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Finding her passion Featured

10:44am EDT September 30, 2005
Elise Benedict thought she wanted to be an award-winning journalist but instead found her calling in the moving business. Today, she is CEO and chairwoman of University Moving & Storage, a moving, storage and transportation company with approximately 200 employees in six locations in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana.

Benedict got her first peek at the moving industry after she gave birth to her son and found a job that offered flexible hours at University Moving & Storage. Before long, she was working full time for the company.

“I just fell in love with the industry,” she says.

Benedict worked her way up from bookkeeper and in 1986, when she was vice president general manager, she decided to purchase the company. Since then, the company has continued to grow and prosper under her leadership.

Smart Business talked with Benedict about the challenges of running a company and the importance of not giving up.

What challenges did you face when you bought University Moving & Storage?

All of them. Initially, there were huge amounts of financial issues. There were tax issues and supplier issues and van line industry issues. I also think it was a huge challenge going from an employee to an entrepreneur.

Another challenge was going from being invisible as a very small agency to adapting to the double-digit growth that we had from the first year (I took over) to the next eight years.

Also, it is definitely a male-dominated industry. It took a while even to get (my) first contract put together, because this particular van line and this particular industry had never really worked with a woman coming in, not having been an owner, and all of a sudden wanting to purchase it.

What are your business strategies?

The main ones are a common-sense direction that is hands on. Enthusiasm has to stay high. People are always surprised at how much they can grow. Then they don’t realize how much they’re growing as they’re doing it.

Sometimes, it’s seen as a negative thing for people to have to grow. Then they realize that is where the true benefits of having to work come from — it’s when you can really enjoy a sense of accomplishment.

I’m hugely into the lifelong customer aspect. I expect that everybody takes responsibility. We have a great group of people. There’s a huge shoulder-to-shoulder type of responsibility in terms of that.

How have you been so successful?

Pretty much all of the above, and never giving up. And I don’t just mean me never giving up, but not allowing other people to give up.

People don’t realize that the little things can mean so much. If you’re a navigator in a ship and it’s off by just a fraction, you can end up in Hawaii instead of Japan. That’s what little steps are like. They add so much to the final product.

It’s a lot of just not giving up and keeping an eye on the goal. It doesn’t matter how you get to the goal, it doesn’t matter if you make mistakes, it doesn’t matter if you have to readjust, it’s keeping your eye on the goal and getting there.

How do you communicate your vision to your 200-plus employees?

We do a lot of conference calls. We do face-to-face. We do a lot of benchmarking, because everyone gets excited about seeing their name on a list somewhere.

Everyone has to sign a form that says they believe in the philosophy of lifelong. When you commit to a lifelong customer, that means you care about that customer. The vision is real clear that you have to care about them. It’s not an option.

What advice do you have for other business owners?

Find your passion. Never settle. Never give up.

It’s a lot about finding what you love about it. It doesn’t mean that you love your job every day, and it doesn’t mean you love to come to work every day, but you love the passion of what you’re doing.

HOW TO REACH: University Moving & Storage, (800) 448-6683