Paying It Forward: Mentors Have Played A Huge Role In John Rotche's Life
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Paying It Forward: Mentors Have Played A Huge Role In John Rotche's Life

In 1985, after committing to play for the powerhouse University of Michigan Wolverines, high school football senior John Rotche suffered a career-ending spinal cord injury that left him a quadriplegic. Although the prognosis from the doctors was bleak at best, many weeks later Rotche regained full movement and was able to walk out of the hospital, with doctor's orders to avoid contact sports.

Recognizing his potential, legendary Coach Bo Schembechler named Rotche a member of his coaching staff, making him one of the youngest coaches in the NCAA. When Rotche graduated, he left with a degree in sports management, a Rose Bowl ring, and a life-altering philosophy on inspirational leadership. He believes sports has helped shape him into the leader he is today.

In 2002, Rotche, who began his franchising career with executive posts at Domino's Pizza and Krispy Kreme, bought a one-van duct cleaning company. Though he started out as a "passive" investor, his realization that duct cleaning could greatly improve indoor air quality for young children led him to leave his job at Krispy Kreme to grow Ductz. In 2007, he sold his growing company to Birmingham, Mich.-based Belfor, the world's largest property restoration company, and agreed to stay on as president and form the Belfor Franchise Group.

Two years later, Belfor launched Ductz's sister company, Hoodz. "In 2009, we recognized an opportunity that was synergistic with Ductz that would allow us to leverage our core competencies within the service sector. Like duct cleaning, kitchen hood cleaning for restaurants was a fragmented industry," says Rotche.

It took Ductz about four years to exceed 100 franchise units, making it one of the country's fastest-growing franchises. It took Hoodz only seven months to hit that number. Rotche attributes the success of both brands to its franchisees and staff.

Following his philosophy on building a strong company culture, Rotche spearheaded the creation of a 20,000-square-foot franchise facility in Ann Arbor, Mich. The facility includes corporate office space, a two-story house inside the building used for training Ductz franchisees, and a commercial kitchen used to train Hoodz franchisees. The space also houses a workout facility, a gourmet kitchen, locker rooms, and multiple coffee bars.

Rotche, who also spearheaded the IFA's Franship mentoring program and the MBiz mentoring program for University of Michigan student athletes, says he is grateful for the opportunity to give back. "I believe the two greatest moments in your life are the day you are born and the day you understand why. Many of my own mentors helped to shape who I am today, so paying it forward is just the right thing to do."

Name: John Rotche
Title: President
Company: Belfor Franchise Group
Brands: Ductz (130 units), Hoodz (140 units)
Age: 43
Family: Wife and 2 Children
Years in franchising: 20
Years in current position: 10


What is your role as president?
My job is to set the bar for integrity, accountability, and culture for our entire system so as to create an environment for people to succeed.

Describe your leadership style:
I believe very strongly in inspirational leadership backed by accountability.

What has inspired your leadership style?
Mentors like Bo Schembechler, the former and legendary Michigan football coach who taught me how to be an inspirational leader and not to settle for anything less than excellence; and Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino's Pizza, who taught me the power of honoring a model and keeping it simple.

What is your biggest leadership challenge?
Any strength out of balance is a potential weakness. As an entrepreneur, it's easy to want to continue to evolve and make changes. Sometimes that's good, but you need to know when to stay the course.

How do you transmit your culture from your office to front-line employees?
You have to know who you are and what you stand for, and your team needs to buy into that. That comes from bringing the right people into the organization. We strive for what we refer to as "Frantegrity." Our team understands what operating within a Frantegrity-based culture feels like.

Where is the best place to prepare for leadership: an MBA school or OTJ?
On the job.

Are tough decisions best taken by one person?
It depends on the situation. There's a difference between responsibility and accountability. Although I have a team of people who are responsible for making certain decisions, as a leader I need to be held accountable for the decisions they make--good or bad. My team needs to know that I'm willing to play that role.

How do you make tough decisions?
I go back to that guiding principle of Frantegrity and ask myself: What's the right thing to do? I find that so many decisions can best be answered by that question. Very often I lean on and rely upon my team--they're a good sounding board.

Do you want to be liked or respected?
I think you need both to be successful.

Advice to president wannabes:
First and foremost, establish a foundation of what you want your organization to represent both professionally and culturally. Then you have to select, without compromise, the corporate staff and franchisees who will honor your organization's overall philosophy.


