Cleaning Agents

Sweeping through Vermont with over 90 employees

by Phyl Newbeck

loso0617In 2013, after Harry Loso (left) suffered a massive heart attack, his son, Chris, left his 80- to 90-hour-a-week job with Booz Allen Hamilton in D.C. to come home and help with the family’s South Burlington business, Loso’s Professional Janitorial Service. He says he’s never looked back.

Chris Loso has worked in well-appointed corner offices with spacious views in New York City and Washington, D.C., but these days his place of business is a second-floor walk-up in a nondescript commercial park in South Burlington. He traded his suit and tie for a better work/life balance and the opportunity to carry on his father’s legacy as the vice president of Loso’s Professional Janitorial Services Inc.

Chris’s father, Harry, came from a big farm family and was the only one of his siblings to go to college. He was an educator with odd jobs on the side, but after he and his wife, a nurse at Fletcher Allen Health Care, divorced, he married a woman with her own set of children and began to look for another way to make a living.

Chris was born in Vermont, but spent some time in Massachusetts when Harry was working in education. They returned to Vermont when he was in elementary school and Harry was named vice principal at Fairfax High School. After a time in Proctor, where Harry had another education position, the family moved to South Burlington, where his stepmother was with New England Telephone Co. Chris graduated from South Burlington High School in 1988.

Harry opened Loso’s Professional Janitorial Services in 1983 and continues to serve as president of the company. “In education, your salary really doesn’t change,” Harry says, “but in cleaning, the more you work, the more money you make.”

Chris credits his high school teacher Bill Price for encouraging his interest in politics and government. Going into his senior year, he snagged an internship with then U.S. Rep. James Jeffords that included working on his senatorial campaign from an office in the Champlain Mill — a job that occasionally required wearing a cow costume, he says.

As a student at Clark University, he majored in political science and minored in philosophy and international development. For two summers, he worked for Jeffords (elected to the Senate in 1988) in his Burlington office, and entering his senior year, moved to the Washington, D.C., office to intern. “That’s when the bug really hit,” he says.

Chris was aiming for a career in finance or law but jumped at the opportunity to return to Jeffords’s staff when offered a job in the Washington office after graduation. His initial assignment was writing constituent letters, but he soon began to work on legislation, including bills to improve trade relations with Taiwan and Mexico and to increase the cap on catastrophic insurance claims.

In a different field of play, Chris proudly reveals that he was the player manager for Jeffords’s softball team (“I think in the summer of 1994,” he says) when they finally defeated the team fielded by Sen. Patrick Leahy after years of losses.

Working on the Taiwan trade mission led to another opportunity. Chris was offered a scholarship to study Mandarin Chinese at the national university in Taipei for six months. While there, he secured a job to serve as the conduit for trade show representatives from other American cities and states. Afterwards, he took the opportunity to travel for three months across Hong Kong, Singapore, China, and Australia. “That was my last play time for a while,” he recalls.

During that vacation, Chris began applying to graduate schools. After gaining admission to several, he decided he was more interested in public policy and enrolled at Columbia University for a master’s degree in public administration from the School of International and Public Affairs.

His connection to Columbia continues to this day. For the last 13 years, he has taught a graduate level course on benchmarking for organizational development at the School of International and Public Affairs, a course he also taught for one semester at North Carolina State and Duquesne University.

After graduation, Chris’s career began to blossom with stints at Deloitte & Touche, Unisys, Arthur Andersen, and KPMG Consulting, working on process and technology improvement projects for federal, state, and local government clients around the country.

One project for the newly formed Department of Homeland Security focused on creating a system of standardization for communications, protective equipment, and processes to help responders quickly and effectively address emergencies.

He also led an organizational change team for the City University of New York that helped with transitioning its employees and students to a new resource-planning system. Living in New York and D.C., he moved up to leadership level at KPMG and then Deloitte.

Booz Allen Hamilton recruited him to lead a list of civilian federal agency projects for the likes of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the IRS, and General Services Agency.

