Black Business Spotlight: Entrepreneur finds inspiration in Columbus architect father's career
Denise Ransom draws on her life and work experiences in leading her commercial cleaning business.
Denise Ransom has walked through a lot of buildings.
As a child, she followed her father Leon Ransom through the buildings he designed. Ransom was a well-known Columbus architect responsible for many local buildings, including the Christopher Inn, Ohio State University East Hospital and the Martin Luther King Branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library.
Although her father died at age 42 when Ransom was 15, she remembers the lessons he taught her about building design. They are lessons she applies today to her business, Elite National Building Services, a commercial cleaning firm.
“One of his things, and I remember this distinctly from walking Martin Luther King library with him, he said the building was designed to make it easy to clean,” Ransom recalls. “That stuck with me, as I see some of the buildings now.”
As a student at Ohio University in the 1970s, Ransom remembers being told that a person would have five careers before they finished their working days. Ransom has had at least three, she says. After graduating with a degree in journalism, Ransom moved to the Bay Area and worked in media for several years. In 1984 she and a partner started a building services company that primarily did contracts for the federal government.
“I did that for 14 years, and it provided me the skill set to bid on service trades—everything from landscaping to facility management,” she says. “And in some cases, you had to do construction cleaning.”
After that, she worked for SourceAmerica, a nonprofit that connects people with disabilities to employment. Then, in 2012, Ransom came back to Columbus and decided to launch her next venture: Elite National Building Services.
“I was coming home, but I was a stranger,” she says. “I didn’t know people, and I didn’t know my customer base, which was general contractors.” So she marketed herself, falling back on the public relations skills she learned as a journalist. She attended networking events and utilized resources from the Economic and Community Development Institute, including the Capital for Construction program, which provides low-interest loans to minority-owned construction contracting businesses.
“This is a niche business,” Ransom says. “It wasn’t that I was just starting a cleaning business or some kind of consulting business. There are very few companies that focus primarily on construction final cleaning.”
When asked about working with Ransom at ECDI, Jesse Mark, a program and relationship manager for the organization, quips, “Denise Ransom for president.”
“I really think she’s an outstanding individual,” Mark continues. “Her business has grown probably two, three fold since the time that we’ve been working with her. She’s open-minded. A lot of entrepreneurs have an open mind at the beginning, but they kind of get laser focused and figure I know how to do it the right way. But she never put on those airs. She’s always willing to learn.”
She’s also always willing to help someone starting out in the business. Real estate developer DeMond Chambliss met Ransom through ECDI and later hired her company for several of his jobs. He was impressed by her knowledge of her field and her straightforward personality. Today, he counts her as a friend and often goes to her for advice. He has also referred others interested in getting into commercial cleaning to Ransom.
“Denise is like, listen, there is enough work for us. I’m not scared of the competition. She always would say this,” Chambliss says. “To welcome young people getting into this, it is rare. A lot of people think they have the secret sauce. They don’t want to share with you. But she has made it very clear there is enough business.”
Brittany Moseley is associate editor for Columbus Monthly.