How a female entrepreneur gained Traction in a male-dominated industry

Tiera Covington, EO Hawaii, is the founder and president of Integrated Facility Services Hawaii (IFSH). She was recently recognized as an honoree in Pacific Business News’ 2021 Women Who Mean Business and named Pacific Edge’s 2021 Businesswoman of the Year. Tiera’s unique story spans a full career in the Air Force to the corporate world to entrepreneurship. We asked Tiera about her inspiring entrepreneurial journey. Here’s what she shared:

Tell us about your entrepreneurial journey. 

I was raised by my single mother in Honolulu, Hawaii. I enlisted in the Hawaii Air National Guard right after graduating high school and served for 20 years as a Cyber Transport Systems Technician.

In 2001, while serving in the Hawaii Air National Guard, I started working for ABM Onsite Services as the Administrative Assistant. I worked my way up through the company as the Bookkeeper, Office Manager, Project Manager, Janitorial Manager and Hawaii Branch Manager. Ultimately, I was responsible for the overall janitorial and engineering operations, managing over 300 employees. 

What was the pivotal moment when you knew you had to start your own business?

I worked at my previous company for 16 years before I decided to leave. For over a year, I faced harassment and discrimination. I endured this treatment because, as a woman in a male-dominated industry, I was determined to have a voice for not only myself but also for others.

However, there was a point when I realized that no matter what I did, things were not going to change. I realized I could make a significant change in the industry by forming my own company.

I had the support of other business owners in the community who encouraged me to leave. They told me, “I will be there for you to help start your business because someone was there for me when I started.” I am forever grateful for that moment.

They gave me the confidence to start fresh and continue to do what I love.

In 2017, I started my own facilities maintenance company, Integrated Facility Services Hawaii (IFSH). We provide janitorial, landscaping, maintenance and site management services for residential and commercial properties. I’ve grown IFSH from US$54,000 in 2017 to US$4.9 million in 2021. IFSH ranked No. 6 on Pacific Business News Hawaii’s list of Fastest Growing Companies in 2021. 

What challenges have you overcome in running your own business?

I’m naturally a positive person and always believe the best in people. Unfortunately, I’ve faced dishonest and deceitful situations that blindsided me in the business. As a result, I’ve learned to take my time to recruit the right person for the right seat to join our team.

We use the Ideal Team Player interview guide to determine if candidates are “Humble, Hungry and Smart.”

“Humble team members are quick to point out the contributions of others and slow to seek attention for their own. They share credit, emphasize team over self, and define success collectively rather than individually. Hungry team members are self-motivated and diligent. They are constantly thinking about the next step and the next opportunity. Smart team members are interpersonally appropriate and aware. They have good judgment and intuition around subtleties of group dynamics and the impact of their words and actions,” she shared in a recent interview with Building Management Hawaii.

Everything that we do revolves around our company core values: integrity always, passion-driven, objective empathy and continuous learner. Our core values help the entire organization stay aligned and focused on the mission.

I’ve also learned the importance of giving back and encouraging IFSH’s employees, clients and residents to give back to the community. In recent years we’ve donated produce boxes to residents in need, fundraised for Make-A-Wish and Special Olympics Hawaii, cooked for the families at the Ronald McDonald House Charities, collected back-to-school donations and supported the Ho’omalu O Na Kamali’ children’s shelter on Oahu.

In 2019, 2020 and 2021, IFSH was awarded the IREM Workplace Environment Award for exemplary practices in leadership development, employee engagement, corporate culture and wellness programs.

You received multiple awards for business growth and culture. To what do you owe these accolades?

Since joining EO, I’ve learned the critical importance of systems and processes in growing and scaling a business. The EO Hawaii community introduced me to Gino Wichman’s book, Traction, and the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS).

We started using Traction in 2019 and created our company core values, vision statement, mission statement and 10-year target. We’ve also partnered with an implementer to ensure we have the right tools and direction for growth.

I attribute these recent awards and recognition to our leadership team. Implementing EOS and following the tenets of Traction has helped us tremendously to stay focused on the mission and continue to build strong, healthy relationships within our organization. 

How has your EO impacted your entrepreneurial journey?

I’ve been in EO for three years. It’s amazing to know other business leaders in our community that have similar challenges as myself but have different types of businesses. I really do think I have the best Forum!  We completely trust, can be totally vulnerable and genuinely love each other. Such relationships are rare and hard to find in any lifetime.

For more insights and inspiration from today’s leading entrepreneurs, check out EO on Inc. and more articles from the EO blog



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