At Your Service!: Mike Bidwell leads The Dwyer Group Into the Future
Mike Bidwell is a leader who is clear, pragmatic, and to the point. "I'm passionate about creating opportunities for others to grow," says the 57-year-old president and CEO of The Dwyer Group. It's this focus that keeps him excited about the organization and its potential. Growth has been strong and strategic plans are in motion to continue growing through the expansion of its eight service brands and the acquisition of other, complementary brands.
Early in 2014, Bidwell, president of the Waco, Tex.-based brand for the past eight years, also became CEO. "That was really just a formality because I had been handling both roles for some time as Dina
Bidwell's history with the company goes back more than 30 years. In 1980, right out of college, the Arizona native moved to Texas to work for Shell Oil. He spent four years there and says he really enjoyed what he was doing. But a chance meeting with a Rainbow International franchisee who had come to clean the carpets in Bidwell's home led to a dramatic career change. "My wife had been wanting to move back to Arizona," he says. "In chatting with the franchisee I became interested." The franchisee submitted Bidwell's name as a lead, and the next day he got a call from The Dwyer Group. "I was a little hesitant and it took some convincing, but it turned out to be a good move," he says.
It sure was. Bidwell went on become the largest franchisee of Dwyer's Rainbow International brand, the company's first multi-brand franchisee, and then transitioned to corporate brand president, multi-brand president, and president and COO of The Dwyer Group.
But it was his years as a franchisee that really shaped his approach to leading the brand today. "That experience is what keeps me grounded in understanding that what we do as a brand must work for everybody involved: our customers, franchisees, and investors. I believe I'm more capable as a president and CEO because I know what it's like to be a franchisee." That experience was brought home again two years ago when his son opened up his first franchise in nearby Austin. "That was a fresh reminder of what self-employed people go through. I remember and I understand," he says.
Last year, Bidwell helped the company through its third private equity transition and says he is pleased to be teamed up with The Riverside Company. "It's a partnership, and we think we are aligned with investors who share in our interests and objectives," he says. "Private equity has been one of the best things for franchising. It brings liquidity to brand owners, leads to system-wide improvements, and usually accelerated growth. That in turn leads to increased brand equity for franchisees."
Heading into mid-2015, things are running smoothly at The Dwyer Group. In the corporate office, Bidwell likes to surround himself with a diverse team of executives from various backgrounds (franchise and non-franchise) who know the industry and are driven to get things done.
Looking ahead, Bidwell says The Dwyer Group will continue to open additional territories at a steady clip, add some complementary brands, and double annual revenue from $1 billion to $2 billion. Clear, pragmatic, and to the point.
Name: Mike Bidwell
Title: President, CEO
Company: The Dwyer Group
Brands/Units: 1,711 total: Rainbow International Restoration, 405; Mr. Rooter Plumbing, 324; Mr. Appliance, 189; Aire Serv, 186; Grounds Guys, 179; Glass Doctor, 178; Mr. Electric, 169; Five Star Painting, 81
Family: Wife and 3 children
Years in franchising: 31
Years in current position: 8 as president, 1 as CEO
What is your role as CEO?
The most important component of my role has to do with the people. I spend a considerable amount of my time making sure we have the right people in the right places and working with those people to enhance their effectiveness and grow their business unit. Shaping culture is an important part of the people component. Next is developing and setting strategy at The Dwyer Group level and assisting our business unit leaders in developing and setting theirs. I also spend quite a bit of my time working on acquisition opportunities, domestic and international. Managing our board and private equity partner relationships is also an important part of my role.
Describe your leadership style.
Here is what my team tells me: Direct, honest, enabling, even tempered, quiet, unassuming, works cooperatively to set strong yet realistic expectations for outcomes. My intention is to help develop capable leaders. So I work to lead with a consultative and supportive style, allowing others to develop their ideas and skills and run with them (within reason).
What has inspired your leadership style?
Observing others I respect and appreciating my natural tendencies. I knew I accepted responsibility and enjoyed leading from a fairly young age. I've always been very pragmatic and reflective. So wanting to be the best leader I could has created an awareness of good leadership. I've paid particular attention to those who are effective with similar natural disposition. Leadership lessons that had the most impact on me came primarily from two places. First was in high school, admiring coaches who really knew how to get the most out of their players. Next was during Marine Corps Officer Candidate School while in university.
What is your biggest leadership challenge?