“I was working seven days a week for 80 to 90 hours,” he says. “Then my father had a massive heart attack in 2012, and my stepmother called to see if I would come and help run the business.”

Booz Allen was supportive, allowing him to take a year off, although he went back and forth every week and continued to help the company. “I went back eight months later but my heart wasn’t in it.”

The lead partners were shocked about his decision to leave. “They joked they’d buy Loso’s Janitorial to keep me,” he says, noting that he stayed another three months to help transition another person to his position. These days, he feels he has reclaimed his life. “I have more of a sense of control,” he says.

Loso’s has more than 100 corporate clients, and Chris has expanded the company from 56 to about 100 employees working across the state. Many have been with the business for over eight years, including operations manager Barry Craig, evening supervisors Sherry Sartelle and Curtis Benjamin, and carpet/floor-care specialist Edmond Tourangeau.

One of the company’s clients is The University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC). Ashley Bond, its manager of property and real estate services, estimates that Loso’s Janitorial has worked for UVM for 15 years, serving at least half of the satellite locations that require janitorial services. “They are always pleasant to work with and they are very dedicated to our mission of putting patient safety first,” she says.

Despite the fact that UVMMC has satellite centers across Chittenden County, Loso’s is able to respond within an hour if there is an emergency situation that requires cleanup. “They mobilize a team for that emergency consistently and reliably,” Bond says.

Roughly a tenth of the company’s employees are people with either physical or cognitive impairments, and Diane Dalmasse, director of Vermont’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, praises Chris for his work in the field of disability employment. “He was instrumental, if not a kind of one-man show, in revitalizing and re-energizing the Governor’s Committee on the Employment of People with Disabilities,” she says. “He’s tireless. I don’t think he sleeps.”

Dalmasse also credits him with launching the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act awards, which are presented each October to businesses across the state.

He might no longer work 80-hour weeks, but Chris’s life is still a busy one. Among his many interests is scuba diving: over 100 dives in exotic locations such as Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Thailand, Australia, and Florida. He splits his time between a South Burlington condo and a house in Baltimore that he shares with his fiancée, Rebecca Stone, a gynecological oncologist at Johns Hopkins Medicine. He proposed to her last spring in New York City, temporarily frightening her when he dropped to one knee in the middle of Central Park.

He has just stepped down as chair of the Governor’s Committee on the Employment of People with Disabilities and joined the Lund board of trustees, serving as chair of its development committee. He also serves on the development committee of the Community Health Centers of Burlington, the state workforce investment board, and as a business representative for a training grant program run by the Vermont Department of Economic Development and the Vermont Department of Labor.

He’s not above getting his hands dirty. “Oftentimes, I go out to help clean, train new employees, and wash windows,” he says. “All members of the management team chip in as needed.”

He recognizes that there is more to the company than just the work it does. “It’s all relationship-driven,” he says. “It’s not just about cleaning, but about understanding the clients’ needs.” He wants to ensure his employees feel supported in what they do. “Many of them have other jobs,” he says “but we want them to build ownership in their work.”

Harry, who divides his time between homes in South Burlington and Ellicott City, Maryland, is thrilled with his son’s work with the company. “He’s taken it to a whole new level,” he says. “If there are things he needs advice on, he calls me, but otherwise he runs the show. And as time goes by, he calls me less and less. He’s really done an outstanding job.”

Chris recognizes that sometimes family dynamics can interfere with a work relationship but says that’s not the case for him and his father. “We see eye-to-eye on everything,” he says. “I want to make sure I keep what he created and I don’t want to let him down.”

Another mentor Chris hopes to honor is Jim Jeffords. Harry is a horse racing aficionado (owns four horses, all with Chris), and several years ago he and Chris went to an auction to buy some. They bid on a yearling that was a bit gangly, and Chris asked and received permission from Jeffords’s daughter to name him Jeezum Jim.

The now 4-year-old horse won three consecutive races last fall and finished 4th and 5th in stakes races. The cow suit is long gone, but the desire to honor Jeffords’s legacy remains. •