Military Officer turned CEO: How Sheena Parker Utilized Government Contracting to Drive Growth to Her Business

Facilities management protocols were thrust into the spotlight during the pandemic year of 2020, there was a dramatic shift towards cleaner and safer buildings, including indoor air quality and ventilation/filtration. On this week’s episode of The Playbook, host Mark Collier, business consultant for the UGA Small Business Development Center, is joined by Sheena Parker, CEO of 4SYT Industries, a leading facilities management company, and we are going to discuss how her facilities management company is meeting the evolving needs of the market.

Transcription:

Mark Collier:
Welcome into The Playbook Sheena.

Sheena Parker:
Thank you for having me Mark, I appreciate it.

Mark Collier:
You’re welcome. First of all I’d like to say, thank you for your service. You are a distinguished military veteran. I have the utmost respect for military veterans.

Sheena Parker:
I appreciate that very much.

Mark Collier:
So, share with me a little bit more, some about your background and kind of how you made the transition from the military to your role as CEO today.

Sheena Parker:
Yeah, so really I was in a totally different industry in the military. I’m a signal warrant officer, which is signal, is IT.

Mark Collier:
Help me, I don’t understand. I don’t know what that means.

Sheena Parker:
I know. So it’s IT. So I did a lot of systems administration and I’m still technically in the military. So I’m on my way to retirement. I have a few months left.

Mark Collier:
Well, congratulations.

Sheena Parker:
Thank you. And I love the military. I love IT, but I just had a burning desire outside of IT. And so I was into real estate for a while, starting in around 2014.

Mark Collier:
Now selling real estate or as an investor?

Sheena Parker:
As an investor. So I became a landlord. I did a couple of flips and I did some wholesaling between 2014 and 2017. And I loved it, but I didn’t love it at the same time. I realized being a landlord is a lot more than…

Mark Collier:
It’s more than a notion as they say.

Sheena Parker:
More than I thought, especially when you’re not planning properly for what type of tenant you want and stuff like that. So the conversation about government contracting came up and I wanted to stay in real state. I didn’t know what that looked like, but then facility maintenance. I’m like, oh, okay. I can renovate stuff and make stuff beautiful. And that’s actually our tagline is making buildings beautiful again. So just kind of fell into it, it chose me.

Mark Collier:
All right. So your business up and running now. So kind of detail for me, what are some of your core services that you offer clients?

Sheena Parker:
We offer janitorial that also includes disinfecting of course, because of COVID. I started off as a floor contractor. I just thought that was all I was going to do, but then COVID just kind of realigned that for me. And we also offer pressure washing services, landscaping, specialty skill projects, like we’ve had services where we had to replace mats inside of a gym. We do roof repair, we do floor repair, we do stripping and waxing, those types of things.

Mark Collier:
So anything related to management and maintenance of your facilities your company can handle?

Sheena Parker:
Exactly right.

Mark Collier:
All right. Well, very good. So what are some of the kind of strategies or programs that you’ve used to kind of help grow and scale your business?

Sheena Parker:
So in GovCon, uniquely the work is out there for me to bid on. So, the agency already knows what they want and then I provide that service or I offer a bid to provide that service. But within that, I use a lot of certifications and a lot of networking opportunities. Of course, me being a vet, there are an abundant amount of programs that are available for us, so we tend to click together. And so I’ve had jobs that way with connecting with other veterans and that’s the main way.

Mark Collier:
So it sounds to me like that relationship management has kind of been a core value in terms of helping drive the growth of your business then. Right?

Sheena Parker:
It really is. I mean, I’m still considered a baby business with under five years. So that networking is key.

Mark Collier:
Absolutely it is. All right. So, facilities management, real estate, those are not traditional businesses for women. So kind of describe any barriers to entry or kind of challenges that you’ve experienced as a woman in a traditionally male dominated industry sector.

Sheena Parker:
So I’m not typical of course. Yes, you see. But I was in IT for almost 20 years. So I’m used to it, I guess I can say. I love challenges. I love being the unicorn. So I think it’s just something that’s always been deep in me, with wanting to try something that most people don’t try. And so GovCon is also something that a lot of people weren’t really exploring four years ago. Now it’s kind of like a little boutique type of…

Mark Collier:
Tell me a little bit more about that. Gov, is it gov.com?

Sheena Parker:
GovCon, Government Contracting.

Mark Collier:
Government contracting? Is that a government agency? Is it a private company? Tell me a little bit about GovCon.

