Jill Frey grew her parents' small janitorial service far beyond central Ohio and into new service lines.

Jill Frey grew her parents' small janitorial service far beyond central Ohio and into new service lines.

Graduating from the University of Toledo in 1994, Jill Frey set her sites on anchoring television news. But she got an unexpected call from her parents, Ron and Myra Cummins, owners of a relatively small industrial cleaning company, Cummins Facility Services, who were vacationing in Central America.

"They thought they were going to Belize, and they ended up in Roatan, Honduras," Frey recalls. "The airline that took them there went out of business. So they stayed an extra three days, and then they found some beachfront land for $50,000. They called back and said, 'We're not coming home-the business is yours.'"

Flabbergasted but intrigued, Frey assumed control at Cummins Facility Services in Marion, then a small business with 15 employees and mostly local clientele. It was trial by fire, but it gave Frey the opportunity to grow a business that now stretches from Ohio to Texas, Florida and Mexico.

"When I first started I was 22 years old, a blonde and I sounded like Minnie Mouse. That could be a little challenging," Jill recalls. "I couldn't get ahold of my parents, and some of my employees were saying, 'Your dad gave me a 50-cent-an-hour raise.' My clients said, 'Your dad promised me this, this, this and this.' I wanted to talk to him and ask if that was true. But I couldn't." So she handled business issues herself.

Today, from Marion County offices in Prospect, the company serves customers like L Brands, Greif Inc., Ball Corp., Wal-Mart Stores Inc., OhioHealth and the University of Cincinnati. Cummins is growing at 30 percent annually, and new opportunities seem to be opening up every month. Frey and her staff have turned the company into a 13-state growth machine, with $12 million in gross revenues last year and an impressive pattern of expansion in both the US and Mexico.

"My clients have always asked me to grow, and that's how we've grown in every state, every industry and every venture we've been in," Frey says. "At one of our largest accounts in the appliance industry, we had one of their divisions. Then that grew to two divisions, and then that grew to 15 divisions in Mexico when we won the national account there.

"In another facility we performed janitorial services and they asked me if we could do security services. I said, 'Absolutely, we can.' I didn't know how hard it would be to get a security license." What followed was a 30-day scramble by can-do Cummins staff to set up the company's new security operation.

More recently, Cummins partnered with ByoPlanet International of Sunrise, Fla., to distribute electrostatic disinfecting technology. Frey is proud to have the only woman-owned business with a ByoPlanet license. "It's not just aesthetically making sure things look clean, but to be sure floors are disinfected and sanitized," she says.

Frey gives credit for growth and profitability to her staff and customers; even to competitors she has met at trade association gatherings. But the customers themselves recognize Jill's own style and contributions.

"I've known Jill and Cummins for almost 20 years, and the fact that a company that size can treat you like you're the only customer, that's very special," says Joe H. Reed II, director of Corporate Security & Facilities at Delaware-based Greif Inc. "She has great passion for the business, but also compassion for people. If you tell her you need something, just talking at lunch, she always knows a person and helps you make the connection."

A mentor to other women business owners, Jill Frey has also been active with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Ohio, various civic groups and her favorite charity, Montana De Luz, a faith-based home for Honduran children afflicted with AIDS.

What was Ron Cummins thinking when he put the family business in a 22-year-old's hands? "Years later, he told me, 'Jill, I couldn't have trained you. Either you sink or swim and make it your own, or it wasn't going to be a success,'" Frey recalls.

Mike Mahoney is a freelance writer.