Authority Magazine: Highs and Lows of Female Construction Entrepreneurship: Inna Tuler, Maintco Corp.Posted on: July 13, 2021 in Inna Tuler
Written by: Authority Magazine
Understanding goals is a key component of an organized plan. The Maintco team spends a great deal of time shaping goals to verify they are consistent with the company mission, as well as measurable and attainable. Evaluating the plan and revising it as needed to meet the goal is a large step in meeting goals. Then it is important to celebrate the goal once achieved. Allow yourself to have interests outside of the business walls. Involvement in professional organizations, become a mentor, become involved in the community, be philanthropic, and expanding your physical activity.
Inna Tuler is the founder and CEO of Maintco Corp., a Burbank, CA-based general construction company specializing in turn-key service, repair, and remodeling of convenience stores, fast-food restaurants, supermarkets, and other retail businesses serving California, Arizona, Nevada, and Texas. She founded the company 26 years ago with her late husband, Abraham, starting with a vision to help clients maintain thriving businesses that help support their communities. She is also active in several charities and a dedicated mother & new grandmother.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started? –
After earning a Bachelor in Performing Arts and Music from Tel Aviv University, I followed my passion and love for music by launching a career as a concert pianist and owning a small music school in Israel. Coming to the U.S. in 1991 after the Persian Gulf War with only $200, I took an opening as an Assistant Manager in an apartment building in Tarzana. Speaking multiple languages helped me to get the position since I had no prior experience in property management. This experience and growth provided an opportunity to increase my responsibilities and led me to enter the real estate industry. I then stepped in to assist my late husband in the construction business. In the beginning, the goal was to prepare vacant apartments for new tenants, but the goal then expanded into a company that would provide for the complete facility and construction needs. Developing my own entrepreneurial spirit and leadership skills, continuing education, and also learning everything I could from my late husband grew greatly through my experience working in property management and later in financing. That spirit & skills ultimately led me to become a licensed real estate broker and a licensed general contractor. For nearly 30 years I have been the owner, President, and CEO of Maintco after coming back to the company full time in 2000 and running it on my own since my husband’s passing in 2011.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
From the days of providing apartment cleaning and refresh services, we continued to grow. The opportunity to provide multiple levels of service for corporate customers came about by our first corporate client. We began with basic general facility repair services and found the “aha moment” as we added services and trades needed by our corporate client. I always say that Maintco was designed by our customers. We were listening and resolving their concerns by simplifying the solutions and making them happen. We found that providing quality service was one level, but we added value to our basic system by being in-tune with the needs of our customers. This proved to make us more valuable in the industry.
In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
I was born in the former USSR and was educated in a Communist school system and a society where entrepreneurship was a big “no-no”. I would say that my natural aptitude was in leadership, personal drive, and problem resolution. The belief that I could help people develop themselves and at the same time make a difference, was brought together when we took experience and drive and made something larger out of it that worked.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
The journey began because of trust in myself and my husband, and an opportunity to make more for my family. The partnership with my husband was such that there were open discussions and business decisions based on calculated strategies. We weighed the risk versus reward to move the business forward. My husband asked me to take an active role in the service company and after he made some concessions, I did and we never looked back.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Maintco Corp has spent a great deal of time developing a company that prioritizes the needs of the customer. From the top-down, we set the culture of taking ownership of the company’s mission of providing “Simple Solutions for Difficult Problems.” This is not a tagline, it is the base of our business. One major example of this was our growth into single-ply roofing and hot & cold beverage services. In order for our client to even consider us for any of such projects, we took the time to have several technicians attend training from a manufacturer and become fully certified. Adding these certifications to the other trades, such as electrical and plumbing, we became a leading provider in the foods and beverage service of our clients. And we have installed over 300 plus single-ply white roofs since then.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
