Huntington Insights: East Michigan | Business Spotlight | Spring 2018

A dynamic future

Jack Doheny turned his business into a ground-up success story by understanding his customers. Now his daughter, Kay Doheny, and President Steve Shafer are poised to lead it into the next generation.

Kay Doheny, CEO, Jack Doheny Companies

By Mark Scott

Jack Doheny Companies (JDC) has built a stellar reputation in its industry, becoming a leading sales and service company in the sewer maintenance space and beyond. The company’s success is the result of the hard work of its founder, Jack Doheny, who had an intense focus on the network of pumps and pipes that play an integral role in maintaining sanitation and health in modern society and a fierce dedication to the customer.

“We try to live his philosophy every day,” says owner Kay Doheny, who serves as the company’s CEO. “He was always proud to say, ‘I don’t put my money in the stock market, I put it into my business.’  We service what we sell. We stand behind everything we do.”

When Doheny passed away on New Year’s Day 2018 at age 87, he left behind a legacy through his company’s proud history and its dynamic and exciting future.

From its Northville, Michigan, home office, JDC has expanded across the country over four decades, opening branch locations and service centers in California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas and Utah, as well as Bolton, Ontario, Canada.

“We are excited about the opportunity that exists through the infrastructure improvements that will need to be made in North America in the coming years,” Shafer says. “We have always been in the infrastructure business, but we have expanded from sewer lines to power lines to gas lines, and we are continuing to both expand in our existing markets and pursue other new markets.”

“Even though we have a nationwide footprint, we operate like a family business,” Kay Doheny says. “We want our people to feel like a large, extended family, because if that’s how they feel, that’s how they’re going to treat our customers. Our business is very relationship-driven.”

While the company has continued to evolve over the years, Shafer is confident that JDC has taken many steps in the last three years to diversify and position the company for continued generations of success.

Steve Shafer, president, Jack Doheny Companies (seated) and Kay Doheny, CEO, Jack Doheny Companies <br> PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM MCKENZIE
Matt Ford, rental coordinator and Kay Doheny, CEO, at the Northville, Michigan headquarters of Jack Doheny Companies.

Local matters

Jack Doheny Companies has been selling and renting the best new, used and remanufactured vacuum trucks, sewer cleaning equipment and pipeline inspection systems for more than 40 years, and carries one of the largest selections of equipment in the world. The complexity of that machinery presents a great opportunity for a business that strives to be an invaluable resource to its customers when they need it most.

“You can’t just take a vacuum truck to the car dealership for service, and many contractors can’t have a fleet of people available to fix things,” Shafer says. “You need to have specialized service facilities, trained technicians, and you need to have them where customers can access them.”
This desire to provide whatever the customer needs has driven the company’s growth strategy since 2000. Jack Doheny Companies has the equipment to get the job done and the talent in the field to quickly assess a situation and respond.

“We don’t create initiatives from our corporate office in Michigan,” Shafer says. “We hire managers throughout the footprint because we need their first-hand knowledge and experience to develop regional strategies that meet our customers’ needs.”

For example, recent growth in infrastructure spending has led to large contractors looking for additional equipment rentals, providing an opportunity for the company to diversify its fleet and continue to invest in new products to meet rising demands. Because Jack Doheny Companies has always taken great care to service its equipment, it was well positioned to meet the contractor need from its used equipment inventory.

“Empowering our local teams to help drive our strategic decisions supports our culture of wanting to be best in class.” — Steve Shafer, president, Jack Doheny Companies
”By continuing to invest in new equipment, we are continually renewing our fleet of used equipment to meet the urgent demands of the markets they serve,” Shafer says.

Expanding the rental business highlighted just how different each market is, providing an opportunity to focus on new ways to meet the needs not only of customers but of employees at each of the company’s locations.

This localized approach allows JDC to attract employees who understand the markets they serve.

“Empowering our local teams to help drive our strategic decisions supports our culture of wanting to be best in class. These people are the ones talking to our customers on a regular basis, discussing new trends in the industry or in the region, learning about the challenges our customers face on a regular basis,” Shafer says. There’s an immense sense of pride from our employees when they get to be part of the decisions that make our customers’ lives better.”

Pushing the decision-making downward been a significant change in the way the business operates. Decentralizing some of the decision-making and information flow allows JDC to be more innovative because ultimately, its employees are more in touch with
its customers.

“We do not buy anything now without our people out in the field driving the decision and being part of the process,” Shafer says. “And because it is their decision, they make sure it is successful. They tell us what to get them instead of us telling them what they are going to get. We put a lot of faith in our people in these localized roles.”

Steve Shafer, president, Jack Doheny Companies (seated) and Kay Doheny, CEO, Jack Doheny Companies <br> PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM MCKENZIE
Kay Doheny, CEO, Jack Doheny Companies

Training the next generation

Training is another operational aspect of the business that originated from Jack Doheny at the company’s founding. In addition to his own employees, he always remembered the people tasked with installing, repairing and cleaning the sewer and sanitation systems.

“Jack’s commitment to the market was to educate everyone,” Doheny says. “He had a passion for sewer cleaning technology and equipment, and he could talk for days about how to do it. He felt everyone should know how to run a sewer cleaner and a sewer cleaning business. That determination evolved into Doheny Technical Institute (DTI), which was established in 2014. It speaks to his passion as well as anything.”

DTI offers a wide selection of training courses to teach end users skills and techniques that are useful both in the field and the classroom. The courses include, but are not limited to, equipment operation, safety practices and inspection coding. Each course is designed to fully educate every student in proper use and evaluation methods relating to the chosen topic.

“Upon his passing, in lieu of money or flowers, Jack wanted donations to the National Association of Sewer Service Companies to help develop more young talent to be able to do these types of jobs,” Doheny says. “There is even a fund set up in Jack’s name, the Jack Doheny Memorial Training Scholarship.
“We want our people to feel like a large, extended family, because if that’s how they feel, that’s how they’re going to treat our customers.” — Kay Doheny, CEO, Jack Doheny Companies

A team approach

As Jack Doheny Companies continues to evolve, President Steve Shafer is confident that Huntington will remain at the company’s side as the business expands and grows.

“They recognize and understand the challenges we face in our business,” says Shafer. “They took a conservative approach to create responsible, long-term solutions to help build the foundation for JDC’s continued success.”

When the company sought to reorganize its financial structure, Huntington worked with leaders to identify a solution.

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