Executive Inc. How the Valley’s Eric Roudi built a recession-proof business

As featured in the Phoenix Business Journal

By Sara Edwards – Contributing writer

When Eric Roudi graduated from college, the U.S. economy was in recession and the job hunt was difficult, so he decided to launch his cleaning business OpenWorks at just 20 years old.

He learned that the commercial cleaning industry was a recession-resistant business that was highly fragmented with a large turnover rate. Roudi also became fascinated by larger companies like McDonald’s and how the food quality and service was uniform; he wanted to implement that in his own operation.  

“That is when the light bulb turned on in my head that mixing franchising with a commercial cleaning service could be a great combination,” Roudi said. “Despite dwindling resources and overall uncertainty, I was driven by the belief that if you had the smarts to make things happen and worked hard, you could achieve the American dream.”

Roudi was born in Tehran, Iran, and attended a boarding school in England. He was accepted into Tufts University in Massachusetts at 16 years old, moving to the U.S. in 1978. He stayed when the Islamic Revolution began back in Iran. After he graduated, he founded OpenWorks in 1983 and has since expanded it to 23 regional offices and more than 1,700 locations across the United States.  

Since its founding, OpenWorks has landed on the Inc. 5000 list for the past two years and services many Fortune 500 companies such as FedEx, Pepsi and UPS.  

“Using the power of entrepreneurship, I saw a way to bring a great deal of professionalism into the business. I was fortunate to find some investors who were willing to invest,” Roudi said. “Now OpenWorks is consistently recognized as one of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies.”

What were some challenges you faced as a young business owner? I had to learn how to manage people and processes, it’s not something they teach you in college so it’s a skill you have to learn on your own. I had to learn about cash flow and meeting payrolls. I also had to learn about how to navigate around obstacles as they come up.  

What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs? Make sure that you have a vision that is big enough for you. Start with a 10-year objective. Where do you see yourself in 10 years, five years, three years and so on. Once you have that, you have to execute upon those goals. I tell everyone, even my kids, you need to have a plan to execute and then have perseverance to be able to bounce back. So, research your market, research your customers so you can understand them and your competition.  

How did the pandemic change business? Covid-19 has redefined the level of clean that is acceptable for businesses to reduce the spread of germs. Early in the pandemic, our greatest challenges were obtaining the right supplies and equipment needed to disinfect our customers’ buildings. Once our supply chain was secure, our primary focus was on identifying the latest technology, chemicals and equipment we could use to provide a safe and healthy environment for our customers. At the same time, we worked to ensure our service providers received the latest training and certifications to properly, and safely, administer and apply them.

The uptick in our business has also increased our search for individuals who are interested in becoming franchise owners, who are ready to help deliver the essential services we offer, and who want be part of a dynamic, recession-resistant industry.

Eric Roudi

Title: CEO

Company: OpenWorks

Education: Bachelor’s in economics and mechanical engineering at Tufts University; owner/president management program at Harvard Business School

What is something you must have in your fridge? I always like to have almonds. It’s a good source of protein and energy.

What makes you tick? What gets you up in the morning? I tell myself to make today better than before, and look forward to the day. I also know that at the end of the day I get to spend time with my wife and family.

What is your favorite way to relax? I like to work out. I like to hike or work out in a different fashion, and then just kind of chilling and sometimes watching a meaningless Netflix show.

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