Mission: Detroit

From Southfield to the Motor City, 1,000 workers are on the move.

Sheldon Yellen isn’t the best drywall hanger, a fact he freely admits following his appearance on the CBS show Undercover Boss. But the trip to the front lines of his property restoration company, Belfor Holdings Inc. in Birmingham, brought into sharp focus the fact that a business is nothing without dedicated employees.

“It’s no bar mitzvah out there, but if you don’t have good people looking out for your customers, you’re not going to be around for the long haul,” says Yellen, CEO of Belfor, which has 6,400 employees spread across 30 countries.

“We’ve acquired some 80 companies over the years, and 70 of the people we bought from are now working for us. We handed some of them checks in the millions of dollars, and they still show up for work each day. If I learned anything from Undercover Boss,  it’s that you have to get out there and talk to your employees. You can’t sit behind the computer all day and answer emails.”

Yellen says he prefers to “observe people” as they describe challenges or new ideas. So when Doug Hamburger, president and CEO of The Professional Group (TPG), a multifaceted property services firm in Southfield that Belfor acquired in 2009, came to Yellen with a plan to relocate the subsidiary to downtown Detroit, Yellen was open-minded.

“I just kept looking at what was happening with Dan Gilbert and Quicken Loans bringing in 10,000 workers, Blue Cross Blue Shield bringing another 3,000 workers, General Motors was growing, and I was very passionate that we should be there,” Hamburger says. “Sheldon didn’t bat an eye. He said, ‘I love it, let’s do it.’ ”

Taking an entire floor at Chrysler House (formerly the Dime Building), representing 15,200 square feet of space, Hamburger says 65 managers and administrative employees will make the move from Southfield in early September. Another 1,000 workers will utilize the new headquarters space for training and administrative needs.

Providing cleaning, landscaping, snow removal, janitorial supplies, and other services, TPG is on pace to record close to $70 million in revenue this year. Local clients include the First National Building, Compuware Building, and DTE Energy in Detroit, as well as the Somerset Collection and Columbia Center, both in Troy. TPG has operations in 26 states, giving it a total of 1,500 workers. In July, TPG acquired a landscaping company in Orlando, Fla., adding $4 million in annual revenue. db