Ask the CEO

By Hannah Wallace March 31, 2009

Jim Abrams

In 1998, Jim Abrams and a partner decided the world was ready for “the McDonald’s of home services,” a company that would offer small contractors branded expertise in marketing, operations and profitability. Today, Sarasota’s Clockwork Home Services includes 1,500 contractors in plumbing, heating and air conditioning, electrical and roofing services in the United States and Canada and has annual revenues of $221 million. Two years before starting Clockwork, Abrams had retired with considerable wealth after a previous company he and his partner had owned went public. He moved to a Gulf-front home on Siesta Key and spent a year walking the beach and rehabbing houses before the vision for Clockwork lured him back to work. President and CEO, Abrams, 61, hopes to see Clockwork go public before he retires and eventually achieve “world dominance” in the field.

How’s the recession treating you? We’ve gone from growing fast to flat, but we’re not going backward.

You started out as a teacher, then joined Weight Watchers and were recruited into management. What did you learn there? They force you to set a goal weight and give you a plan to get there. You need a goal, a plan, and to execute the plan. I found I could motivate people and get them to move on that.

Are you good at home repairs? I’m not handy at all. I’m an accountant.

What are you good at? I can look at something, whether it’s a house or a business, and see what it could be and put a plan together of how to get there. I spent a lot of time alone in the sandbox as a kid imagining things.

How can businesses get through this recession? If you’ve been through some good times, you’re probably carrying people you don’t need now. But keep the right people—not necessarily the cheapest ones. Continue investing in training, and remember [economic cycles] always happen and always will.

Your biggest success? Other than my three sons and two stepdaughters, I’m proud that a lot of people have become very wealthy through this company. And almost all my best people have risen up through the ranks.

Toughest part of your job? Making negative decisions about people. It’s tough, but I’ve realized that people-rehabbing is not something a business is supposed to do.

Is Clockwork a great place to work? It’s an exciting and often nerve-wracking place to work. Initially, people want to make a lot of money, but many get disappointed at the price you have to pay—it takes time away from family, difficult decisions and a lot out of you, including physically.

Role model? My father. He was a child of the Depression, went to work at a Ford plant in Dearborn, loved my mom until the day she died. He was distant and demanding, but he worked really hard and understood the value of education, and I’ve come to appreciate him.

How did becoming wealthy change you? I am more secure and less driven. I have total freedom—I’m not at work because I have to be. I’ve been given certain gifts and great opportunity, and I [feel] responsible for [living up to] that.

Advice to entrepreneurs? Have a clear vision of what you’re seeking and break it down into accomplishable goals. People are afraid to set goals—they’re afraid they’ll fail—but everybody fails. You can only fail if you’re trying to do something.

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