Household Brand. TruBlue Total House Care is in a thriving market
Name: Sean Fitzgerald
Company: TruBlue Total House Care
Years in franchising: 25
Years in current position: 1.5
Sean Fitzgerald had been on the job only a short time when Covid-19 struck last year. The seasoned franchise executive had just been hired as president of TruBlue Total House Care, which provides home care services both inside and outside the home for seniors and busy families.
“Joining an organization during such a difficult time was challenging. However, it drove unity and helped us improve processes and create efficiencies,” says Fitzgerald. One process that changed immediately was a shift in his leadership focus from long-term to short-term goals and objectives. “I went from leading with a telescope to leading with a microscope, concentrating on the present and what I could control.” The result was a team that pulled together to increase revenue by 94%.
Agile management was not new to him. For the past 25 years he has worked with franchise brands large and small, emerging to legacy, bringing his insights and expertise to leadership roles to develop, operate, and grow successful franchise businesses. His background includes leading the growth of brands including BrightStar Senior Care, Wireless Zone, and FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Centers.
Today, more than a year into his role as TruBlue president, he has continued to employ his “team coach” leadership style. “I approach leading a business the same way I coached football,” he says. “You must figure out what motivates each individual, identify their strengths, and bring that all together to achieve your goals.”
Fitzgerald says he’s on a mission to make TruBlue a widely recognized name in the industry. “We are the only national franchise provider that specializes in total house care for seniors and busy families,” he says. The brand, already operating in 50 markets, has set a goal of more than 200 franchisees in the next 5 years.
What is your role as president? I was appointed president in January 2020, just before the Covid-19 pandemic began. Joining an organization during such a difficult time was challenging. However, it drove unity and helped us improve processes and create efficiencies. Since I joined the TruBlue team, we have relaunched the brand’s mission to become a nationally recognized full-service house care company dedicated to helping seniors age in place safely. I am responsible for the brand’s strategic vision, organizational excellence, and franchise development.
How has Covid-19 affected the way you have led your brand? Pre-pandemic, I led with a telescope. I focused on setting long-term goals and objectives for the organization. When the Covid-19 pandemic started two months after started, I quickly realized that I needed to switch my lens to a microscope and concentrate on the present and what we could control. It was my responsibility to stay positive, provide solutions, and support our franchisees. By shifting my attention to the short term and focusing on what was right in front of us, we were able to create an incredible synergy throughout the entire system. Everyone was working together to overcome the challenges of 2020, and because of the incredible teamwork we increased our revenue 94%.
Describe your leadership style: I have always been heavily focused on developing a team culture that is positive and results-driven. I would describe my leadership style as more of a team coach than a manager. I provide my team with a clear vision and goals so everyone is on the same page, and then I lead by motivating, challenging, guiding, and supporting my team to reach their individual goals, which ultimately contributes to the success of the entire franchise organization. I coached football for many years and that is where I first developed my leadership skills. When people really feel they are part of a team and understand they are being counted on to contribute to the success of something much larger, they will give so much more and exceed expectations. They do not want to let the team down. When this happens, teams will accomplish amazing things.
What has inspired your leadership style? It was inspired by several outstanding coaches, teachers, and professors I encountered during high school and college. The coaches and teachers who affected me most were able to identify my strengths and nurture them. Great teachers and coaches motivate and inspire their students and athletes by leading with compassion and enthusiasm. This always encouraged me to do my best and work even harder. I have applied the same principles to my own leadership style, which learned from my mentors over the years.
What is your biggest leadership challenge? Managing difficult or unmotivated people. Not everyone is going to be as passionate as I am about growing the business or reaching specific goals. It is my role as a leader to determine what drives and motivates different individuals and set clear expectations. If I am able to identify what inspires them, I can determine a solution.
How do you transmit your culture from your office to front-line employees? Our culture at TruBlue is amazing. The desire to help people is in our DNA and we make sure we are supporting everyone in the organization. From day one, whether someone is in the home office or a thousand miles away at one of our franchise locations, we begin educating them about our mission, who we are, what we do, and why we do it. Communication is the key to transmitting our culture down the ladder. We currently host virtual meetings and send email correspondence to share system updates, best practices, and other information on a regular basis. We make sure our front-line employees know the value they bring to the seniors whose homes they are improving, and ultimately the value they bring to our organization’s mission of helping people.
Where is the best place to prepare for leadership: an MBA school or OTJ? I think on-the-job training is the best place to prepare for leadership. While there is great value in an MBA or business program, you cannot learn leadership skills through books or in a classroom. Some of the greatest leadership lessons I have learned were on the job, and I was able to immediately apply my learning to relevant situations. Leadership is inherently in you, and as your career evolves so do your leadership skills.
Are tough decisions best taken by one person? How do you make tough decisions? I always seek counsel for really tough decisions. TruBlue is part of Strategic Franchising Systems, which is composed of five unique franchise brands. Because of the organizational structure I am able to seek counsel and expertise from the other brand presidents and leaders within the organization.
Do you want to be liked or respected? Certainly, you wish you could have both. But if I had to choose, I prefer to be respected. Effective leaders have to make tough decisions for the business, and not everyone always agrees with those decisions. If you have earned the trust and respect of your team, they will know that you had the best intentions for the organization.
Advice to CEO wannabes: As a CEO, you always need to look at the bigger picture. Know that the decisions you make will have a profound impact on the entire system. Do not forget to delegate. You cannot do everything yourself, so make sure you have a solid team you can rely on. Also, you cannot do enough communicating. Communicate regularly and openly to keep everyone going in the same direction. It is essential that everyone knows they are critical to the plan.