Sheena Parker:
Government Contracting is a method. So you can have a business doing everything that I’m doing without going for government contracts. So the government offers contracts for everything. And so, just with my industry, it just so happens to be one of the most popular things that the government is looking for. They’re always looking for janitorial. Always looking for landscaping, those types of things. So it’s really a method, an additional customer.

Mark Collier:
Okay. Very good. All right. So you hear the term BDC, CDC, BDG so that–

Sheena Parker:
BDG.

Mark Collier:
GovCon just BDG? All right. Fair enough. All right, so you’re working hard 24 hours a day sometimes. I’m sure facilities maintenance–

Sheena Parker:
I think I did 25, 26 hours a day. I think I squeezed two more.

Mark Collier:
So let’s talk a little bit about work life balance. That’s a very hot topic nowadays. First of all, do you believe in work life balance? And if so, what strategies do you deploy to achieve it?

Sheena Parker:
I do and don’t believe in work life balance. Something does have to be sacrificed at every minute of every day. Something that I really do try to implement, is working outside of normal traditional hours when I can. And then when it’s available for me to be with my kids and my husband and other family members, I just really schedule it. I mean, I really have to schedule fun time with my…

Mark Collier:
You schedule in family time?

Sheena Parker:
I schedule in family time. I have to, I mean, I’m up at four in the morning. I’m part of the 4:00 AM club. Because there’s not enough hours in a day and hopefully it won’t be like this forever. But as of now, I really have to make sure that the business is running the way it needs to run in order to transition. And I have to be the front person of my business. My kids understand.

Mark Collier:
I get that. I get It. So work life balance, community involvement also is kind of an offshoot of that. So tell me a little bit about your community involvement initiatives, not only for your company, but also for Sheena Parker the individual.

Sheena Parker:
Definitely for Sheena Parker the individual. I really enjoy doing a lot of community projects and usually it’s related to home building and home renovations. So I do volunteer work with House Proud and Other Organ Habitat for Humanity, where I can help those who are disabled and those who are elderly to paint their homes. So they’re not being approached by investors who just want, potentially take their homes from them and stuff like that. So that’s a personal mission. As a company, I do like to employ those who may be second chance, can’t always do that because it’s background checks sometimes with some of our contracts. But if we can employ youth or second chance workers, that is something that I do look out for. And of course my veterans.

Mark Collier:
Absolutely. So your business growing thriving, I always advocate entrepreneurs should have an exit plan for their business. So do you have one for yours? And let’s talk about that a little bit.

Sheena Parker:
I do have a new exit plan.

Mark Collier:
New exit plan.

Sheena Parker:
I’m a part of a program called Goldman Sachs 10k.

Mark Collier:
Congratulations on your acceptance into that program. It’s a good program. It’s tough to get into, so kudos to you.

Sheena Parker:
And it’s tough in it. It’s almost like a part-time job, but it’s really important because, you’re either dying with the business. Or you’re building it to sell or you’re passing it down. And so I really had to make some serious decision as to what I wanted to do. So my exit plan is it’s a little, it’s not completely mapped out. I know I don’t want to die with the business. And I know my kids don’t care about my business, so I probably won’t be passing it down. So the only other thing is to build to sell. So whatever way I can work that method is the way that I’m going to go.

Mark Collier:
Okay. So there are probably some other young ladies out here who are watching, who are looking to get in the business. Do you have any tips for other aspiring young minority women entrepreneurs, kind of pitfalls to avoid, things that they need to… I guess where they say i’s to dot and t’s to cross, right?

Sheena Parker:
Absolutely. Yes. With that, I would just say, be yourself. There was a young lady or older lady, a mentor of mine. When I first started, she said, just be yourself, wear your hair the way you’re going to wear your hair, have your nails the way you want to have your nails. But just as long as you know what you’re talking about, you’ll be heard. And so that’s one of my tips to anyone really, because, we’re all insecure when we’re going into things that are new and unclear. So do whatever you need to do. There’s plenty of women I know in construction. They wear the hard hats, just like everyone else. They have the certification. Do what you want to do and don’t let anyone tell you, you cannot.

Mark Collier:
All right. Sheena Parker, CEO of 4SYT Industries. Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy day to come in and kind of share a little bit about your journey and your story. Like I said, all these tidbits that successful entrepreneurs like you, bring to aspiring entrepreneurs, it’s valued and it’s definitely much needed.

Sheena Parker:
Thank you very much.

Mark Collier:
All right.

Sheena Parker:
I appreciate it.


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