Carol Taylor runs A Clean Slate, a thriving full-service commercial and construction cleaning company. The company partnered with Burns & McDonnell in 2020 to complete the final cleaning of the firm’s latest world headquarters expansion. Taylor is also the recipient of the 2019 Hero Award, presented by Burns & McDonnell at its annual Community of Inclusion Awards. This award recognized Taylor's investment in hiring and training employees from economically distressed areas of the Kansas City urban core.
Q: What is your company, A Clean Slate, all about?
A: A Clean Slate is a construction and final cleaning company that does pre- and post-construction site cleaning. What enables A Clean Slate to do what it does is the people. What I have been doing for the last 18 years is making sure that people are getting a good living wage. We are headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, with another office in Omaha, Nebraska, and certifications to work in Tennessee, Nevada and Minnesota. A Clean Slate is also the parent company for CL Taylor Enterprises, a construction supply company specializing in concrete supplies, and KC Paint Co., which offers wayfinding painting.
Q: How do you show appreciation to the people who work for you?
A: I am a business owner who is responsible for more than 30 people. That is a scary thing. For a long time, we were never in a place to offer health insurance and benefits. Now, we are in a position to offer these benefits, and I think that is awesome.
Q: What are you most looking forward to for A Clean Slate?
A: About six years ago, we hit a rough patch, and it felt like there was no relief in sight. We were just surviving because that’s all we could do at that time.
Today, I have the same uneasy feeling that I had six years ago. I am uncomfortable because there is more to be done. We’re going into something greater than where we were six years ago, where we were a year ago, even where we were last month. With that comes greater responsibility for me and for my employees. That’s why I wanted to get health insurance. When we go into something even greater, we have to be prepared.
We have slow seasons in construction. When it’s slow, there is still business to be done — that’s our motto. It’s time to adjust our practices and policies. We have time to go back and review why we didn’t get certain projects and assess how we did on others. We constantly have to be prepared, even when there’s no sign of what’s to come. So, right now, we’re getting prepared.
Q: How has the pandemic impacted your business?
A: We didn’t miss a beat on our construction side. In 2020, it took us six months to do what we achieved in all of 2019. There were some projects pushed to 2021, but as far as the construction side, we exceeded expectations.
Our janitorial side suffered the most. I walked away from one of the contracts because when things started to slow down, I was able to see that we weren’t really making any money from the project. I was able to pull these numbers and understand our real profit. Had the pandemic not happened, I honestly would have never had the time to see what could be improved to better our business. That was the greatest lesson I learned during the pandemic.
Q: What do you look for in the companies you contract with?
A: We look for folks who are socially responsible. I look for diversity inside the company and I also look at what people of color and women work there. We want to work with folks who look like us, represent us well and are not afraid to have us on the job site. I don’t want to be the best kept secret who only works in certain parts of Kansas City. We don’t want to be the ones who can’t work out in the suburbs because the company doesn’t want people to see us. Let me tell you, that does happen. It’s still happening to this day. I’m not on the job site, so I have to make sure a company will respect my employees.
We want to do business with companies that want to do business with us, not because they have to, but because we do good, quality work and deliver on schedule. We don’t just meet the expectation, we exceed it. Companies call me back and respect me because A Clean Slate is about business. It is not just because I’m a minority woman, but because I’m a businesswoman who just happens to be a minority woman.
Q: What lessons would you share with other diverse business owners?
A: This is a journey, and you have to be ready for the journey. This is the time to think bigger — a time to step out and do something more than what you are already doing. I tell my staff that we don’t get stuck in a win and we don’t get stuck in a loss. When we win a contract, we celebrate. When we lose a contract, we look at what happened and try to fix it. And then we move on to the next one. We don’t get stuck. We enjoy the journey because it’s all a lesson to learn.
This post is part of Together By Design, a quarterly business diversity newsletter published by Burns & McDonnell to advance a community of inclusion. This newsletter features stories of great opportunity, leaders who bring out the best in others, innovative approaches, and diverse perspectives that shape the business community and the world at large.