The Untold True Story Of Talbert Denney
It will read like a movie script and will be hard to fathom. A man named Talbert Denney will come from a small town in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl depression era to become one of the greatest leaders of an American Company. He will have come from a time when hard work was a way of life. Where honor, integrity, family, and faith were expected. This will be a time of the building of America by the great American people.
A true life Horatio Alger’s story born of hard work and tempered in faith. One man’s dream and perseverance creating something from nothing reaching the pinnacle of American business.
The Man From Leedey
Making of a leader-
Born in 1928 in a time of austerity and a vision of what he wanted to be Talbert Denney will grow up outside of Leedey Oklahoma population of less than 500. There will be no modern accouterments of the TV, electricity, the automobile or even running water. That will be a later time. Talbert never saw a light bulb till he was nine years old. The family used kerosene for lighting.
Hard work was just a way of life for the Denney’s and the extended family of seven children, Oneta, Winnifred, Laveda, Lavern, Talbert, Ardell, and Barbara. His father worked for WPA for 11.00 a month and his mother was raising her children, and working at a store 3 miles away for salt, Bacon, and other staples one day a week while the owner went for restocking the little store on Monday’s. The family was eking out an existence in the rugged rural area 11 miles outside of Leedey Oklahoma.
The family never owned any property, they were simply sharecroppers picking cotton for .25 cents per 100 pounds. Mom sewed clothes out of burlap sacks but mostly flour sacks as Talbert recalled. We’d get shoes once a year, and of course, they were used. Talbert recalled a white pair of shoes he was given. “they were his favorites,” and when the back broke on one he took some baling wire and used that to stitch the leather back together, it was exactly like the Grapes of Wrath” he recalls. These will be tough times that few Americans can only but imagine. Talbert recalls every Saturday the family loading the wagon with barrels and having a team of horses pull the wagon and Denney family 11 miles to the nearest place to get water. You see the Denney family had to bring water back for the week to their home in Leedey Oklahoma.
Oklahoma was amid a climate change and it was mostly very hot Talbert said. He said we had four seasons but summer and winter were really bad. He and his siblings walked three miles to a little two-room school house in the sweltering, nearly unbearable heat. Winter, it snowed and sometimes a lot but the children still walked 3 miles to school. Summer, they were barefoot and Talbert recalls they could walk over anything including sharp rocks. We didn’t know any better he lamented. Looking back Talbert remembers he was born on the same day and same year as legendary actress Shirley Temple. Life for the two couldn’t have been more different.
Talbert worked odd jobs as young men did in those days. Jobs like Boog Arnie’s gas station pumping gas and washing the Oklahoma mud from under those field trucks. But Talbert was always thinking, thinking of his future.
These times will forge the foundation in the crucible of hard work and perseverance the great entrepreneurs that will sow the fabric of America we see today. After all, the Denney’s were no different than the other people around them and, Talbert never knew he and his family were poor. It was just the way it was.
It was 1937 in the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma and the family was on the move west. The eldest sister Oneta had married Carl Pyeatt and they were going to Stockton California so they could find work. Talbert recalls Carl had a 1930 Ford he’d converted with canvas, like the old covered wagons they were familiar with. It took a few trips back and forth before the Denney family finally settled into their new home state and city of Stockton California.
The family picked Hops in Sabastabol, apples in Santa Rosa, cotton in Corcoran and, cherries, and apricots in Linden.
One day Talbert saw a beautiful home on a hill and it belonged to the rich farmer they were picking for. Later that day the farmer pulled up to 12-year-old Talbert to show off his new 1935 Ford Pickup. He remembers how shiny it was and those beautiful yellow spoked wheels. The farmer stop and said, come here boy I’m gonna show you a magic car. It can drive itself. Talbert remembers him putting the key in and just pushing a button and it started, then like magic, the car moved.
