By Cheryl Higley
2016 CEO of the Year Mikhail Evgrafov.
There is an energy about Mikhail Evgrafov. You can feel it when
you talk to him, a sense that while he’s present with you, his mind is constantly churning with ideas and to-dos - all of which center around taking his company, Monster Plowing Company in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, to the next level.
With an entrepreneurial spirit that started with a paper route at 13, Evgrafov has built Monster Plowing into a force to be reckoned with. He’s had bumps along the way, but his determination, hard work and perseverance have helped elevate his company from a $1,000 startup to one that topped $1.5 million in revenue last winter. He never quits, preaches professionalism and is determined to provide a better life for his team and those in his community. Evgrafov gracefully and humbly shares his success with those who helped get him to where he is today - a successful business owner in a thriving market and chosen by his peers as the 2017 Snow Business CEO of the Year. Shaped by early influences
Mikhail’s family immigrated from Russia to Canada when he was 4. His parents divorced and he watched as his mother, a school teacher, worked tirelessly to provide for him. Struggling to make ends meet, Mikhail took on part-time jobs to contribute to the household. From a paper route, to operating a hot dog stand outside a friend’s deli, to opening a computer repair and web design business at the age of 16, Mikhail was charting his own destiny.
“Growing a successful business became my goal, and the allure of the stability that could come with success was worth the risks I knew I’d have to take,” he says. A rough start
Evgrafov’s first foray into snow and ice management began with a friend as a business partner, a Dodge Durango with a winch-powered snowplow, and hastily created flyers. Ten customers and a brutal winter later, they were able to pay back the loan on the truck and come out a few hundred dollars ahead. He spent the summer creating a true business plan that would capitalize on what he saw as deficiencies in the market. The result was a portfolio of 150 contracted clients, but Mikhail knew he was playing with fire.
“Running a snow removal business at age 20 with no experience, no connections, and no real clue proved to be extremely difficult,” he says. “Luckily it only snowed five times, which allowed me the time to learn the ropes and challenges of the industry. I learned that I didn’t have the equipment, the people or the infrastructure to handle what I was building. Plus, my partner had to step away from the business for personal reasons. But I persevered, and took the following summer to recuperate and reorganize - and Monster Plowing Company was born.”
With half of the revenue value of the contracts he had started with, Mikhail delivered thousands of flyers, learned to manage payroll and accounts receivables and staffing and equipment. Since that first winter of 2010-11, he has developed innovative service solutions and built Monster Plowing into an award-winning service provider. The company now comprises over 35 trucks, 50 snow fighters and 380 contracted properties that range from hospitals, schools, shopping malls, office buildings and businesses to high-end private homes.
“It took many years, hard lessons, constant evolution and trial and error to get where we are today,” he says. “I have devoted all of my time to my company because I am determined not to let luck be the main enabler of my success.” Taking on Toronto
Determined to build the best company he can, Mikhail implemented new technologies, unique contract structures and routing optimization (see below). He also has built an “amazing, omni-capable management team” that is cross-trained for all jobs in the company. Combining tangible assets and strong processes with human capital and a religiously updated database that tracks every aspect of the company, Mikhail is removing the guesswork from the operational equation, which allows him to focus on promoting professionalism and the importance of hiring qualified contractors in the market.
Mikhail Evgrafov (right) relies on a core management team that includes George Armstrong (left) and Ian Middelkamp
to guide snow operations.
“Professionalism is an easy word to throw around; however, it is much harder to meet the demands associated with actually embodying it. To be a true professional requires a thorough mix of accountability, knowledge, experience, honesty, integrity and pride. I have tried to instill this attitude in all facets of my life and in all of my staff,” he says. “In an industry rife with people promising one thing but delivering another, it has always been my No. 1 mandate to ensure that we embody what it takes to be a professional contractor.”
While he preaches professionalism to his team, Evgrafov says it’s a constant battle to educate potential clients on what professional snow and ice management should look like (and how much it should cost).
There are a ton of hidden overhead expenses involved in providing top quality, always on time, professional winter services,” he says. “It is a yearly challenge to make potential new clients aware that, even though they may have received a lower quote, the cheapest option is not always the right one - and that you definitely get what you pay for in this business.”
