Blue Collar CEOs: a growing success trend


Not that kind of blue collar....

How would you like to trade in your suit, tie and corner office for shorts, a golf shirt and a pick up truck?   Many former white collar managers and executives are doing exactly this.  They are becoming Blue Collar CEOs…and loving it!   Here are a few recent examples:

  • Senior VP in the newspaper industry now owns a residential and commercial painting franchise.
  • Operations VP from Earthlink now owns a commercial window cleaning company.
  • COO in transportation now owns a commercial kitchen maintenance business.
  • Human Resources Director now owns a surface restoration franchise.
  • Chief Revenue Officer of a theater company now owns a residential cleaning company.

All of these folks are my clients and to some extent they (and their spouses) all had to undergo an identity shift.  And once they did, they discovered these excellent business and personal benefits to becoming a Blue Collar CEO.

Necessity Based

All of the folks on my list of new born Blue Collar CEOs will tell you that they found their businesses to be need-based versus want-based in their due diligence.  All found the majority of other franchise owners continued to grow during the Great Recession and said, “Yes, I would start this business again.”

Low Financial Risk

I love the service category for numerous reasons:  quicker ramp-up, good margins, scales quickly, lower incremental cost of expansion, and lower upfront investment.   The average all-in investment for a franchise business is about $150,000.  Many blue collar service opportunities require less, sometimes quite a bit less than the average.

Simple to Scale and Dominate a Market

The competition for businesses like painting, window cleaning, commercial kitchen maintenance, etc. is overwhelmingly coming from unorganized, unprofessional, one-man-in-a-truck technicians.   It’s not hard for the white collar manager or executive who is clean cut and on time to out compete the dude with the long pony tail and AC/DC t-shirt who does not answer his phone.   Blue Collar CEOs are not the technicians in their businesses.  They are hiring and managing the technical labor (who prefer steady work and steady pay versus all the other stuff involved in running a business), project managers, office admin, and sales people.   Also, these are simple businesses.  The key to scalability is simplicity.  The more complex the business, the more difficult it is to find labor and therefore grow.

High Return on Investment

A Blue Collar CEO can control and penetrate a substantial geographic area for a fraction of the cost of one retail based business that might have a draw of 2-3 miles.   There are many people who have replaced and exceeded their executive level income after a few years of owning a blue collar service business.   Had they chosen retail, it would likely taken them twice as long and cost three times as much to achieve the same result.

Better Quality of Life

This is perhaps the best benefit of all.  No more travel.  No more nightmare commutes.  No more schmoozing and politicking.  More normalized hours and schedule control.  Less stress.   One very successful Blue Collar CEO shared that what he loves best about owning his painting franchise is “I am the only dad on my daughter’s traveling softball team who got to see every game last year.   I never could have done so as a corporate executive.”

These are not sexy businesses with high social prestige attached to them.   And unfortunately, the “image” of a business is important to some people.  Those who allow their ego and image to drive their business investigation process cut themselves off from opportunities that may very well give them the growth, security and quality of life they desire at a lower financial risk.

In this video, philosophy scholar and mechanic Matthew Crawford talks about the dichotomy of knowledge work and manual labor, as well as the growing appeal of working with your hands.

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