Describe your management style:
I am very culture-driven and prefer to inspire and lead through emotion rather than policy. I care deeply about the folks I have the privilege to work with every day and the franchisees we have the opportunity to support.

What does your management team look like?
The Ann Arbor office is focused on support services such as development, legal, finance, and IT, whereas our regional offices provide more tech and field support. We treat our administrative side of the company as a stand-alone business entity that launches brands. Then each brand is run by a franchise operations director, a director of marketing, and an operations manager. As the system grows, we adjust the support team accordingly.

How does your management team help you lead?
Through honest and open communication and feedback.

Favorite management gurus/books:
I believe in former NFL coach Tony Dungy's philosophy on being a culture-driven coach and leader and enjoy his books. I also find myself going back and re-reading Good to Great by Jim Collins.

What makes you say, "Yes, now that's why I do what I do!"
Our annual convention. Statistically within the franchise industry, less than 50 percent of franchisees show up for national conventions. We average close to 90 percent every year. When our franchisees want to come back and see our staff and their peers every single year, it says something. It's also wonderful to see our staff grow and advance their careers.


What time do you like to be at your desk?
At work, the first thing I do is walk around greeting the team members in their offices. So depending on my "morning greet," my desk arrival time varies. The most important time for me to be at my desk is after the staff has left for the day. That's when I get the most done.

Exercise in the morning?

Wine with lunch?
No. I'm a "runch" kind of guy. If I don't run in the morning, I do "runch." I enjoy running with team members. There's no better way to break down barriers than putting on a pair of running shoes and going for a run together.

Do you socialize with your team after work/outside the office?
We occasionally have group dinners or celebrations.

Last two books read:
The Mentor Leader by Tony Dungy, and Good to Great by Jim Collins.

What technology do you take on the road?
iPad, iPhone.

How do you relax/balance life and work?
Spending time with my children is always a stress reliever. I also drive up to our cottage in northern Michigan and go for a walk in the woods or do a little fishing.

Favorite vacation destinations:
Our cottage, and then Siesta Key, Florida, just off Sarasota. My parents took me there as a child and now we're introducing our kids to it.

Favorite occasions to send employees notes:
We have what we call "culture bucks," a system that reinforces our job to build our company culture. If any of us sees someone doing something that adds to the culture, from staying late to help with a project to cooking breakfast for the team, we give them a culture buck. Once a quarter, we put all the bucks in a bowl and have a drawing. The person who received the buck, as well as the person who gave it, gets a special gift. This shows it's as important to recognize as it is to be recognized.

Favorite company product/service:
The Ductz National Service Team is a unique part of our business model. When we were called to Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, we had only six franchisees at the time and were asked to perform a project that was bigger than anything we'd ever done. We were successful and it became the launching pad for the nation's largest traveling team of commercial duct cleaners. Today we pull hundreds of franchise offices together and travel around the world after hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires.

Bottom Line

What are your long-term goals for the company?
Successful franchisees, corporate staff advancement, and a growing portfolio of concepts.

Has the economy changed your goals for the company?
Fortunately, our services aren't very dependent on the economy. However, with high unemployment, more people try to buy franchises--not because they want to, but often because they have to. That's where Frantegrity comes into play and keeps us focused on doing things for the right reasons. We're not just about adding units. We make sure people are the right fit, have the necessary working capital, and expectations in line with our business model.

Where can capital be found these days?
Our parent company is a multibillion-dollar operation, so we are fortunate to be able to self-finance when necessary.

How do you measure success?
By convention attendance, employee retention, franchisee retention, and what we call System Engagement Score. If all these numbers are high, it's an indication people are happy, growing, and engaged.

What has been your greatest success?
Professionally, I've been fortunate enough to transplant many great leaders--people who worked for me, grew professionally, and moved on to other leadership positions. I think if you ask anybody who has ever worked within our organization, they would say positive things. On a personal level, I have a happy family.

Any regrets?
Fortunately, no.

What can we expect from your company in the next 12 to 18 months?
Ductz and Hoodz are going international, and we expect to launch or acquire a third concept.

Published: January 9th, 2012

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Franchise Update Magazine: Issue 4, 2011
Franchise Update Magazine: Issue 4, 2011

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