His hope is that his positive, straightforward approach will yield the best results for his team, his clients and his company: “Monster Plowing Company is blessed to be able to do what we do and we want all of our customers to feel the same positive feelings in their dealings with us,” he says. “In order to have happy, respectful, satisfied clients, Monster must bring with it an aura of helpful, confident positivism. That has to start with me and work through all levels of the company.” A shift in thinking
As he has built Monster Plowing Company, Mikhail admits that his success has come at great personal expense, and that is something he knows he must work on in order to be the best leader he can be. An avid athlete, chess player and pianist, Evgrafov is learning that all work and no play is good for no one. Soon he hopes to be able to loosen the reins and entrust what he has built to his team.
“I am slowly learning to set aside time for my personal life and to maintain a healthier schedule,” he says. “I want to be there all the time and trust in my ability to do whatever I set my mind to, but I have also learned that developing a group of trustworthy people who can empower and coach each other is vital for the collective success of the company.”
Evgrafov’s approach must be working, since Monster’s management team (led by George Armstrong) nominated him for the award. The news came as quite a shock to him, which is no easy feat given his deep involvement in the company.
“To be nominated by my amazing management team is an extreme honor,” he says. “I could never have imagined building such success when I picked up a snow shovel for the first time in 2008. I feel so grateful that the blood, sweat and tears that we have invested have, beyond all odds, garnered the attention of this great industry.”
Innovation at work
At age 27, CEO of the Year Mikhail Evgrafov says his primary focus is elevating Monster Plowing Company to the point where it can operate at full capacity without his daily help and intervention. He leads by example. He is working to bring change and to promote the importance of professional snow and ice management in his Toronto market and would like to continue helping bring the snow industry into the 21st century.
Better pay and recognition. Toronto has a high cost of living, and coupled with the fact that snow and ice management workers are called on to work in tough conditions, Evgrafov is determined to provide fair compensation for his team and to shine the spotlight on their efforts. “It has been a point of contention for me to ensure that workers receive adequate, fair compensation for the grueling, yeoman’s work that we perform,” he says. “I hope to continue building a business that can increase the awareness of how important, and difficult, our jobs really are.” Mikhail says he hopes to serve as an example to and share his knowledge with up-and-coming service providers.
Technology. Monster Plowing has completely embraced the advent of new technologies to bring efficiency to operations.
“I was lucky to grow up in a time when groundbreaking innovations were being introduced, and my personal interest in consumer technology has helped me with the awareness of which systems and products to implement in the business,” Evgrafov says.
The company’s entire fleet is constantly monitored with live GPS tracking and all routes are meticulously generated and optimized using custom routing software. Each crew uses a tablet connected to software that displays logs of all sites they have serviced. Starting this season, Monster will maintain a proprietary quality control system that enables all properties to be photographed and the photos logged every time service is performed.
Evgrafov says the company balances the expense of implementing technology by ensuring it invests in tailored, proven systems that will stand the test of time along with less industry-specific solutions that have lower monthly costs.
“We adapted several of the service specific technologies we use from better developed and more established industries like the trucking and delivery sectors; and other systems like marketing, customer relations, payroll and management software have come in the form of the most widely available solutions,” he says. “Since the systems we have implemented are well proven, with an array of support and routine updates, we are able to confidently plan our investment over the course of at least seven years from inception.”
Unique contract structures. Monster Plowing offers all-inclusive, unlimited plowing and deicing for a flat rate, seasonally contracted price. What sets the company apart is its tiered service packages that ultimately determine how fast the customer will receive service and which deicing option is included:
- The Priority Package guarantees a visit prior to 6 a.m. if it has been snowing and includes unlimited service every time there is
1 cm (less than a half-inch) of snow, emergency opening during morning and daytime snowfalls, multiple cleanups after heavy snowfall, anti-icing, and automatic deicing. This package is usually chosen by busy, traffic-laden properties with extreme safety requirements like hospitals, commercial plazas, schools, etc.
- The Complete Package includes all Priority Package service with a 9 a.m. visit guarantee and no pre-storm ice management.
