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A quick ride to the top for James Cabrera’s building-services firm


 UBM Facility Services, Inc. is on the rise yet again.


The Hispanic-owned building-maintenance titan was founded in 1979 as a humble carpet-cleaning company with just one truck and one machine — along with a single, laser-focus: to provide quality service and settle for nothing short of total client satisfaction.

That philosophy clearly has paid off.

Carol Stream, Ill.-based UBM today serves more than 1,000 clients, including Fortune 500 companies, schools, office buildings, refineries, banks, manufacturing plants and utilities. The company employs some 2,000 people, working to provide janitorial, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC), painting, snow removal as well as landscaping, among other services.

Now add to all that elevator maintenance and repair. Founder and Chief Executive James S. Cabrera, who has overseen UBM’s rise to become the largest Hispanic-owned and operated facility-management company in the Midwest, joined forces in January with longtime Otis Elevator Company executive Freddy Flores to create UBM Elevator Solutions.

Flores is president of the new unit, which provides preventative maintenance and code testing as well as equipment-retrofit and repair services. UBM Elevator Solutions, given the parent company’s stellar reputation, is well-positioned to compete with longstanding rivals such as Otis, ThyssenKrupp Elevator AG and Chicago-area-based Colley Elevator Co.

Flores admits he had a certain initial ignorance about the industry before joining it. All he knew about elevators back then, he says with a grin, was that “you got in them, you pressed the button and you went.”

But he proved a quick study after graduating from the University of Illinois and “went to apply for a company that was an elevator company and I got the job as a clerical person.”

He subsequently earned an MBA from the Keller Graduate School of Management and quickly advanced at Otis, where he worked for more than two decades in various facets of sales and operations.

Last year a mutual client suggested Cabrera and Flores consider teaming up to create the new unit.

“It seemed to be a unique niche for us to pursue,” Cabrera says about UBM’s latest foray. “We met Freddy,” and the two executives quickly hit it off. “Freddy had an entrepreneurial spirit. He wanted to partner with somebody like us, someone who had our name, brand and our integrity in the marketplace. So it made a lot of sense. We sat down together, became friends — and then we became business partners.”

Creating UBM Elevator Solutions continues the parent company’s ongoing expansion of facility services. UBM launched its HVAC unit about three and a half years ago and since has become one of the largest HVAC firms in the area. A year and half ago, UBM added a union painting operation. And, since January, elevator maintenance and repair.

It’s all part of a well-designed growth plan.

“Janitorial doesn’t really have a barrier to entry. It is very easy to get into the janitorial business,” Cabrera says. “But it’s not easy to be an HVAC company. It’s not easy to get into union. It’s not easy to get into elevator-maintenance services.”

But in such niches, “the marketplace allows for a little bit more margin at the end of the day. We want to find areas where we can continue to build on our brand and the integrity that we have in the marketplace and offer our customers additional value-added services. It is a strategy that we want to implement to support our brand as a whole.

“Like us, Freddy truly believes in serving the customer. That’s the most important thing, providing maximum service, and that is something we do very well. He’s got the same motto, the same philosophy, and that’s what is important. That is why we are who we are; that is how we’ve grown into what we’ve become. It doesn’t matter what we do, we’re going to do it well.”

And not just in business. Cabrera is a former member of the board of directors of the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council, and in his nearly three-decade leadership capacity he has helped Chicago-area minority enterprises travel the road to success.

Cabrera and Flores also share a commitment to the community at large.

The Cabreras, Flores notes, “are a very respected family. They do a lot for the community. They’re involved on a lot of boards. They give back a lot and that’s really important to me.

“We have a lot in common in that regard. We care about other people. It’s not just about the business. The business will be there, the profits will be there, but we also want to give back to the community and make the community grow.”

Giving others a lift.  That certainly seems a natural fit for the partners at UBM Elevator Solutions.