To be a successful business leader it is critical to possess adaptability, persistence, and a willingness to work hard. The growth of Maintco is directly related to being adaptable to the marketplace. Understanding the needs of our customers allows Maintco to adapt quickly in a controlled way. This provides a solid base for a service or program that will fit not only the immediate customer but also those who are looking for a change. The growth of hot foods programs for convenience stores is a prime example of all three characteristics. Recognizing changes in the marketplace in a persistent manner, adapting personnel and training to prepare for the new opportunity, and focus on letting the customer know we are capable of assisting in their changes. Being quick to market and taking risks by doing so, differentiates Maintco from other service providers. Another great example, and the most current one,e is the pivoting of the company in the last year due to the worldwide pandemic. From the 1st month of the pandemic, it was obvious that business would not be “as usual”. We quickly regrouped and re-focused to “safety first”, trained our technicians, and began offering and performing high-touch cleaning, plexiglass guards installations, HVAC filters, and other COVID-19 related retrofits to help businesses stay safe & open.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
Following the same path to success, every time may not be the best way to do business in a service-driven industry. Being a construction company can limit revenue if one limits themselves to only construction work. This can be dramatically affected by environmental issues and global financial changes, as we have seen with the COVID pandemic. Adjusting to multiple department-based companies including construction, as well as facility maintenance services, has allowed Maintco the ability to shift quickly with changes in the market. When construction work slows, facility services usually increase. This allows Maintco to remain solid during the ebb and flow of the marketplace.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?
Solid performance management will help the team understand their role, as well as allow an opportunity to discuss feedback, direction, and goals. I understand the fact that my direct reports are not a mirror. It is critical to understand the needs of the team in order to provide input and support. This process reduces stress and generates a team atmosphere. I share wins and losses with the team. I do not take too much credit when things go well, but do not beat myself up too much when things do not go as expected. Finally, stick to your values. Be consistent in decision-making guidelines, but flexible enough to make adjustments with changes in time and technology. Remember the fact that people are your best assets. Treat them as they want to be treated. Listen and motivate them.
What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and authority in their industry?
There is a wide range of challenges in business. I find it very important to stay true to myself and use my own voice to rise above expectations. Aside from the strength I already have, focusing on the basics of business is still paramount. Setting expectations is a key component to a successful operation. Everyone must know what is expected and have the tools to meet those expectations. All discussions should not only cover deliverables, but also the goals for broader success. Including everyone’s holistic role, from leadership to customer requests, to the invoice process. On the other hand, we are all humans. It’s perfectly OK to be sensitive, personal, and open to receive encouragement and support from peers and management.
Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?
The stress a small business can generate can have a large effect on the long-term performance of personnel. Having a solid company culture and a solid understanding of goals and expectations will have a profound impact on the stress. A team with confidence in their leadership as well as an open communication standard is more likely to be successful.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Short sighted business funding — maintaining a strong cash flow is a shield against a short-term market economic situation. Focus on taking advantage of opportunities that present themselves. Understanding who the customers are and what they need — It may be better to provide quality service to fewer customers than poor service to many. Controlled growth based on customer needs is important. Neglecting to reevaluate the assignments and business needs — making sure to have the best person in any position is critical. Reevaluating the business needs and adjusting personnel, education, and training allow for controlled growth and fewer “growing pains.”
Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?
The extreme changes in the marketplace, environment, labor availability, cost of money, and all the other items out of the control of any business owner generate a great deal of stress or anxiety. It is how one responds to the stress that makes the difference. Although someone with a “regular job” has similar stresses, the Entrepreneur compounds the stress through regulations, laws, operations needs, and many other business requirements, but also the understanding that the employees are reliant on the business owner for their income. We, the entrepreneurs, take our work home and we always work. We carry the responsibility for our own family but mostly for all of our employee’s families as well. This is a big deal.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
Several years ago while Maintco was a well-established service company, we took on a brand new service. We built a fully commercial bakery service team. This required the hiring of fully trained personnel, other personnel to train, a large addition to our fleet, tools, developing a training program to certify all new technicians. It was very exciting, it was like creating a whole new company within the company and it opened the doors to so many other opportunities for growth.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
When my husband passed away, I had to transition from a partner in my life and business to an individual with a great deal of responsibility. I had to take on his role and continue mine at the same time of dealing with sadness and grieving. It took an amazing amount of focus to bring myself and the company to a different level. Although a difficult transition, I found that I was more than capable of making it happen. I was able to share my knowledge and experience with others, which made it possible to continue to grow and be successful.
Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?
I focused on remembering who I am and what I accomplished to that point. I expanded my personal education and training and shared my goals with my team. I woke up every morning knowing I had to go on. I could not “afford” to fail.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.
Understanding goals is a key component of an organized plan. The Maintco team spends a great deal of time shaping goals to verify they are consistent with the company mission, as well as measurable and attainable. Evaluating the plan and revising it as needed to meet the goal is a large step in meeting goals. Then it is important to celebrate the goal once achieved. Allow yourself to have interests outside of the business walls. Involvement in professional organizations, become a mentor, become involved in the community, be philanthropic, and expanding your physical activity. Once I have inserted a solid team of leaders, I was able to expand myself and join several professional organizations focused on women in business and executive-level business people. I have run tens of half marathons and long-distance bicycle events. Share your wins and losses with your team. Don’t be too hard on yourself when things do not go as planned, however, also don’t take all the credit when things go right. Build a toolbox of grounding techniques and practices that will help address and relieve stress. Finding a way to ground my emotions can be instrumental in problem resolution. Exercise is one example of a technique that helps relieve stress. Accept that highs and lows are ok and will in fact occur. Knowing that you will be faced with a challenge provides the opportunity to create a plan to address and resolve that challenge. It may not be possible to anticipate all challenges, but having a plan to move through the challenge will help.
We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Characteristics of resilient people are based on an understanding of self and of others. A resilient person is empathetic as well as self-aware, with an ability to handle their emotions. It takes trust in oneself to detect the cause of a situation or a problem, as well as the identification as a survivor and not a victim. Stay optimistic and realistic at the same time. Stay socially connected and always remember to ask for help if you hit the wall.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?
I have gone through many changes and tribulations in my upbringing. Back in Ukraine, when food was randomly available and sometimes we had no running water, we had to find ways to walk across the street with a bucket and bring water back home. My parents divorced when I was very young, I hardly knew my father, and my stepfather was not a good parent at any given time. At the age of 12, I found myself moving into a new country, faced with learning a whole new language and adopting into a different by nature and mentality Israeli society. I still find myself wondering how some of these sad, and at many times abrupt events shaped my strengths to always be better and tougher. I guess that’s what resiliency is…right?
In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?
I consider myself a naturally positive person and I seek harmony in any situation. I find great comfort and support in my family and in those that I care about deeply. Outside of self-motivational techniques, such as exercising, family support is probably one great reason I can remain so much more positive when faced with a difficulty.
Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.
A calm demeanor is important in projecting strength and control in a situation that calls for leadership. Remaining positive, reassuring, effective, logical, and displaying an open mind goes a long way to gain confidence from staff and customers. My team and I are very successful in working to understand a situation and provide a simple solution to the difficult problem as well as alternatives to choose from.
Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?
“Do What You Can With All You Have, Wherever You Are” — Theodore Roosevelt
You can complain about what you can’t do with all the things you don’t have while you’re in the wrong place. You can choose to be a victim or you can be a conqueror. Whether or not you lean into your excuses is the difference. I choose to be the winner. I spent my last dollar on a carpet shampoo machine and turned it into the company Maintco is today. Losers have excuses, winners have reasons. I had and have a reason to move forward, to always make it better with all the tools life had presented itself to me. Here and now, and moving forward I don’t stop seeking the good, the balance, and the peace of mind.
How can our readers further follow you online?
LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and all other publications.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!