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Sunday, 25 May 2014 22:00

‘Old school methodology’ served Mailhot well over multiple owners at GRBS

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Arleen Mailhot, CFO, Grand Rapids Building Services Inc. Arleen Mailhot, CFO, Grand Rapids Building Services Inc. COURTESY PHOTO

During Arleen Mailhot’s tenure at Grand Rapids Building Services Inc., she spanned four different owners and broke the glass ceiling long before that concept was even being discussed.

Having started in the payroll department before moving to bookkeeping and later becoming CFO, Mailhot says she’s dedicated her life to the job at the Grand Rapids-based building cleaning service provider.

In fact, she even credits her work with helping her get through stage-3 breast cancer, for which she was diagnosed in 2006. She planned to retire at the time, but she says it was her work that helped her persevere.

“Everyone (at GRBS) is so supportive … you forget that you don’t feel well,” Mailhot said.

After 60 years at the company, Mailhot plans to step down this year, but her role at GRBS will be staying in the family. One of her grandchildren, Shannon Kivinen, has been taking over some of the duties of the position for the last several months. Mailhot credits Kivinen with helping her see the potential benefits of new digital software to assist the company with accounting and bookkeeping.

Previous leaders at the company thought the software was unnecessary, but Mailhot said the technology has helped improve the company’s efficiency.

Over her storied tenure at the company and throughout her different roles, Mailhot said that she is still an accountant at heart. Her job has always consisted of making sure the books are correct and that customers are up to date in their payments to GRBS.

“All who work with her remain in awe of her length of service and prowess in the financial management field (and) old school methodology. Every number is in its correct line on the ledger,” said Karin Wysocki, president of GRBS.

Mailhot is unfazed by her longevity at the company and her achievements over the years, but she does like to share a number of memories from her tenure.

There was the company’s first owner who had cataracts and could barely see, but simply trusted that Mailhot did the work correctly. She also recounted the time her second boss bought her a winter coat in 1965 because she could not afford one at the time.

“Personality wise, (the four owners) were all different,” Mailhot said, adding that while it was a challenge working under different managerial policies, she was always able to adapt. “It is just what it is — and you do it. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have work.”

As Mailhot prepares to retire this summer from the company she’s served for 60 years, she said that the idea of adjusting to retirement life is posing somewhat of a challenging for her. After all, this is the same person who worked an average of 80 hours per week and still found time to raise her children and grandchildren.

However, Mailhot told MiBiz she intends to spend some of her time volunteering at area hospitals and relaxing at her family’s cottage in Canadian Lakes, north of Grand Rapids.


Arleen Mailhot

  • Organization: Grand Rapids Building Services Inc.
  • Annual sales: $29 million
  • Mission critical: Mailhot said she focuses her day-to-day attention on her administrative duties, particularly bookkeeping. It’s critical to maintain payroll — more than $700,000 weekly — and to make sure that all the company’s bills are paid. “Always having unparalleled integrity and extraordinary work ethic, she commandeered stability and financial success through her meticulous attention to every penny,” said GRBS President Karin Wysocki.
  • Academic degrees: Mailhot did not attend college. “I learned as I went,” she said.
  • Adviser companies: Dolinka and VanNoord for accounting. Fifth Third Bank for banking. Miller Johnson for legal services

Editor’s Note: This story has changed from a previous version. 

Read 4453 times Last modified on Tuesday, 10 June 2014 07:46

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