even through that, creativity comes to mind. You're seeing people do some pretty neat things with this curbside service, make an appointment to come in and have private showing. Stores can do some things there, some flexibility. So I think the more creative one can be through this time, businesses may actually come out a little stronger, but again, you have to be creative and you have to really think what can I do differently or how can I tweak my business? My trainer, the gyms are closed, but he's doing virtual training on an iPod. A lot of people have home gyms, so good for him that he put something together.
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (38:12):
So he still has a revenue source coming in. So there's always ways, not always, but a lot of times there may be more ways around things than people realize. It's just going to take really digging in and thinking about it hard. And how can I still deliver my service? Even if somebody can't come in my store, I can bring it out to their car. My sister has a retail business. She has three shops and that's what she does, she has curbside. They call her, she places, the order, bags it up and takes it out to their car.
Laurie Barkman (38:40):
Creativity, resilience. It's amazing to see and hear about some of these stories from companies. And like you said, even solopreneurs who have totally pivoted to something different and maybe that's a business line that will stand because it's just something that they've taken to and actually really enjoy.
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (38:59):
Exactly. And today people like, again, serve to their car. I saw in another state they're doing like the old drive in. I think you'll see drive ins come back. I think you're going to see a lot of businesses operate there moving forward.
Laurie Barkman (39:13):
Speaking of drive-ins remember drive in movie theaters when we were younger?
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (39:16):
Yeah, for sure. I think they're going to come back.
Laurie Barkman (39:18):
They're coming back!
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (39:20):
And burger and fries to your door. No doubt about it. Bring back the Big Boy!
Laurie Barkman (39:26):
Bring back the Big Boy! There's a lot of things to be proud of in your career, Dawn, you've done some amazing things. I read a statistic that 24% of family businesses are led by female CEOs or Presidents. So you're part of a pretty impressive group there. And I was curious to ask you, what are you most proud of as you look back on your life or your career?
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (39:50):
I want to say all of it, right? Because I don't want to change a thing about it. I've had a good ride, I have another ride to come in me. I'm proud of the leadership that I built. I'm proud of teamwork. I think that's something I'm most proud of is how do you take people that are from all different types of walks of life, sit around a conference room table, and come up with an idea that people didn't see. I think that's what I'm proud of. I think I did it well. I still do it today. So I like creating something that nobody saw before.
Laurie Barkman (40:21):
I like that a lot. So last question for you. I like to ask all my guests, if you have a favorite saying or a mantra regarding entrepreneurship.
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (40:30):
I do. It's one of mine, it’s:
“If you're not growing, you're not going.”
If you're not growing, you're not going.
Dawn Fuchs Coleman
Yeah. It means you're going backwards.
Laurie Barkman (40:40):
And when did you come up with that saying?
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (40:42):
Oh, I've said it so long. I think I said it...I honestly think I said it at my dad's company so long ago, I can't remember when I founded it. I think in sales without a sale, it's just an idea that never is going to get executed because somebody doesn't buy what you say then you don't have a purchase order. So I said it, I guess, back whenever I started in my twenties, late twenties.
Laurie Barkman (41:07):
I can see that as a billboard. I can see that as a decal on the side of a car, what would your dad say about that?
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (41:15):
Oh, he would love it! We wouldn’t even second guess it. Now he'll be like, oh, there she goes again!
Laurie Barkman (41:21):
That's great. That's probably a good place to wrap up. Dawn, before we go. Can you tell us how people can find you? What's your website? How do you want people to find you and your book?
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (41:31):
Right. So my website www.weguideyougrow.com and you can order the book right there if you wish, or you can go to amazon.com and look up, Get Your Game F.A.C.E. on by Dawn Fuchs Coleman. And then I also have LinkedIn. I have not moved to Twitter and all these other things just cause I'm a little busy in my day and evening jobs. I just decided to try to build my brand without having to do all those social media platforms and so far it's worked. So I do not have a Twitter. I am not a Facebooker, but I am a LinkedIner.
Laurie Barkman (42:04):
Awesome. So people can find you on LinkedIn or your website. Dawn, thank you so, so much for being here. I want to let you know too, you are my first interview on the show as a female CEO. So you have that dubious honor and you did a fantastic job telling your story and I really appreciate your time. Thanks so much for being here.
Dawn Fuchs Coleman (42:22):
Thank you so much, Laurie, and I wish you nothing but all the best in your business as well.
Laurie Barkman (42:26):
Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed the episode. Three things before you go:
1. Follow Succession Stories Podcast on LinkedIn. Join the community to share feedback, submit questions, and ideas for future episodes.
2. If you want to develop a roadmap for your business to innovate, transition, or grow, let's talk.
Thanks again for tuning in!
Laurie Barkman is an Innovation + Growth Advisor | Entrepreneurship Instructor | Host of Succession Stories | CEO of SmallDotBig– working with entrepreneurs, private companies, and family businesses to build enterprise value and achieve their long-term goals.