Entrepreneurial Success Story: Pat Swisher of Swisher Hygiene

Published in Inspiration

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Toilets are not usually the stuff of heroic tales, but Pat Swisher set out on a quest to vanquish bathroom germs. He succeeded, but like most heroes, not without trials along the way. In short, he built a highly profitable corporation, went to jail, sold his business, built another, and eventually came full circle. Potential entrepreneurs can only feel inspired from Pat Swisher's determination, dedication and response to set-backs.

Patrick Swisher started his company, Swisher Hygiene, in 1983 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Swisher Hygiene offered a restroom sanitizing service to businesses, primarily restaurants and gas stations. In this process bacteria-harboring build up is chemically removed and a protective, germicidal barrier is applied. Since Swisher Hygiene used their own proprietary chemicals, they had virtually no competition and dominated the market. Using a franchise approach, Swisher Hygiene was soon ridding the world, in 23 countries, of dangerous bathroom germs. Pat Swisher was doing very well professionally and financially, riding high, when he was knocked off his horse.

In 1998, an accountant working for the company went to the SEC with an accusation of fraud and accounting misdeeds going back to 1996. The SEC filed a civil suit against Swisher Hygiene which was settled, with the company paying $400,000 in fines without admitting any guilt. Unfortunately for Swisher, this was not the end of the matter, and when the SEC forwarded their files to the IRS, he came under investigation for personal tax evasion.

Swisher still maintains that he acted under the advise of professionals and that he had no intent to avoid taxes or do anything illegal, yet when the IRS's evidence was gathered against him, he felt that a guilty plea was his best option. A federal judge sentenced him to 30 months in prison.

Federal prison is not an easy thing for anyone to face, but a businessman with no criminal history is particularly unprepared to navigate the prison system. Swisher was scared. He described this in an interview with Entrepreneur Magazine. When he was first approached by another inmate, he thought he was in for a savage beating. Not so. Swisher describes the encounter, “He put his arm around me and said, ‘I got you, man. If anybody messes with you, tell ’em to come see me.’”

Swisher was deeply changed by the friendship that developed and it also changed the way Swisher did business when he was released. Instead of considering potential business partners by how they measured up on paper, he began to look at how they measured up as people. He knew that prisoners were more than what they seemed and decided that would be true of anyone he met, no matter how much, or little, money they had.

Pat Swisher got right back on the horse as soon as he was released from prison and made a deal to sell the company for $8.1 million. He would work for the company for two years, sign a five-year non-compete clause and in return, Swisher Hygiene would forgive the personal debt he owed the company.

Five years later, in 2009, Swisher realized he still had a mission to rid the world's bathrooms of germs and he founded Enviro-Master. This company also sanitizes restrooms, removing build-up and applying a protective coating on the porcelain, but also sells discounted soap and paper products to businesses, which partially offsets the cost of the sanitizing service. Swisher Hygiene meanwhile had changed owners and names, and in 2016 Pat Swisher bought the business back, adding his old territory to his new Empire.

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