JULY 25, 2012
ELISABETH KHAN-VAN DEN HOVE
You would expect a young Belgian-American entrepreneur to be enterprising and successful. But in Metro Detroit, in the current economic climate, it still comes as a shock to hear someone say, “My business doubles every month.”
Philip Casteleyn, the CEO/owner of Master Corporate Cleaning LLC, located in Brighton, is making that bold statement. The ball started rolling when he bid on a contract with a tier-one supplier to the auto industry last fall, and won. He aims to make Crain’s “20 in their 20s” list of high-profile entrepreneurs in Southeast Michigan.
No cutting corners
Master Corporate Cleaning’s FaceBook page promises “European-style” cleaning. I have to ask Philip, What is the difference?
“Most cleaning crews come in,” he begins, “They empty the trash cans, vacuum the carpet – usually going around the furniture – and do some light dusting. We actually move the furniture to clean every nook and cranny: behind the computers, the tops of cabinets; if there’s a rug, we vacuum it, then roll it up to clean the floor underneath, the Belgian way. We don’t use mops, we use microfiber cloths that absorb the dirty water instead of letting it dry, like the good old Belgian dweil.”
Started up in January, the company serves Oakland, Livingston, Wayne and Washtenaw counties and currently has seven-full-time employees and 10 more on-call. Apart from Philip himself, two others were born in Belgium. The local hires are thoroughly screened and trained. “I pay my employees more than the going rate,” says Philip, “The starting wage is $11 or $12 per hour. This way, I can get better-qualified staff. We do a drug test and a background check, so we can offer our clients that peace of mind, knowing they are safe with us.”
The clients may be private or corporate, but all sign a commercial contract. They range from medical and dental offices, daycare providers and small businesses, to athletes and other local celebrities. I ask if I can drop some names in this paper, and Philip hesitates, then says no: these folks need their privacy. His ideal customers are Fortune-500 companies and tier-one and -two suppliers for the Big Three automakers. Residential jobs are often one-off, such as post-tenant cleaning. As for the others, they range from regular workspace cleaning, to hardwood-floor refinishing (e.g. in gyms), to restaurant deep-cleaning and post-construction cleanup. Philip is a hands-on boss. At the end of each job, he is there for a walk-through with the site manager.
“How to be a Flemish American”
Philip was born in Brussels. His father is from Roeselare in West Flanders, his mother from Erpe-Mere in East-Flanders. The family came to the USA when Philip was five. Talk about culture shock. He grew into a typical American teen, except that his parents insisted on speaking Flemish at home. He became perfectly bilingual, at least where speaking and reading are concerned. His Dutch writing skills, he confides, are rusty. His mother was the one who taught him about cleaning. His chore was cleaning the house every Friday, and that included window washing. During school vacations he often spent time with relatives in Flanders. “Belgium will always mean ‘home’ to me,” he says. After graduating high school, he enrolled at HUB (Hogeschool-Universiteit Brussel) in Brussels to study International Business/Sales and Marketing. This time it was culture shock in reverse: Philip realized how American he had become. After some soul searching he decided to return to the USA and go in business for himself. “I still have a lot of friends in Belgium from my time there,” he says. And after a stint in a shaky real-estate market, he found his true calling.
“I really enjoy what I’m doing,” he says with a big smile. “I work around the clock but it doesn’t feel like work to me. There’s not one aspect of the business that I don’t like, from the sales to the actual cleaning, which is a great stress reliever. Plus I get the satisfaction of a job well done, and of knowing my work helps people get through the day. Office workers do notice the cobwebs in the corners, but often have nowhere to complain. Give them a clean environment and it’ll lead to increased job satisfaction and productivity.”
Amen to that. Any time left for hobbies and other interests?
“I’m a car guy,” Philip says, “I love checking out the cars on Woodward Avenue every Friday evening in summer. And I enjoy organizing joint activities with my employees. We’re in it together for the long haul, and I like to surround myself with positive people.”
I ask Philip if there’s anything he’d like to add. “I want to thank a few persons,” he says, “First of all my Mom, Hilde De Wolf, for her support. It was a tough process, but it was all worth it. Also the Maddox family, for believing in me at a time when starting in business is so difficult, and Tri County Cleaning Supply in Brighton with whom I have a great reciprocal business relationship. Last but not least my Dad, Geert Casteleyn, for explaining to me the importance of having a certain financial system in place in order to be successful.”
Master Corporate Cleaning LLC
616 Rickett Road, Suite 120
Brighton, MI 48116