When CEO David Stern was younger, working in his dad’s dry cleaning business in Western Pennsylvania was the last thing he wanted to do.
But as he was about to graduate in 1973, Stern thought he would be drafted, so he didn’t interview for jobs. When the draft was abolished, he was caught off guard.
The economy wasn’t great and jobs were scarce, so he reluctantly agreed to come home for a job. His dad, however, gave Stern the freedom to start a uniform rental business out of the basement.
Today, Paris Cos. still has that uniform rental division, which has more than 4,000 customers, but the larger piece of the company is its health care linen services division that provides linens to hospitals, non-acute care, surgical centers and long-term and home care.
Stern says at some point, he realized he was creating value. He could create not only an income, but also wealth just by innovating. That’s when he knew he had a career.
“Everybody always says, ‘Dave, you always look at things a little differently,’” he says. “So that was a thing that I think helped me in those early years when I didn’t know anything about anything.”
Be in the future
When Stern first started out, he focused on the day-to-day, running the uniform rental company. Today, he spends most of his time looking out three to five years, which allows Paris to adapt quicker to change.
By finding and developing seasoned leaders to oversee the more than 800 employees, Stern can delegate operations.
“We attract people that like to be entrepreneurial, because I delegate that and say ‘My role is to say where we’re going in three to five years. Your role is to get us there,’” he says.
It takes discipline to do this. But Stern says it’s all about getting rid of the noise of the present to see the big picture, especially as your company grows.
That doesn’t mean you’re not in tune with what’s going on. Stern still has lunch with employees, uses dashboards to track operations and visits with customers.
“So, I’m not saying I don’t know what’s going on, but that’s not my focus,” he says.
He also coaches where needed. If he sees trends in the wrong direction, he’ll help his team set goals.
Over the past 38 years, Paris has increased its revenue every year with only organic growth. That’s because focusing on the future gives Stern an ability to get in front of trends.
When you listen to the market and people that you admire, you’ll see trends, he says. Then, it’s a matter of putting two and two together to understand how it affects your organization and what you can do about that.