Fighting my natural tendency to be expedient, hands-on, and task- and outcome-oriented. I find I have to keep top of mind that you get more sustainable results by letting others grow by doing more autonomously.
How do you transmit your culture from your office to front-line employees?
We have company-wide meetings every six weeks to share numbers, update results, discuss culture, and more. Once a year, we also spend a day offsite with the entire company, with most of the time spent around reconnecting with our roots and purpose that inspire our culture. But I would say the most important way is by talking with my direct team about what is important and leading by example. Otherwise, our Code of Values are just words wasting space. Consistently communicating and addressing actions that may be contrary to our values is key.
Where is the best place to prepare for leadership: an MBA school or OTJ?
There is no substitute for OTJ to learn leadership. I don't have an MBA, but I have certainly hired a lot of them. While earning an MBA has many benefits, I have not observed a correlation between an MBA and effective leadership.
Are tough decisions best taken by one person? How do you make tough decisions?
I'm going to give the economist answer: it depends. There are times either is appropriate, but at a minimum, it is typically wise to seek input from those affected by the decision or knowledgeable on the issue.
Do you want to be liked or respected?
Respected, without hesitation. If you are earning respect in the right way, being liked often follows.
Advice to CEO wannabes:
I would offer three points of advice. Don't try to be somebody else. Do become a student of leadership. Wherever you are, get and maintain absolute clarity about how you can make a difference.
Describe your management style:
Fact-based and detail-oriented. I want to know you, know what you are talking about, and be passionate about making a positive impact.
What does your management team look like?
CFO, EVP of franchise brands, CIO, EVP of franchise development, VP of marketing, VP of national accounts, VP of company stores, VP of international operations, general counsel.
How does your management team help you lead?
I frequently ask them. They tell me when I could have done something better. They are really important for arriving at good decisions. I also watch them and learn from them. They often inspire me.
Favorite management gurus: Do you read management books?
Sure. I really don't have a clear favorite, but two of my favorite resources are Executive Book Summaries and Trends Magazine, both audio to optimize drive time.
What makes you say, "Yes, now that's why I do what I do!"?
When I see people appreciably develop and achieve success.
What time do you like to be at your desk?
Exercise in the morning?
I prefer a mid-afternoon workout in our fitness center, often with one of my execs.
Wine with lunch?
No wine at lunch, usually just a quick piece of fruit at my desk.
Do you socialize with your team after work/outside the office?
Yes, from time to time. I really enjoy their company in a social setting. I think it helps build deeper connections with people.
Last two books read:
The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes, and 41: A Portrait of My Father by George W. Bush.
What technology do you take on the road?
iPhone 6 and PC Ultrabook.
How do you relax/balance life and work?
During the week, I often enjoy a glass of wine and dinner with my wife before doing a bit more work or research. I also exercise almost every day. Weekends, I enjoy projects around the house, fixing something with my hands; watching college football; and dinner or party with friends. Our neighborhood group is fairly social.
Favorite vacation destination:
Grand Cayman Islands.
Favorite occasions to send employees notes:
When they achieve their targets or have somehow distinguished themselves. I'm not one to send clearly trivial notes.
What are your long-term goals for the company?
$2 billion in system-wide sales. We just reached $1 billion.
How has the economy changed your goals for your company?
It hasn't changed our goals. The Great Recession delayed us a bit, but it is now behind us.
Where can capital be found these days?
While traditional sources are coming back, non-traditional sources have sprung up over the last few years. We also offer financing for the franchise fee, which helps to mitigate this issue to some extent as a service franchisor.
How do you measure success?
Through the positive difference we make in those we have an impact on--a positive customer review on a front-line technician, a positive note or comment from a franchisee, an associate that is thankful for their role.
What has been your greatest success?
While I can't particularly claim it as "my" success, I'm very proud of how all three of my children have turned out. They all completed university, have a strong work ethic, and a disposition I'm proud of, each a bit different of course.
Oh sure. There are so many little ones I would love to have a do-over on. Most have to do with trying to be efficient with people. I've become a bit smoother over the years, but it's still a work in process. Probably the biggest one is moving away from my ill mother late in her life with the grandchildren she was so fond of. I moved to take my first role as a brand president at age 37. Although my mother was very supportive, that's the one I've second-guessed myself on occasion.
What can we expect from your company in the next 12 to 18 months?
Very good franchisee count growth, strong same store sales growth, and more acquisitions complementary to our existing space.
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