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Student-started USM fetches $255M from Emcor

The Norristown-based facilities management firm was founded by two West Chester University graduates who would take their business nationwide.

When I'd read that Norristown-based USM Services Holdings Inc. had been acquired for $255 million last week, one thought kept resonating in my mind.

It's another example of what's possible when graduates of area colleges stick around to start their businesses here. Internet-oriented companies may get much of the attention now, but there are plenty of low-tech firms launched by young grads, too.

USM was founded in 1988 by two West Chester University graduates who sought to clean up by cleaning commercial buildings. What was once Tower Cleaning Systems, making the Inc. 500 list of the fastest-growing privately held businesses, would become U.S. Maintenance Inc.

In 2006, Transfield Services Ltd., a publicly traded Australian company, bought the company for $276 million. The previous year, U.S. Maintenance had revenue of $175 million.

Last week, Transfield agreed to sell what is now USM to Norwalk, Conn.-based Emcor Group Inc. for $255 million. USM's annual revenues are about $375 million, according to Emcor.

(If Emcor sounds familiar, it may be because it bought Fluidics Inc., a Philadelphia mechanical contractor, in late 2005. No terms disclosed in that one.)

As of April, USM had 1,269 employees nationwide, including 518 in Norristown, according to Emcor.

That might not sound like a lot of muscle to provide interior and exterior maintenance services to big chains, such as Wal-Mart, Toys R Us, Target, and Starbucks. The reason? USM built a network of 11,000 contractors that perform that work for 150 customers with more than 75,000 locations in every U.S. state and Canada.

Emcor may be a $5.12 billion company, but its chief executive officer, Anthony J. Guzzi, sounded very enthusiastic on a conference call with analysts about what the smaller USM would bring to his mechanical and electrical contracting firm: "USM is OK where Emcor is great, and Emcor is nonexistent or OK where USM is great."

Annual meetings

  1. Tuesday: Healthcare Services Group, Merck & Co., QNB

  2. Wednesday: Endo Pharmaceuticals Holdings, Marlin Business Services, SEI Investments

  3. Thursday: Lincoln National, Safeguard Scientifics.


As I reflect on our performance, I'm encouraged by our progress, but I want to be perfectly clear: I'm not satisfied.

-- Denise M. Morrison, chief operating officer of Campbell Soup Co., who will become CEO at the end of July, to analysts on a conference call Monday about the Camden company's third-quarter financial results.