SMART BUSINESS Dealmakers Pittsburgh
Dawn Fuchs Coleman On Selling The Family Business
By Jayne Gest on September 6, 2019
Dawn Fuchs Coleman’s family never put the company her father founded in 1981 up for sale. They had been approached by venture capital and angel investors over the years, but weren’t interested. But when Weavertown Environment Group was approached by a strategic buyer who could help it continue to grow, a door was opened.
Fuchs Coleman wasn’t sure if the next generation, which was still young, was interested in running the company. She also knew the environmental services company couldn’t continue to self-finance, since it was already putting $2.5 million back into the business every year.
“I had an uncle that had a very successful family business in the second mortgage lending space,” she says. “He had an offer to sell his business. He turned it down, and years later, I think he always regretted it. So, I had that in the back of my mind, too.
“You can’t be naive and you can’t be ignorant. You’ve got to be willing to hear it. If it feels right, listen; don’t just stop and say, ‘I’m not interested.’ You have to be open-minded.”
After ninth months of discussions, the family sold the company to Univar in 2015. Fuchs Coleman stayed on for two years, and then she exited the business, starting her own consulting business We Guide, You Grow, and writing a business book that should be out in six months or less.
Smart Business Dealmakers talked with her about selling her family business and the journey from executive to coach and investor.
How did you help Weavertown get a strong value?
You have to grow your business, not just top line. You need to improve your bottom line results. I spent a lot of time on bottom line. How can you streamline your business? I believe in lean and mean.
Health and safety are paramount in our organization, so that was important to me, and making sure people are well cared for and well treated. Family businesses are about the people.
Were you happy with the price?
I’m not going to say we had the best value ever. Obviously, we were OK with it because we did sell. What was nice is we didn’t sell under a hardship time. It’s not like we sold in a bad economy. It’s not like we sold when our chips were down.
Everybody probably wants more than what they get. I’ll say that upfront. It’s like trying to sell your house, right? You know what you put into your house, but the buyer coming through might not appreciate your wall selection, your floor materials, your roof, things that you put in.
How did you announce the sale?
Nobody knew we were selling our business, or even thinking about selling. We kept it very private. Very few people knew — the only people that knew, were the people that had to work with the transaction itself. It was under strict confidentiality because I honestly didn’t care if the business got sold or not. I loved what I did.
I think that is a problem for people. Loose lips sink ships and people should stay tight to the vest. So, we did all of our work at night, weekends. During the day, nobody could tell anything was different.
To announce the sale, I rented a room in a hotel. Because we closed Dec. 1, we were going to have our projections for the ’16 calendar year. If something fell through, my plan was to have our company meeting. Our deal did close that day. So, it was announced publicly to everybody at the same time. That was important to me. I wanted everybody to hear it firsthand. I didn’t want it to be in a press release.
Some people thought it was a good thing, and others saw it as not such a great thing.
Was it hard to become an employee for two years in your family’s company?
I looked at it very black and white. When you sell something, you become an employee. I recognized I was an employee, even when I was still the head of our operations, so to speak.
I didn’t really feel a change year one. Year two, I began to notice some changes and, again, I kept it in mind that that was their company then. I was no longer the decision-maker.
Beyond starting to consult and write your book, what else happened post-sale?
When you sell your business, you have new things to think about. Somebody gave me a piece of advice — don’t go into any other deals for a few years, think about it. Because your phone’s going to ring off the hook. There’s a lot of deals. There’s a lot of people that want you to invest in other companies.
I think that’s good advice. I didn’t necessarily take that advice. I did make investments in other companies, and they’re doing well. But I do think, taking the time to digest is worthwhile.
There’s a whole after process — what you do with the funds and how you manage your funds and who you select to manage them for you. I think that’s all very important.
Why is dealmaking and active investing so different?
When you think about deals, the risk is you’re not in charge, right? Unless you’re the largest shareholder or you’re on the board, you’re really just an investor. You want to make sure that you believe in who you’re investing with and do your due diligence.
Somebody said to me, ‘I look at it as black or red. It’s either going to hit or it’s not.’ That’s probably not a bad way to look at it, and if you aren’t willing to lose what you’re going to put in a deal, then you probably shouldn’t go to the dance. Stay on the sidelines.
And then, there’s personal relationships. You have to think about that, too. How are you going to feel about the personal relationship if financially you took a hit? You can’t let that personal relationship be impacted because it’s still something you chose to do.
That goes to transparency and being truthful. You have to be able to look yourself in the mirror and say, ‘That’s on me.’ If so-and-so had an invention and you thought it looked great, and you invested and it goes awry, you still should be friends with that person. You shouldn’t take it out on that person and/or business because you lost money.
Weavertown Environmental's female CEO doesn't think in terms of gender
Dawn Fuchs has led her company in an industry dominated by men for more than 30 years.
The president and CEO of Carnegie-based Weavertown Environmental Group has seen the company through the peaks and troughs of the oil and gas industry by being as aggressive about new business as she is about its safety record, she said. The company just opened an office in Houston and is developing a 125-acre site in Monaca.
Weavertown, founded by Fuchs' father, Donald Fuchs, in 1981, has 210 employees providing cleanup, towing, garage services, stone aggregate and landscape supply, and oil delivery services and storage tank management, from 11 locations in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky.
Fuchs spoke with the Tribune-Review about her approach to management and growth at Weavertown.
Trib: Have you seen more female-run businesses in oil and gas since you started?
Fuchs: I haven't noticed a change. I just ran into somebody the other day, and he said, ‘I've been in oil and gas my whole career, and I can count on one hand the number of women business owners.' I don't think there's a lot of women business owners, necessarily.
