How a Retired Army Infantry Veteran Transformed a Franchise Brand

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Army veteran Steve White (center), COO and President of PuroClean, with CEO and Chairman Mark W. Davis (left) and Vice Chairman Frank Torre (right). (Courtesy of PuroClean)

For many infantry troops and officers, leaving the military is a daunting life event. While so many military specialties have direct civilian counterparts, the direct civilian equivalent for the infantry is not as apparent.

Steve White is the president and chief operating officer at PuroClean, a restoration franchise that offers cleanup services after fires, floods and biohazard leaks. He was also an Army infantry officer for seven years. He says the infantry is a great place to start a career, especially in franchising.

“I knew almost nothing about business when I started,” White told Military.com. “I was a political science major in college. But I got sold into the pure leadership aspect of infantry, the small unit actions, and I really loved it. And then when I got into business, I found those things in franchising.”

About a month after leaving his Army green behind in 1986, White donned the red, white and blue of Domino’s Pizza, working in the corporate offices of the major fast food franchiser. He spent five years as the pizza giant’s operations manager. That’s where he learned his business fundamentals.

Those fundamentals served him well over the years. After five years at Domino’s, White moved onward and upward to another franchiser, Allegra, which offers printing and marketing services. Over the course of some 20 years, the one-time grunt officer who didn’t know anything about business worked his way up from national sales to become the corporation’s COO.

The infantry taught him to work his tail off. His first job in business taught him the fundamentals of his industry. When he retired from Allegra in 2012, he was still young and able to do anything.

“I was a goofball college student who was put in the infantry,” White recalled. “I was hoping to get something like military intelligence or something that would give me business skills, but they branched me infantry and I’m telling you, nothing better could have happened to me. In six weeks’ time, the Army scraped enough crud off the outside of me to find a responsible adult on the inside that I didn't even know resided there.”

That might have been a career for White, who was happily living his life, “doing nothing.” Until he was approached by a new franchiser, PuroClean.

When White took over as president of PuroClean in 2013, it was a brand that had begun to lose steam and was in need of revitalization. It was also much smaller than anything he’d ever done before. He initially turned it down, but PuroClean was persistent and polite. He ended up taking the job, the one he holds today.

PuroClean now holds a rating of four out of five stars on Consumer Affairs and is an industry leader in disaster and hazardous waste cleanup with more than 325 locations across the United States. White has been with the company for almost eight years and he attributes his 35 years of success to the parallels between the worlds of franchising and the infantry -- there are systems and procedures to follow.

“Every franchise is really developed around a business concept that works really well,” he said. “Then we have a set of systems and procedures that work, and then we constantly hone those procedures to just be more effective than other people in the same business. They’re standard operating procedures.”

White believes that this is the reason why there is no better match for a military mind in the civilian world than the business of franchising.

“You follow this; you get that result,” White said. “This franchise world is just collections of systems and SOPs to follow. They all call it different things; their franchise model, their operating system, whatever. But to a military guy, it’s just following the SOP. That's the way to success.”

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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