Hard Work Appreciated

May 07, 1994|By Jay Hancock | Jay Hancock,Sun Staff Writer

Nobody works harder than Dorothy J. White. And she doesn't understand why not.

Folks these days are lazy, spoiled and ungrateful, she says. Hiring good employees is her toughest job.

"It's not what you have, it's what you do with it. A lot of us want money but don't want to work for it," says Mrs. White, owner of Hanover-based Miracle Cleaning Services Inc. "People want something for nothing. . . . I worked for my money."

Lest Mrs. White come off as another peevish, "you can't get good help" fat-cat, consider this:

She toiled as a girl in the Georgia cotton fields for $3 a day. Her father shot rabbits and squirrels sometimes to put food on the table.

She started scrubbing floors for pay in 1981 and built a 900-employee commercial cleaning company with $12 million in annual sales. She starts her day at 4:30 a.m. She still picks up the mop and dust rag.

Yesterday, Mrs. White, 55, was formally named Maryland Small-Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration. To choose her and her company, the agency used the usual ledger-book measures: sales growth, employment, profitability.

She aced most categories. But she might have scored even higher in factors the judges didn't gauge: plain speaking, gumption and energy.

A homemaker for decades who didn't go to college, Mrs. White was forced into the workplace 13 years ago when heart trouble sidelined her husband. Once manager of a business machine company, James White saw his income shrink to disability payments.

Mrs. White did the only thing she knew. She answered a classified ad, showed up at a Columbia door and started scrubbing toilets.

She built references by dusting the hard-to-reach molding, vacuuming the closets and getting all the bathtub scum. "You'd go into some of these houses, and they're supposed to be clean," she recalled, smiling. "They ain't clean."

She hired other housekeepers and set up Miracle Cleaning in 1982. "I didn't know anything about business," she said.

She learned.

Customers' whose checks bounced were put on a cash-only list. "No green, no clean," Mrs. White would tell them.

She struggled with hiring. "That was the hardest part," she said. "I didn't know people were so lazy."

When Miracle started chasing office-cleaning jobs, Mrs. White's persistence and disregard for convention landed business. She's always been -- her word -- "cheeky." As a little girl in the days of Jim Crow, she would sip at whites-only fountains "to see if the water tasted any different." When she wed New York Irishman James White in 1964, interracial marriages were hardly discussed, let alone practiced.

Even as Miracle's sales grew into the multiple millions, the boss didn't lose her touch with the cleanser and Hoover.

Last year a Columbia landlord complained about Miracle's job on his 100,000-square-foot office building. Mrs. White worked three nights in a row until 3 a.m. cleaning, said Joseph S. Boddiford III, Miracle's general manager.

Today, Miracle is too big to do homes. The company is responsible for cleaning office space in Maryland, Washington and Virginia. Clients include the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the U.S. Department of Interior, Westinghouse Electric Corp. and Martin Marietta Corp.

Mrs. White's son and two daughters, as well as her husband, work at the company.

Much of Miracle's revenue has come from the federal government's set-aside program for minority businesses, known as 8a. But the company, which graduates from 8a next year, doesn't want to get hooked on government jobs. Thirty-five percent of its business is from the private sector.

On Wednesday, Mrs. White, who owns 95 percent of Miracle, was honored with other small-business winners in a ceremony at the White House.

Yesterday, she received her SBA award at the Omni Inner Harbor Hotel in Baltimore. Speakers praised her business savvy. A crowd of hundreds gave her a standing ovation.

But she still does her own floors.

"I can't find anybody as good," she said. "I clean my own home."

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