Trib: What is your approach to leadership?
Fuchs: I don't look at things as a male or female perspective, and I think that's been good for me. So I just stood at the table as somebody who has something to offer ... I'm not saying there's not a role for women in business. I think there's a huge market for women to do anything they want to do. I think the conversation should be around what can you do and what can you offer, and forget the man or woman piece.
Trib: Has that been challenging to be the only woman at the table?
Fuchs: I haven't seen it as a challenge at all. Weavertown has been in business 36 years. I don't see challenges or hardships around it. We just go to work. We don't sit around. I don't find it any harder. I think people find it admirable that we're a woman-owned business; I think people find it intriguing. I try not to take the conversation to women or men. I think if you run a good business, a solid business, then you should get business, and if there's a market and if you're good at what you do ... if you're a safe company, then you're going to get opportunities. And that's how I try to keep the conversation. I don't find it challenging to be a woman in business.
Trib: What is your management approach with your staff, especially when it comes to your company's commitment to safety?
Fuchs: We train constantly. We can always develop; we can always get better. It's putting new supervisory staff with new additions to our team. It's based off of not necessarily how long you've been in the business but how safe you work, that's a little bit of a difference. I'm not about longevity. I'm not about if someone's been here 25 years or 15 years, they get the big job. I strictly run a business on the more contribution, the safer you are, the more you think out of the box, they'll go up and go up and grow up in the company. I have to have the leadership team in place and give people the opportunity to advance within the company. It's about transfer of knowledge. You have to be willing to transfer knowledge down. We're all about the team.
Trib: What keeps you up at night when it comes to leading your business right now?
Fuchs: Sustainability, making sure that we're out ahead of competition and we stay true to who we are. Our people need to speak their credo, good client service basically done and no shortcuts.
Katelyn Ferral is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5627 or email@example.com.
Published Tuesday May 5,2015, 10:27 P.M.
PITTSBURGH BUSINESS TIMES
Women in Energy Leadership and WING Awards 2015
Dawn Fuchs of Weaverton Environmental Group with her award at the 2015 Women In Energy Leadership awards at the Southpointe Golf Club.
Weavertown Environmental Group
THEN and NOW
Founded in 1981 by Donald Fuchs, Weavertown Environmental Group specializes in the transportation of hazardous and non-hazardous wastes and emergency response in hazardous conditions. The Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence has played a significant role in the company’s continued growth and development.
Attending the family business series offered by the Institute in 1997, Mr. Fuchs learned the importance of early succession planning and immediately reached out for assistance. His vision was to keep the business in the family, but he wanted to make sure he made the right choices for both the future success of his family and business. As the process unfolded it became clear that his daughter, Dawn, was the best choice to be his successor. Through careful planning and continued interaction with the Institute, it is clear that Don’s entrepreneurial spirit has continued with Dawn leading the company and taking it to the next level. Now, Weavertown is the Mid-Atlantic region’s premier provider of environmental hauling and remediation.
Pittsburgh Business Times
MEET YOUR MENTOR
BIZWOMEN MENTORING MONDAY
Dawn Fuch’s street smarts and quick execution when facing obstacles and opportunities have enabled her to achieve incredible success in the male-dominated environmental services industry. Her innovative thinking and tenacity resulted in the Pittsburgh Business Times naming Weavertown Environmental Group (WEG) as “one of the Top Seven Environmental Firms in Western Pennsylvania.”
Dawn’s father, Donald Fuchs, started the company in 1981 with one truck, serving as a bulk transporter for the oil field industry. Dawn joined the company in 1988 as a fuel desk clerk to learn the business from the ground up. After hours, she handled calls for the company’s newest service, emergency response. While her father’s philosophy had been “build a good product and business will come,” Dawn believed “you can have a good product, but if you want the sales you have to go after them.”
As the company began growing quickly, Dawn was named sales manger in 1995. While being responsible for her own accounts, she managed a sales staff of four employees. The steel industry responded to Weavertown’s sales model and the company grew to 200 employees. Dawn was named President in 2000.
Dawn Fuchs has initiated changes and new business models during her tenure as President. When the steel industry tanked in 2001 leaving the company with $2.25 million in non collectible receivables, the company reinvented itself overnight, moving toward remediation work in the utilities industry and petroleum distribution. Dawn diversified into the aggregate and landscape supply business, and started a towing business.
In addition to diversifying services, WEG has focused on geographic expansion. The company pays for training and certifications for its employees. WEG training is unique and years ahead of its competition. With Dawn’s vision, as the Marcellus Shale was nothing more than a buzz word in the 2006-2007 time frame, Dawn recognized the potential to expand their service to the natural gas industry and move the company into that arena. That vision has paid off for Weavertown and not just in the Marcellus but has also expanded in to the Utica and the pipeline industry as well.
Dawn currently serves as President & CEO. Under her leadership, WEG gives back to the community. When Hurricane Ivan hit our region, WEG staff performed life-saving rescues with company boats and donated countless hours and equipment toward clean up in Pittsburgh and southern states. Weavertown also participated in donating and delivering items to Hurricane Sandy victims.
A native of Canonsburg, Dawn resides in Washington County, PA. She served on the Renaissance Group to help revitalize Canonsburg and is the Washington County Coordinator for River Sweep, the largest organized volunteer river cleanup effort in the country. Dawn serves on a number of boards including Team Pennsylvania, University of Pittsburgh Institute of Entrepreneurial Excellence, Allegheny Conference on Community Development, Junior Achievement, Washington Health System, and General Carbide.