The post below was originally posted to FSG Today in 2019.
The foundation of Facility Solutions Group was laid by three men; Bill Graham, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Steve Byrne, Chief of Operations, and Bob Graham, Director of Sales and Marketing.
The unique culture of FSG can be attributed to its carefully formulated mission statement. The mission spells out four pillars: “To willingly contribute to the quality of life; To provide a foundation for unlimited achievement; To meet or exceed expectations; To provide our customers with superior value through quality products, service, and support.” This mission explicitly lays out the four foundational values that FSG was built on, all of which are still actively on display in all thirty-three locations. Bill credits the timeless truths and solid foundation with helping form the culture as well as attracting the seemingly limitless talent that comes together to build the institution that is FSG.
Prior to the start of FSG, Steve Byrne and his wife Peggy lived the apartment below Bill and Melinda Graham in East Austin. The four met when Steve stopped to help Bill and Melinda with their car trouble. Bill and Melinda were students at the University of Texas, and Steve was in the Air Force. The four developed an instant friendship.
After graduating from the University of Texas, Bill Graham began working as a traveling sales representative for Philips Lighting selling light bulbs through central and southern Texas. Steve was attending the University of Texas and working at Motorola at this same time.
Disappointed with his first raise, Bill began looking elsewhere for opportunities. He was offered the position of starting a San Antonio branch for Texas Light Bulb Supply, a small Austin lighting customer of his. When consulting with a manufacturing representative, he was pointed in the direction of Lee Temple as a potential source for guidance. Through a conversation with no concrete business plan, Lee’s mother agreed to loan Bill $50,000 and the idea of American Light Bulb Supply, FSG’s original name, was conceived.
After reconnecting, Steve and Peggy attended a dinner at Bill and Melinda’s house. Bill shared with Steve and Peggy that he was going to start his own business. Steve did not say anything at the time, but as soon as he got home, he called Bill to say, “Bill, I don’t know anything about lighting, but if you need some help, I’d be willing to do that.” Bill replied, “I’m going to need someone in the warehouse.” Steve recalls, “That was the day after I registered for my last semester of classes at UT, and I went down and dropped out.”
In the early days, Bill and Steve worked long hours driving from Austin to San Antonio, selling lightbulbs out of a van. Reminiscing, Steve recalls, “We just started knocking on doors and telling people we had what they needed. I was scared to death after day one. I think there were probably nights we shook on the drive home. There is a lot of comfort in faith, and that’s something Bill and I shared. I think that was a lot of it – prayer and my wife was a great encouragement.”
When asked about the definitive force behind starting his own company, Bill credits divine intervention, which he speaks of frequently. Defined, divine intervention is an act of God that causes something good to happen or prevents something bad from happening. Bill knows beyond any doubt that both are true for FSG. “Starting, the goal was to make a living. At the time, I didn’t fully comprehend what would be required to start a business from nothing. God intervened, and I was fortunate enough to follow.”
When Bob Graham came into the picture, he was an insurance salesman in Dallas. After choosing to join his brother, he opened the Dallas market using his sales experience to promote and grow into new territory. Bob is responsible for launching FSG National Accounts in 1995. The push for National Accounts came from speaking with and listening to their customers’ wants. “Relationships drive everything. I don’t think that ever changes. People do business with people; they care about how much you care about them sometimes more than some of the other important items. We have internal customers at FSG and we have external customers, and that’s all part of it. We have to ask for favors and [in return, we] have to be motivated to give them. [Customers] give us priority and they’re not going to do that unless they know that we care about that relationship.”
Expansion came naturally. Steve recalls the initial expansion being internally driven. The relationships built within the company and the trust that is required of one another in such an uncertain environment is imperative. “Trust is essential. You [must] believe in each other, you have to believe in your people, and when you have that, some extraordinary things can happen. Bill is the visionary that always sees three steps ahead. What we’ve learned is that his visions are pretty good, so we follow them.” To grow, one must take a chance; lean into the unknown while believing the people around them will serve as a base of support. The company’s growth in other sectors can be traced back to Bill’s positive outlook and belief in people. “I’m the eternal optimist. I love to give people opportunities more than anything. When someone says, ‘I would like to try this,’ I’ll do everything I can to give them that opportunity. And we have benefitted from that greatly.”
This way of thinking is one of the reasons that FSG has been so successful. Having faith in people, along with faith in God has differentiated this company from its competitors and the payoff has been impossible to foresee. Steve says, “I know our faith drives us, the things that we believe in drive us. We’re still learning about that every day. Faith isn’t something you grab, and you have it. You have to have faith in each and every day. There are trials and tribulations along the way, but that’s what gets you through it. I do think [faith] is essential.” In an environment that is so unpredictable, like the business world, it is necessary to have strong-rooted faith because nothing is guaranteed. Bill states, “We benefitted from having people that had those common values that people respond to, people will work for, and people will stay loyal and committed to through the ups and downs. That’s faith – the conviction of things hoped for; the assurance of things unseen. You need that at work because there is always uncertainty. If you count on each other, then you’re going to do just about anything.”
These three men are responsible for starting FSG, but when acknowledged, they will often divert the praise to the hardworking individuals within the company. Bill is inspired by the individuals within the company and the customers that take a chance with FSG. “The ‘rest of the story’ for us is our great people, powered by what we know a great culture is, serving great clients, and most importantly living with sincerity and integrity.” Steve is humbled that people continue to choose FSG as a place to make a living and support their families. He says, “We hope that people see an opportunity within FSG. Part of our responsibility is to lay that framework out and make sure it comes to life as much as possible. It’s a daunting responsibility, but what they bring is what makes the company so great. It’s a blessing to get to interact with those people and learn so many things from them.” Bob believes that people working as a collective group with the same goals are unstoppable. “Just having a team of people that will come to work every day, learning the business, and developing it. That’s where it all started.”
Regarding the future, the three men are very confident that the next generation of leaders is setting the course for a new wave of growth by living out the foundational values of FSG. Bill speaks of business practices that he has used since the early days. “Everything we’ve worked for these thirty-five plus years will go into giving opportunities and blessings to the generations to come. You have to forgive; you have to understand that people make mistakes and have bad days. All of those things are the grand visions for how we work together, how we grow together, how we contribute to each other. That’ll keep us together.” Steve reflects on the FSG Constitution and mission. “The core values in our constitution spring from the values that shaped America and from the Bible. I think as long as those principles are in place, that can help people have better relationships. It can help people have better views towards their work, the value of it, and what it means. I always want FSG to be a place that’s rewarding for the people that come to work here. As long as the future generations stay focused on that and as long as their highest value is the people of FSG, it’ll be a great company.” Bob believes it is the responsibility of everyone to sustain the culture of FSG. “It requires all of us. It’s not just our faith and it’s not just what we care about; it’s a matter of getting other people on board, recruiting and motivating the people that feel the same way. That’s going to be the magic recipe. We want to be innovative, hardworking, and creative. Change is going to be required, and we need to adapt. It’s going to be fun to watch.”