For years, Canada has lived in the shadow of the United States as the land of opportunity despite the fact it’s one of the most open countries to immigration in the world, boasting the highest proportion of foreign-born inhabitants of all the G7 member nations. Immigrants have historically chosen Canada as their new home because it offers a safe haven and economic opportunity. The latter, combined with the country’s obligations within the newly created North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), was behind the second and largest wave of Italian immigration in the 20th century. Between 1950 and 1970, Canada welcomed nearly half a million newcomers, which came to comprise 70 per cent of the Italian Canadian population. Among them was Joe Mastroianni and his wife of one year, Irma, who arrived in Toronto in 1958.
“We travelled here to improve ourselves,” says Joe, who originates from Calabria, Italy.
But shortly after their arrival, Joe longed to return to his hometown of San Mango D’Aquino in the province of Catanzaro, believing at the time that he had left a better life behind.
“It took us a month to find a room to rent and I (initially) had no job,” he explains, adding they relied on the goodwill of a local church-run food pantry for weekly groceries. “All I wanted to do was make $500 and leave.”
Though dismayed by his circumstances, Joe was determined to land work. Like many who immigrated to Canada after the Second World War, he found employment in a physically labourious field – construction. Earning just $1 an hour, Joe knew it would take some time to meet his monetary goal, so he quickly looked to supplement his income. With little formal education and English his second language, Joe’s options, however, were limited.
“I took whatever work I could get,” he says.
This included helping a realtor show houses, selling oil furnaces and then stainless steel cookware for Cook-O-Matic. By this time, Joe had settled into his new life in Toronto, having welcomed a daughter in 1961. But his sales abilities proved successful and the company relocated him to Australia, where he remained for three years. Soon after his return,
Joe parted ways with Cook-O-Matic when his job became solely commission-based and joined Canada Foil. Little did he know at the time that the move would be life-changing.
“I asked a guy in the factory (who also worked elsewhere) if he needed help with anything, and he threw a couple cleaning jobs my way,” says Joe.
Armed with a new skillset and fuelled with a desire to better support his family, Joe actively sought out his own clients. One of the first persons he approached was the owner of Wycliffe Property Management Ltd., who awarded him a contract in 1972, to clean a medical building. With time and the assistance and support of his wife, Joe took on all of Wycliffe’s cleaning needs, which he has sustained to this day.
“After the medical building, I was asked to clean a bunch of model suites and then the subdivisions before occupancy, totalling about 7,000 homes,” he says.
Throughout the ‘70s, Joe, who had branded his newfound business East-West Contractors, saw success, which allowed him to leave his job at Canada Foil; however, it was a second big contract that took his flourishing janitorial company to the next level. In 1978, he was hired by Tridel to clean its newly built Village by the Grange, a mixed-use condominium development that required him to staff up. Joe’s relationship with the real estate developer, established five years prior when he was first hired to clean the project’s construction offices and model suites,
was key to nabbing the job.
As the years went on, Joe’s cleaning team and clientele grew along with his family. Though his wife is no longer involved in the business, his daughter (and sole child), Tina, and son-in-law, Mike, play prominent roles, serving as the company’s vice-president and head of post-construction and floor maintenance, respectively. But it’s his granddaughter, Claudia, who he sees inheriting the business, so much so that he changed the company’s name to M.C. Janitorial Systems in 1996, when she was just a toddler.
“I have two granddaughters, Marisa and Claudia, and I renamed the company after them because they are the best people in my life,” says Joe proudly. “At that time, I hoped one day one or both would take it over, though I never pushed. The choice was always theirs.”
While Marisa has pursued another path, Claudia is now a leading figure in the company having quickly moved up the ranks from office assistant to assistant managing director. Her decision to fulfill her grandfather’s dream came in Grade 12, and was a bit of a shock, albeit a good one, to her family.
“I think my parents and grandfather thought I was joking when I first told them because it’s not something a typical 18-year-old would say,” says Claudia with a laugh. “Once I explained I wanted to be part of a company that not only supported me but my immediate and extended family, as well as more than 100 employees, they realized I wasn’t kidding.”
Having a plan in place also substantiated she was serious about her chosen career path; Claudia had already applied to one of the top business schools in Canada – Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University. To her delight, she was accepted to the prestigious institution where she studied business law and entrepreneurship. In 2014, she graduated with a bachelor of commerce, which prepared her to join M.C. Janitorial Systems full-time.
Now, five years later, Claudia’s formal schooling is well behind her, though her education hasn’t ended. She recognizes lifelong learning is key to the company’s continued prosperity.
“If you’re not regularly improving your knowledge and skills, then you risk not being able to adapt to the ever-changing needs of existing and potential clients, as well as stagnant business growth and possible failure,” she says.
This is a real possibility given the Toronto commercial cleaning industry is oversaturated, though M.C. Janitorial Systems is in a good position to actually gain more market share. With an established customer base that still includes Wycliffe and Tridel, as well as Tridel-affiliate DelSuites, Bayview Summit Realty Inc., Metrus Properties Ltd. and Condor Properties Ltd., among others, the business service contractor has garnered a reputation for its strong work ethic, first-rate customer service, and well-trained and loyal staff, some of which have been with the company for upwards of four decades. Administrator Maria Toro is one such person. Both Joe and Claudia consider her part of the family and recognize her years of service have contributed to the company’s overall achievements. Today, M.C. Janitorial Systems maintains more than 2 million square feet of cleanable space in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Its clients span the commercial, industrial, condominium and hospitality sectors, with 20 per cent of business deriving from DelSuites’ corporate housing – a hotel alternative for business people travelling for an extended period of time, usually 30 days or more.
“In 2018, we hit a milestone of servicing about 400 of these furnished rental suites in the GTA,” notes Claudia.
Over the next five years, M.C. Janitorial Systems aims to strengthen its foothold in the commercial building industry, specifically among medical office centres. While geographic growth is not a major goal at this time, Claudia says the company would entertain it if the right opportunity presented itself. As for the company’s succession plan, there’s no finite date that Joe will officially hand over the reins, nor does he ever intend to not come into the office.
“Who created me will decide when I retire,” says the soon-to-be 83-year-old. “If you love what you’re doing and your mind still works, why stop? Age is just a number.”
Clare Tattersall is the editor of Facility Cleaning & Maintenance.
Photos by Miguel Hortiguela.