Like most building service contractor execs, Jamie Gutierrez had no intention of ending up in the cleaning industry. Even as she dedicated nights and weekends with her siblings in adolescence and early adulthood, contributing to the success of their parents’ small cleaning company, she never saw herself at the helm of a multi-million dollar business.

But life doesn’t always go as planned — and in this case, it’s gone better than Gutierrez would have dreamed.

Gutierrez took over Omaha-based Midwest Maintenance Inc. as president in 1995 and became owner a few years later. Not only did she have to contend with being a Mexican American female in a male-dominated industry, but she was quite young — about 30 years old — to be taking over a company and had a lot of learning to do.

“I was very young but I grew up in the business so I knew about it,” she says.

Gutierrez recalls going away to college, first at Kearney State College, where she studied business, political science and Spanish, then to grad school to study business at Creighton University, but returning home many times on break and helping out with the family business.

“I’d always come back and work here, in the office and cleaning accounts,” she says. “My brother and I cleaned a lot of buildings, worked in the office, ran accounts, ran the phones and cleaned the office and filed and did accounting — we did everything.”

So, when it came time for her parents, Paul and Alice, to sell the company, Jamie was a natural fit. She had come back to work for the company after an emergency vacancy in operations, and became the full-time operations manager soon after. She had years of experience with the company, the employees and the customers and an educational background in business, and despite the task ahead of her, she hit the ground running. At the time, she says, the company was doing about $2 million in sales and had 75 employees. One of her biggest goals was, and has continued to be, growth.

“The first couple of years were a lot of work, I just really worked hard: learning, taking things in and learning to be more organized and more efficient,” says the up-and-coming industry leader.

Within four years, she had doubled the size of the company, and today, it is 500 employees strong with a new business endeavor, a hospital housekeeping service, branching off of it. Now an award-winning company renowned for community involvement, Gutierrez’s commitment toward her employees has paid dividends.

A Focus on People

As Gutierrez took over, she understood better than anyone that work ethic and on-the-job experience in janitorial are about as important as any degree when it comes to retaining and promoting quality employees. Many of the company’s successful supervisors and managers were those who had started off in entry-level positions and made their way up through the ranks.

“Those are the people that really knew how to clean a building and knew how to manage people and deal with all kinds of people,” Gutierrez says. “We deal with entry level people who maybe don’t speak English or don’t have a lot of education, all the way to CEOs, owners of buildings, owners of businesses.”

Managers at janitorial companies need to have skills to work with all types of people, she says. So Midwest began an internal program called “Promoting People” to identify employees who wanted and deserved promotion, and help them expand their skill sets to enable upward mobility in the workforce and in life.

“Promoting People just stems from people really wanting an opportunity and being ambitious to grow the company, which has a lot opportunities for people to move into. So we started saying, ‘We want to promote from within.’”

Training and education are a big part of the program, so employees have been offered English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, GED classes and management classes. The ESL classes are so important that the company recently added its own ESL teacher and has extended classes to employees’ families as well. Gutierrez is excited about a new management training program that picks star performers and begins to groom them for supervisory positions. When a job opens or a supervisor goes on vacation, those employees are then the first in line to step in and get a feel for those positions.

The effort toward retaining and improving employees has been a success, indicated by low turnover and employee enthusiasm.

“A lot of people come to us and say, ‘I want to work for this company.’ ‘I love working for this company.’ ‘It’s a good company to work for — you don’t see this a lot.’ And it just makes a better atmosphere,” Gutierrez says. “If we can create a good atmosphere for employees to feel good about their jobs and feel good about themselves, they’re going to do great work. And they’re going to make the clients happy. … It’s just really good business to take care of your employees.”

Vice President Tom Reyes says Gutierrez has personally inspired him, through her guidance and encouragement.

She’s very motivational speaker, he says. At strategic planning and executive meetings, Gutierrez tries to give guidance that affects their inner compasses.

“If you’re happy within, then you can be productive and everything will come naturally to you,” Reyes says.

Reyes started out in the company as an accountant, and was promoted to senior accountant, then vice president.

“We have a lot of examples of employees that started out as janitors and have now moved up to things like operations manager, director, project managers, that work in the field,” Reyes says. The executive vice president, Margie Richardson, for example, started as a janitor cleaning a facility for the company 20 years ago, he adds.

Even if an employee doesn’t stay with the company, Gutierrez is happy to have provided them an opportunity to learn something that may advance them in life.

“I feel like we’ve given someone an opportunity that they might not have had somewhere else and if that gets them a better position in another business or another company, I feel like we’ve done something good for them and it’s just a good example,” she says. “Nobody loses.”

As one of relatively few women CEOs in the industry, Gutierrez makes an effort to promote women in her company and serve as a role model, especially to young Latinas. She recalls looking up to a successful Mexican American female lawyer when she was younger, and actually had aspirations to go to law school before her love for business redirected her.

“I’d love for my employees to look at me and say, ‘She did that? I could do it.’ I’d love to be a role model for my people,” she says.

Even though the contract cleaning industry is so heavily white male-dominated, Gutierrez believes the multicultural nature of the industry’s workers necessitates a more open attitude than perhaps those pervasive in other male-dominated industries.

“In this industry you have to be a person who respects other races and other genders; most of our employees are minorities,” she says. “I’ve gotten a lot of help from men. It’s part of the reason my business has been so successful.”

Heading a large, successful cleaning contracting company as well as a household with kids is a lot for anyone to handle, but Gutierrez thrives in the roles of leader, decision-maker and team player. Not only is she committed to her company and her family, but she remains active in her community’s business and charitable organizations. Networking and giving back contribute greatly to her success — professionally as well as personally.

“This is the best time of my life so far,” she says. “I have a great team, I love coming to work every day, I love the people I work with and we have so much fun together and I love growing the business.”