Doing good, making money: Local janitorial company advocates for legal B Corp status

Mon, Nov 6

By MELISSA CHIPMAN | February 1, 2017

In just a few weeks, a trailblazing company by the name of Facilities Management Services will move into a brand-new headquarters in the Portland neighborhood.

It is the kind of business that is happy to thrive in the background, which FMS has done since it was established in the 1990s as a contract cleaning company, then based in Shelbyville, Ky. These days, though, its president, Scott Koloms, is pumped to be making headlines. FSM said it recently became the first janitorial services company in the world to earn a B Corp designation and the first company in Louisville, second in Kentucky, to do so.

Now Koloms is on the front line of the push to make B Corp designation a legal status in the state of Kentucky.

So what is a B Corp?

It’s a designation for mission-centered businesses, for businesses for whom profit is not always priority one. The public benefit corporation designation protects the company’s mission against shareholders objecting to its path to profit, and it protects companies from new owners who may change the mission.

“We measure our social mission the same way we measure our finances and operations,” Koloms said. Every year the company leadership decides on what their social goals will be. If they do not reach at least 75 percent of those goals, no leaders will get a bonus, including Koloms.

“We have happier and better workers,” he said. “Our core value is that we care about the people we work with.”

Scott Koloms | Courtesy of FMS
“Who’s going to solve social issues? The government?” said Koloms. He thinks business as an institution may be the answer. “Business has a position of power.” If more businesses became socially conscious and active, he reasoned, the government and underfunded nonprofits would have less work to do.

Sarah Davasher-Wisdom, COO at GLI, said that the chamber is “very favorable” toward the legislation and that members of GLI have been “advocating for it for several years.” She noted that neighboring states have B-Corp legislation in place and that more than 30 states do overall.

Davasher-Wisdom said that having B-Corp status available would “motivate companies to bring their business to Kentucky.” Both Davasher-Wisdom and Koloms said that young workers prioritize working for a business that has a social component.

When asked about why there would be any opposition to the bill, she said that it was a matter of education because it is a “difficult concept.” Rep. Jerry Miller (R-36), who is putting the bill forward on Feb. 9, almost voted against it last year, but after a conversation with B-Corp advocate Access Ventures‘ CEO Bryce Butler, he came on board, Davasher-Wisdom said.

It’s not just a challenging concept, one of the reasons it didn’t pass in the past is that some politicians conflate the social mission with environmentalism and reject the notion out of hand.

“Three times in the past it died for various reasons,” Miller said. This time it has an excellent chance of passing, he said.

Miller said that the millennial generation wants to “do good” while making money and that “certain investors want to invest in entities that have a dual purpose.” The latter includes Butler, whose Access Ventures invests only in social entrepreneurship enterprises.

A new headquarters

On a recent private tour of the new headquarters, Koloms explained that the well-preserved and faithfully renovated 1880s former home of A.L. Ball Moving & Storage, on the corner of 15th and Lytle, was built as a furniture company and showroom.

The giant brick edifice is huge: 90,000 square feet in total. He enlisted the services of the award-winning Lexington architecture firm Nomi Design to carve out 25,000 square feet for the headquarters; the rest will remain storage.

Koloms is jazzed about the revamped office space, which includes a workout area and a recreation area (and requisite Ping-Pong table); a co-working-style office called The Nest, where desks and computers will be made available to employees who are on the road a lot; plus, an outdoor patio.

As he continued the tour, Koloms proudly noted that wooden features in the offices – tables and counters and such – were made from reclaimed wood from the renovation.

The new home pairs nicely with the company’s already robust wellness program, which includes smoking cessation and nutrition programs for all staff members and financial literacy classes. There’s a five-minute meditation session before meetings. In those meetings, Koloms often talks about mindfulness.

FMS offers paid maternity leave for all employees for six weeks.

“Everyone will be making a living wage by the end of the year,” Koloms said.

In 2015-16, the company reduced turnover by 15 percent. Koloms also said that companies like Bellarmine University, Yum Brands and the Nelson County School System, have hired FMS because their values aligned.

The company employs around 800 people, about 400 of them full time.

For Koloms, FMS’s mission is its people. When he took over the business after his father’s sudden death in 2001, Koloms knew that the greatest challenge in a janitorial business was employee turnover.

“Without the people, we couldn’t run a business,” Koloms said. He knew he had to create a work environment that not only gave people a paycheck but also a reason to want to work for FMS.

Company leadership set up relationships and partnerships with agencies in the neighborhoods where FMS workers live. Working with KCTC, the company co-funded a leadership class that was specifically designed for FMS. Fifty-six workers graduated and received college credit.

In 2017, the company’s goal is to fund 2080 hours of volunteer work. Each worker will be paid a regular salary for up to 20 hours of volunteer work. “This is not a giving program,” he said. “This is embedded in our business model.”