From near drop-out to high-rise boss

From near drop-out to high-rise boss
Saylor Vann (Source: Saylor Vann)

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - He was told he would never amount to much in life but today he owns and operates a growing commercial services company that stays booked months out. At 25-years-old Saylor Vann is one of, if not the youngest owner of a similarly sized company within his industry. He started Atlantic Commercial Services three years ago and is one of WECT’s small business features.

Saylor’s academic career is unlikely to ever be showcased on a motivational poster. He estimates he missed about 100 days out of the 180 school days of his senior year. He wasn’t out goofing off, he was working. In fact, he had been working for years at that point.

At 8 years old he started his first business.

“Drug my little wagon around, bagged pine cones up, sold them for 2-3 dollars a bag as fire starters for chiminea and fire pits,” Vann remembered.

He was working full time in high school at a company that made sails. His late hours lead to late starts in the classroom, showing up at 9 or 10 a.m., much to his teacher’s disapproval. Many days he just didn’t show up at all. By that point, he was earning a higher salary than most of the school staff.

“ I didn’t apply myself because I didn’t think I needed to be there,” he said. “I felt school was just to prepare me for college and I had already made up my mind that I didn’t want to go.”

His final GPA was a 0.9, somewhere just above a D-. He had to ask for the principal’s pardon to walk across the graduation stage.

Diploma out of the way, he got a new job washing windows and quickly realized there was nothing proprietary about the process.

After a few years of labor and learning, he was ready to go for it.

“I never had a plan B, I never gave myself the opportunity to think about a plan B,” he said. “I jumped in feet first and I never looked back.”

Three years ago Atlantic Commercial Services started. In that time he’s grown the company to four employees and expanding into HOA property management, and industrial repairs that include the Frying Pan Tower.

He’s battled ageism in a way he didn’t anticipate. Window washing and commercial services in general are industries dominated by long-time, generational companies. Saylor was in his early 20’s with a few years of experience under his belt.

He stuck to what his customers would value. The simple idea of showing up on time and doing what’s promised.

It worked. But it wasn’t easy.

“It was up to me whether I wanted to eat that night or not and some nights I didn’t eat,” Saylor admits.

The business isn’t for the faint of heart. He and his staff routinely dangle from high-rises and towers. He’s responsible for extensive training and safety protocols.

“If you make a mistake theres no turning back, theres no, if you fall you die,” he said.

It’s “do or die” – literally. A saying that goes for window washing and running a business in general.

Saylor hopes his story will resonate with teens who know they are meant to work with their hands and not necessarily in a classroom – find your own path. He also recommends keeping hobbies you’re passionate about away from your work. He warns against following the advice of turning what you’re “passionate” about into your work at the risk of losing the passion once it becomes a job.

“This isn’t a weekend job for me, this isn’t beer money, this isn’t play money,” he said. “I have people who count on me to feed their kids.”

Typically we look at grades and degrees to predict a person’s future. In doing so we often miss potential that simply can’t be measured: grit, determination and the ability to let go of security and still land on your own two feet.

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