Aloha, ‘Ohana, ka­–kou, Kuleana and Mahalo: These are five values the Hawaiian culture holds dear but they also form the foundation of Honolulu-based building service contractor Team Clean Inc.

Aloha is more than a greeting. It also epitomizes providing the highest level of caring and service possible in the projects the firm maintains and with the customers its 400 employees come in contact with each day.

“It’s caring about yourself enough so that you can care about other people and give of yourself freely and to the best of your abilities,” explains Partner and CEO Brian Keala Benz. “When we exercise ‘aloha,’ we see cleaning as a profession first and as a business second.”

 ‘Ohana means “family.” At Team Clean this value shines in the company’s relationship with its employees. Benz says Team Clean recognizes the importance of each and every employee — no matter what his or her position. Their efforts to provide a place where people enjoy coming to work earned the company a place on Hawaii Business Magazine’s annual Best Places to Work list in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

“It is important for us to take care of our people, and, in turn, our people take care of us,” says Bernie Kodep, Team Clean’s executive housekeeping manager at Ala Moana Center, a retail center featuring shopping, entertainment and dining. “Our employees have learned to become ‘ohana outside of their ‘ohana, while they are at work.”

Ka–kou means “all of us.” Team Clean expresses ka–kou by keeping as careful an eye on being good environmental stewards as it does on providing a professional service.

Kuleana represents one’s personal sense of responsibility. It’s a value employees hold close as they perform their jobs to ensure clean and well-maintained facilities.

“It is taking responsibility and owning the responsibility of your job task,” explains Leimomi Padua, Team Clean

human resources administrator.

Mahalo means “thank you” and at Team Clean it embodies employees being thankful for the roles they play in cleaning for health.

 “We live with the attitude that we appreciate everything we come to work for every day,” says David Debelbot, Team Clean vice president of operations. “It sets the tone in all that we do.”

Everything from professional training programs designed to help employees grow, to CIMS certification and sustainability efforts come together at Team Clean to earn this BSC a spotless reputation in the housekeeping industry.


“We Live to Clean”

Craig Parkin founded Team Clean in 1992 with the philosophy that “profits follow quality” and the company’s growth from its humble beginnings as a commercial window washer and kitchen cleaning operation to a full-service housekeeping provider show this philosophy to be true.

Today the company performs everything from public area, guest room and kitchen cleaning to upholstery, carpet and floor care for a list of more than 60 clients that includes the 3,000-guest room Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort & Spa, the 290-store Ala Moana Center, the five-star Trump International Hotel, Outrigger Hotels & Resorts, and the Aulani, a Disney Hawaii Resort.

“We clean two commercial office buildings, banks and other facilities, but primarily we are geared toward the hospitality industry,” says Benz. “We do everything from augment the in-house housekeeping department by providing a specific job function to turnkey housekeeping where we manage the entire cleaning operation.”

If there were a secret sauce to Team Clean’s success it would be found in the company’s employees and in its commitment to raising the professionalism of the housekeeping industry.

The company’s tag line — “We Live to Clean” — says it all.

“We are proud of cleaning as a profession,” says Benz, noting the company puts raising the status and standards of cleaning as a profession first.

The company labels employees not as janitors or custodians but rather cleaning professionals, cleaning specialists, cleaning experts and cleaning masters.

Employees can move through the ranks from the entry-level cleaning professional position to higher levels of responsibility via cleaning education offered through the company’s Professional Cleaning Institute of Hawaii (PCIH), opened in 2009 to educate and train Team Clean employees as well as others in the profession. PCIH provides up-to-date instruction in all disciplines of professional housekeeping and professional housekeeping management including the IEHA’s Certified (CEH) and Registered Housekeepers (REH) designations.

“Our mission is to develop and support Hawaii’s cleaning professionals,” says Benz. “We believe it is our responsibility as stewards of our community, our people and our land to raise the status and standards of the cleaning profession through education.”

Every new hire attends a three-day cleaning professional course at PCIH. There, employees learn to use state-of-the-art tools, chemicals and cleaning techniques when cleaning for health. Employees must pass a written test, a verbal examination, and a team activity where they demonstrate what they’ve learned before they start working.

Supervisors facilitate each employee’s continued success and growth by crafting individual development plans and offering on-site training sessions and additional PCIH education.

“Most of the time they want to go from cleaning professional to cleaning specialist,” Benz says.

Cleaning specialists operate heavy equipment, i.e. something heavier than a vacuum, which might be a floor machine, an extractor or a buffer. Employees must attend a two-day, certified PCIH course to earn that distinction.

“They can ask to go to that class. We have one every month, except for holiday months,” Benz says.

After the course, employees practice what they’ve learned on the job and earn certification upon successful completion of a probationary period.

Further training opportunities earn employees upgrades to cleaning expert, where they become cleaning crew trainers, and cleaning master, an entry-level supervisory position. Managers also must achieve CEH and REH certifications.

“They have to carry those certifications to be a manager in our organization,” Benz explains.

Employees can take their training as far as they want, as quickly as they desire, adds Debelbot.

“It’s not so much how long you’ve been with the organization but how much you can do,” he explains. “The more you can learn and advance yourself, the more responsibility will be dedicated to you.”

Coaching and training employees is integral to their success, says Emanuel Richard, senior director of operations, who started with Team Clean in 1996 as a frontline employee and worked his way up to his current position. Richard says the company encouraged him to improve his skills and sent him to school to earn IICRC, CEH and REH certifications.

“I think everybody wants to say they hire from within,” adds Benz. “We truly do that. If you look at our management roster, the majority of them have risen through our organization through our training process.”


Going green

Team Clean holds the distinction of being the first professional cleaning company in Hawaii to achieve the Cleaning Industry Management Standard Green Building (CIMS-GB) certification from ISSA.

Benz notes CIMS-GB’s emphasis on sustainability aids Team Clean in greening its operations and in helping clients green their facilities as they work to achieve LEED-EBOM certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

“We’ve always looked for things that are better and safer for the environment,” adds Debelbot. “We need to make sure our shores and countryside are maintained for the next generation.”

CIMS certification standardized and documented the processes Team Clean employed, according to Kodep.

“With CIMS, our processes at every property are the same,” she says. “Before we had CIMS, every property did their own thing.”

While it’s a blessing to live in beautiful Hawaii, Benz says the ocean that separates the state from mainland USA is also a detriment.

“We are slow to get the latest things,” he explains.

Team Clean attends industry conventions and works with vendors to gain access to the latest and greatest cleaning product developments.  

“We really utilize aloha in how we work with our vendors,” says Benz. “We work very closely with them to get these products to Hawaii.”

Benz also credits his vendors for guiding their sustainability efforts.

“We didn’t have to recreate the wheel, we just had to be out there in the industry looking for other responsible businesses to partner with,” he says.


Saving lives

With every move, Team Clean has a single goal in mind: To elevate the status and standards of the cleaning industry, where negative perceptions often exist about cleaning as a profession.

The firm upholds the philosophy of cleaning for health and the importance it plays in maintaining a healthy building. It sees cleaning as benefiting the cleaning staff as well as the building occupants.

“We look at cleaning as saving lives,” says Richard. “Any time you clean, you’re disinfecting and sanitizing and preventing the spread of germs and disease.”

Benz says he’s hopeful that as consumers understand the importance of cleaning for health, they will view working for a company like Team Clean as an opportunity to provide an important and necessary service.

And when that happens, Team Clean will be waiting to welcome them with open arms into its ‘ohana.

Ronnie Garrett is a freelance writer based in Fort Atkinson, Wis.