MOLLY MAID franchisees and CEO Aaron Abrams
Current IssueJanuary/February 2024Leadership Profile

How MOLLY MAID’s CEO Went From the Rugby Pitch to the Boardroom

MOLLY MAID president and CEO Aaron Abrams goes from tackling the competition to tackling a cleaning empire

It’s fair to say that Aaron Abrams’ career trajectory falls outside the norm: he went from the world of professional sports, competing on Canada’s national rugby team, to an executive career with MOLLY MAID Canada, where he now runs the residential cleaning franchise as its president and CEO. To call it a career switch would be an understatement.

“As a child, I aspired to be one of two things: a professional athlete or whatever my dad did. The problem was I didn’t know what my dad did, so I pursued sport!” says Abrams with a laugh, adding that he had always had a “massive passion for sport.” In his professional rugby days, he says, “I was the hooker. If you can picture a rugby scrum, I was the sucker right in the middle of that. My job was to hook the ball back with my foot.”

It’s one of the most dangerous positions to play in the high-contact sport, but that wasn’t what eventually drew the MOLLY MAID CEO away from the rugby pitch to the safer shores—physically, at least—of franchising. His interest in pursuing a more professional executive role was already brewing at the height of his athletic career.

“The one thing that I missed as an athlete was the intellectual stimulation,” says Abrams. “It was there, but just not in the same quantity that I wanted it to be. I wanted to get on with my life, to have a career and a challenge that was more than just physical.”

With rugby’s four-year global competition cycles and five-day rest periods between matches, Abrams had time to pursue a side job working for the Canadian Rugby Foundation, a not-for-profit group promoting rugby across Canada. He eventually headed up the charity as its executive director. That role led him to a chance encounter with MOLLY MAID chairman Jim MacKenzie, who in 2008 invited him to apply for an opening at the franchise as its director of business development.

The offer couldn’t have been better timed: Abrams was ready to move on from professional sports, and the idea of working for a franchise-based business was a huge draw. “I loved small business,” he says. “I was extremely entrepreneurial in my younger days. I had my first job when I was just seven years old—cutting grass, shovelling driveways, and setting up lemonade and Kool-Aid stands. Franchises are essentially a collection of small businesses, and what appealed to me was having the opportunity to work with them and influence both the results and the people.”

In his university years, Abrams also worked for Coca-Cola and, during a brief time living in Australia, for American Express. But these experiences confirmed that working with behemoth brands simply wasn’t the right fit for him. “The one thing I didn’t like about big business was the limitations on being able to influence results and influence people. Franchising appealed to me because it would give me that opportunity.”

A historic cleaning brand

Abrams wasn’t joining just any franchise—MOLLY MAID is one of Canada’s oldest cleaning franchises and a readily recognized brand with its famous pink and navy branding. It was launched in 1979 by a forward-thinking husband-and-wife team who saw a new market need arising from women entering the workforce. They set out to provide the services women historically fulfilled in the home—ironing, laundry, cleaning, etc.—before narrowing it down to just cleaning.

It was a pioneering concept that has grown in presence over the years. Today, there are around 600 MOLLY MAID franchises in five countries, including the U.K., Portugal, and Japan. In Canada, there are 80 franchises servicing more than 500 cities and towns in most provinces and one territory.

Joining such a recognized brand with a strong history certainly put Abrams to the test, but the competitor in him was up for the challenge. “I’m an extremely disciplined person,” he says. “It’s easy to set a goal, define an objective, or clarify a target, but to achieve that, you really have to be disciplined in your execution and in everything you do. I’ve transferred a lot of those skills over as an athlete. It’s about achieving the highest level of play.”

Abrams set to work, eventually rising in the ranks at MOLLY MAID to VP and general manager, and then, in 2015, president and CEO. His key achievements include launching the company’s digital marketing efforts, which prior to his arrival had been limited, at best. “We were very traditional in our marketing format at the time, so I launched us into search engine marketing and optimization.”

With equal determination Abrams rolled out the company’s Green Housekeeping Program, which saw it transition to its own brand of renewable, largely plant-based cleaning products sourced from a green cleaning technology company. “We’ve been using these products for over 15 years now,” says Abrams. “They’re great for the environment, but they’re also great for our cleaning teams and our clients. We’ve never looked back once.”

Post-pandemic boon

While the pandemic proved challenging, with MOLLY MAID operations in some jurisdictions closing down for weeks, the post-pandemic period has been a boon. “People had this new sense of cleanliness, so demand for our services shot through the roof,” says Abrams. “This gave us an opportunity to reassess our business.”

In particular, the company decided to expand its franchise deeper into smaller towns and communities. With the rise of remote work, combined with the high living costs in major cities, there has been an exodus of people moving to rural locations. And with that migration to more affordable locations comes more flexible budgets that can include things like in-home cleaning services.

MOLLY MAID is now targeting smaller markets with its new Neighbourhood Franchise model—a more compact business model where the franchisee is both business owner/operator and cleaner. While the brand built up a strong presence in mid-size and large markets over the years, its decision to actively move into rural locales is a recent development.

“For us, it’s like going back to our roots because that’s exactly how the company started franchising back in 1980,” says Abrams. “Our other business model, what we call our Traditional Franchise format, is when somebody is the owner/operator only and in a management role. If you’re starting a franchise with us now, you’ve got either of those two options.”

For interested franchisees, Abrams makes one thing very clear: “We don’t look for skills. We look for attitude.” What’s key is having a passion for the business and its people-based service. “This is a people-intensive business, so if you’re not a people person, and you don’t love leading people, then it’s not the right business for you,” he says. “The advice I always give is ‘Do your research and look for fit. There are so many wonderful franchise opportunities, and you’ve got to find your right fit among them. Otherwise, you’ll get into the business and, one or two years later, when your passion should be driving you, instead you’ll be thinking: I chose the wrong industry.”

Clearly, Abrams is one to follow his own advice: with MOLLY MAID, the former professional athlete has found his perfect fit. While his early rugby career gave him some incredible experiences and valuable life skills, Abrams is confident he made the right professional decision to move on. He is grateful for the opportunities he now has leading one of Canada’s most recognized franchise brands into even more success in the future—for him, it’s a true labour of love.

“I love the positive impact that we have on so many lives. Our purpose is to create joy and comfort, and I enjoy having the ability to influence that,” says Abrams, adding, “And we have a passionate, dedicated team that loves winning. I love winning as well.”

Abrams may no longer be competing on the rugby pitch, but a little bit of the athlete in him still remains. Lucky for MOLLY MAID, his winning attitude is being put to good use.

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