How Going From Owner to Employee Made This Entrepreneur a Better Leader

Rik Nonelle founded Window Genie, grew it for 22 years and then sold it -- but stayed on as president.
How Going From Owner to Employee Made This Entrepreneur a Better Leader
Image credit: Courtesy of Window Genie
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This story appears in the March 2018 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Rik Nonelle is used to being the boss. In 1994, he founded Window Genie in Cincinnati, and spent more than two decades growing it, with 120 franchisees across 30 states. But in 2016, Nonelle changed paths: He sold the company to the Dwyer Group, a Waco, Tex.-based corporation that owns 17 franchise brands, including Molly Maid and Mr. Rooter, and oversees 2,800 franchise owners across nine countries. But Nonelle wasn’t just after a payday. He stayed on as the president, working out of the same Cincinnati office he occupied before the sale. And while he may not be top dog on the org chart anymore, he believes the sale helped him be a better leader -- and helped every franchisee he has brought in. 

Related: 22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

Why did you decide to sell Window Genie? 

I believe one of the reasons you start a business is to prepare, ultimately, to sell your business. I have a very good friend who sold a large company the year before I sold Window Genie, and he told me that if and when someone comes knocking, you need to have a really good reason for saying no. My only strong “no” was in answer to Do I want to be an employee again after 24 years? But ultimately the yeses outweighed that concern. It’s the responsibility as a CEO to provide more opportunity for growth, income and equity for your owners, and I really felt like the acquisition with Dwyer would provide that.

What was your primary consideration as you pulled together this deal? 

Franchising is all about relationships -- the idea of selling and just walking away oftentimes doesn’t happen. If you care about your owners, it really matters whom you’re selling to. You’ve got to find the people and the company that are a fit, culturally and ethically.

Related: 20 Leadership Quotes From the World's Most Influential Leaders

What has the transition been like for you?

Dwyer is a much, much larger company with a lot of systems behind the machine that drives the business. They allowed us to maintain our Cincinnati headquarters, even though the Dwyer campus is in Waco. So part of the challenge was, in addition to integrating those systems, being far away from headquarters, where Dwyer has 11 buildings and hundreds of employees. But Dwyer executives frequently come here, and we go there. After year one, it’s gone pretty well.

Has it been difficult to consider yourself an employee again, even as you continue to lead Window Genie? 

It doesn’t feel like a big change, because they’re still entrusting me to run the company the way I always have. Dwyer doesn’t buy troubled companies and try to fix them. They’re not trying to tell me what to do differently, because we were already successful. On a day-to-day basis, it feels like what I’ve always done; there’s just a higher authority now. And there are certainly more meetings! And we now have a responsibility not just to Window Genie but also to the other brands under the Dwyer umbrella. 

Related: 5 Keys to Inspiring Leadership, No Matter Your Style

When you think about brand growth, has your approach changed at all? 

The day I closed on the deal, I helped our franchisees’ businesses become more valuable. We’ve always had plans to build and grow and push things forward; this just escalates it. We had our largest franchise sales year ever, with around 30 new owners. Being part of Dwyer is going to show immediate impact, both in terms of how franchisees run their businesses to create more profit and the value and equity their businesses hold -- especially if they wake up one day and decide it’s time to sell. 

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