Describe your management style: Collaborative, motivating, inspiring, and inclusive.
What does your management team look like? I am lucky to have a very experienced management team working with me at TruBlue. It includes a vice president of marketing, director of operations, franchise business coach, the sales team, accounting team, and franchise development support team.
How does your management team help you lead? They provide me with honest and open communication, which gives me the ability to make the right decisions. They do not placate me and tell me what I want to hear. Filtered information is bad information. My team also is not afraid to push back on subjects. They are empowered to ask tough questions to get to the core of an issue.
What makes you say, “Yes, now that’s why I do what I do!”? We recently welcomed new owners into the system. They had an amazing attitude and vision. Thanks to our strong franchise model, training, and onboarding process, the franchisees set a record for first-month sales in the shortest month of the year—and during a pandemic. They reached out to me recently and said everything that I told them would happen did happen, and even better than they expected. When I help someone fulfill their dream of owning a successful business, that is when I’m reminded why I do what I do. The growing interest in and success of the TruBlue brand provide constant reminders of my “why.”
What trends are you seeing with consumer spending habits? We are seeing a new era in homeownership, with people taking a more proactive role in protecting what is likely their largest financial asset. One of the trends we are seeing involves preventive maintenance for the home. A big part of this focus is older homes, especially for senior homeowners who want to age in place. The Covid-19 crisis uncovered major flaws in long-term care facilities. As a result, no one wants to go into a nursing home. It is true there are thousands of in-home care providers taking care of seniors in their homes, but they cannot age in place successfully if the home is itself is unsafe. As a result, the demand for affordably priced home repair and maintenance services, house cleaning, yard work, emergency repairs, and seasonal work is growing. Regular care and repair will also help a senior’s home retain, or possibly increase, its value when families do eventually have to sell the property. This ties back into the main reason people are willing to spend more on the preservation of their homes.
Are your franchisees bullish or bearish about growth and adding additional units? We are absolutely bullish on growth. Knowing there is a huge demand for what we offer, and knowing we have the opportunity to expand our coverage across the U.S., we have created a strategic partnership agreement with Right at Home, one of the largest in-home care providers in the nation. The new partnership will increase each company’s client base and allow TruBlue franchisees opening in new territories an immediate referral source.
Are commodity/supplies costs any cause for concern in your system? There are certainly some supplies, such as timber and drywall, that are more challenging to acquire now. Fortunately, the services our franchises provide are more labor-driven and not always reliant on supplies.
In what ways are political/global issues affecting the market and your brand? As more people choose to age in place, we will see more programs such as Medicare and Medicaid begin to subsidize the costs of repairs designed to make the home environment safer for seniors. National and state government officials are beginning to recognize the long-term, cost-saving benefits of safer homes. It will become more affordable for seniors to age safely at home—with help—rather than enter a state-run nursing home.
What time do you like to be at your desk? While my in-office hours are very fluid, I am always available. My workspace is fluid, too. I do not really have a desk. Sometimes my desk is in my car, my kitchen table, or my couch.
Do you socialize with your team after work/outside the office? I am very social during work hours, but not as much outside the office. For me, it helps maintain a higher level of professionalism in the office since I am in a leadership role.
Last two books read: I am a U.S. history enthusiast. Two books I recently read are Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, and The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet.
What technology do you take on the road? I never leave home without my cell phone and my laptop.
How do you relax/balance life and work? I play video games to help me relax. When I am at work my mind is always engaged. Video games provide me with the distraction I need to turn off my work brain.
Favorite vacation destination: Anywhere there is a beach. My family and I usually go to Destin, Florida, every year.
Favorite occasions to send employees notes: I absolutely love sending congratulatory notes to employees when they achieve a goal or exceed expectations. And thanks to the incredible success of so many of our TruBlue franchise owners, I have had the opportunity to send many more of these types of messages.
Favorite company product/service: I am an admitted Apple addict. After years of working on a PC, I was forced to make the switch to a Mac when I signed on with a previous company. Now I cannot go back. I have the Apple Watch, the iPhone, the iPad. If Apple makes it, I own it.
What are your long-term goals for the company? We are on a mission to make TruBlue a household name. We are the only national franchise provider that specializes in total house care, both inside and outside the home, for seniors and busy families. In fact, we complete the continuum of the care circle in the in-home senior care industry—something that had not existed before on a national scale. We have a goal of being a national franchise (we are already in 50 markets), if not international, with more than 200 franchisees in the next 5 years.
Where can capital be found these days? TruBlue is a low-cost investment and far more affordable than other franchise concepts in the senior care and home services industries. This makes it easier for franchisees to acquire capital, although the vast majority of our owners are self-funded, with many of them using home equity loans or 401(k) rollovers as business startups (ROBS) plans for financing.
How do you measure success? I am completely invested in the individuals who trust us enough to join our organization as franchise owners. Changing lives by giving people the opportunity to own their own business and take control of their financial future is something I am extremely passionate about. I measure success by how well we help these franchisees meet their business goals, and hopefully exceed them. If we can help every single franchise owner prosper, then the brand flourishes.
Any regrets? No. By nature, I do not dwell on the past. I channel my mistakes into helping me move forward and do better from the experience.
What can we expect from your company in the next 12 to 18 months? The next 12 to 18 months and beyond will be full of strong growth and expansion as we add franchises to meet the demand for our services across the country.
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