“Our packages cater to all property types and sizes, and the service tier is entirely up to the client,” Evgrafov says. “This allows them to work within their budget and to be satisfied with the level of service they pay for. The logistical requirements required to deliver on our service promises are extensive; but because we have guaranteed seasonal commitments, we are able to plan our operational expenses and ensure staff and equipment availability when and where it is required.”
Last winter, Monster Plowing switched to using 100% ClearLane Enhanced Deicer. While the product is more expensive than regular rock salt, Mikhail Evgrafov says the risk of investing in the extra cost paid off because it enables the company to use less product, to minimize bounce and scatter and cleanup, and to nearly eliminate damage to landscaping and concrete. “It made for much easier spring cleaning and will be instrumental in prolonging the life of our equipment. The higher upfront material cost has more than paid for itself with all of the accrued benefits that came along with the product.” More efficient salt use, along with unique contracts, equitable pay, and cutting edge technology are positioning Monster Plowing as a leader in its market.
It takes a village
A mother, a fellow businessman, teachers, a friend, an experienced co-worker…these people and more have helped Mikhail Evgrafov - and by extension Monster Plowing Company - become a success. Evgrafov freely admits he couldn’t have done it without them and shares the experiences and qualities they instilled in him.
Resilience, logic and patience – His grandpa, Nikolai Shargorodskii, a World War II veteran and acclaimed engineer.
The power of belief in self – Stuart Foster, an educator and businessman, who showed Mikhail “loving kindness and resolute support when no one else would.”
Second chances must be earned,
not given – Teacher Shai Maharaj
The power of entrepreneurship – Teacher Frank Porco
Composure and loyalty – Best friend Cesare (Chez) Ierullo, a veteran of the Afghan war. “He is an inspiration daily and is always there for me when I need him.”
Integrity – Frank Compierchio, who Mikhail touts as “the most accountable, up front and honest mechanic who taught me to follow the golden rule of business.”
Of all those Evgrafov mentioned, the highest praise was reserved for his mother, Nadia Evgrafova. His parents immigrated to Canada from Russia, and after they divorced, she struggled to make ends meet and battled health troubles. Mikhail said his mother, an elementary school teacher, instilled the importance of education and taught him to think analytically, to establish plans and goals for the future, effective organization and to believe in himself.
“I watched my mom struggle every day but was astounded by her determination to never let any setback stop her from achieving her goals. She bravely and boldly managed to build a new life for us. I was infinitely aware that nothing in this world comes easy, and that you must tirelessly battle if you want to achieve even the most reasonable of goals,” he says. “She gets credit for teaching me the majority of anything I know and still continues to push me every day to be the best man I can be.”
Childhood shapes Evgrafov’s community service
Mikhail Evgrafov missed out on a lot of his childhood, so it’s only natural that when it comes to community service he focuses on restoring the innocence of youth.
“Childhood is a very important time in life. My family didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up,” he notes. “I was forced to grow up quickly as a kid, and looking back I realize a lot of my innocence was lost.”
Hoping to do his part to give others a positive experience, Evgrafov supports as many fundraisers as possible. In 2015, Monster Plowing Company donated nearly $8,000 to various children’s charities, including the purchase of several skids of toys that were delivered to the local CP24 CHUM Christmas Wish Toy Drive.
Monetary donations are just the start for Evgrafov, who hopes to do more in the future by donating his time and one day establishing a nonprofit organization.
“It is absolutely vital for a true leader to give back to their community,” he says. “In observing the youth of today, I realize that childhood is not held as sacred as it once was. I want to help empower troubled youth and enable their ultimate personal success, regardless of the havoc that they may face in their day-to-day lives.”
Twelve candidates were nominated for this year’s Snow Business CEO of the Year award. The winner was selected in an anonymous vote by the Snow Business Editorial Advisory Committee, a member of SIMA’s Board of Directors, a sponsor representative and 2015 CEO of the Year Bob Greene. Thanks to Western Products, Fisher Engineering and SnowEx
for their support and sponsorship of the CEO of the Year award.
Cheryl Higley is editorial director of Snow Business magazine. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.