The farmer had struck a deep chord in Talbert. He said to himself, “the only difference between him and that farmer was that he had money.” From that moment on Talbert was determined to work hard for money to make all his dreams come true.
The Road Map-
As the family migrated back and forth from Leedey and Stockton the first few years Talbert went to Stockton High School and became the first in his family to graduate in his last year from high school in Stockton. But it was one particular teacher at Stockton High school who would become a mentor to Talbert, Jay Mitchell Louis. Mr. Louis taught Talbert how to think. Mr. Louis said, “whatever you do, do it better than anyone. Be the best, apply everything you can and you cannot fail.”That one thought will permeate Talbert’s entire life. “Do it the best.”
Talbert took on any job he could and was working for Safeway first as an unloader then a stocker and checker. Then at Blacks Market as a manager. During this time he was always thinking, of what Mr. Louis told him, “be the best.”
Talbert was excelling and learning, always aware of looking for opportunities. After all, some people drown in a sea of opportunity. All Talbert needed, was an opportunity.
Uncle Sam Calls-
Uncle Sam requested Talbert to start training for the Korean War in the 40th division of California. He dutifully went and tried to do his best. He was sent to Fort Ord for basic training and established a friendship with Willard Pilcher. Willard had a girlfriend named Louise who would later marry Willard. The first time she came to visit him, his girlfriend was accompanied by her best friend Barbara Pilcher who was Willard’s sister. Talbert was immediately smitten by such a beautiful woman and he instantly knew this was going to be the woman for him to marry. They were married in 1951 and are still married today. Barbara worked at a fruit packing plant during the war and later a secretary for an insurance broker Mr. Noak.
During the War that first year Talbert was involved in a very severe accident that he still suffers from to this day. He was training a driver on one of those big dully troop and supply carrier trucks when they came to a narrow winding mountainous area with steep cliffs.
He told the driver to get out so he could drive but a lieutenant hustled up and ordered Talbert to let the new recruit drive.
Talbert knew this was a very bad idea since the dully had one of the rear dual wheels dangling over the edge on the tight narrow curves. All of a sudden the large troop and supply truck plummeted over the edge barrel rolling down the cliff over 100 feet. Both occupants were tossed out but Talbert went all the way down watching the tumbling dully coming closer and closer.
As Talbert lay nearly paralyzed and in shock the large truck continued rolling towards him and at the last split second, God reached out and had a large tree hold the truck over the top of him. All Talbert could see were the dully truck tires spinning just above his head. Unable to move he was rescued and brought back to the top of the mountain.
He would later spend time recovering in a military hospital in Yokohama Japan. He returned to his duties in Korea. After his serving, he would put war behind him, and be discharged honorably for his proud service to America.
Back From The War-
One of his first jobs back was at JC Penny men’s clothing. Talbert also wanted others to have opportunities and felt all people should be afforded a way to make their lives better. He believed all people are entitled to improving their lives and deserved the respect for trying.
A big impression was made on him that again would influence the rest of his life. That was a day when one of the most disheveled bums came in the men’s dept and no one would wait on him. Talbert took it upon himself to give this man the respect that all people deserve and went over to help him. That man turned out to be the biggest sale that JC Penny store ever had. It was nearly a thousand dollars and to this day Talbert recalls this moment as one of his great epiphanies of life. Not only will he remember it, but he will live it.
Around this time Talbert and his wife will start their family. Melanie will be born and a few years later Monica.
The Denney family was a typical American family of this time and with that Talbert had the responsibility of supporting them at work. His mind was full of ideas and lessons from high school by Mr. Louis and the inspiration from the rich farmer in the new ford truck that was ‘magic’.
Barbara had her hands full with two young girls and the daily tasks of running the household. A symbiotic relationship fit for the time and generation. It was a loving and fulfilling job but she did more. She was a confidant, a listener, a partner, an inspiration, and most importantly the absolute love of his life.
At this writing, February 2021, their family just celebrated 70 years of the most beautiful life together in marriage.
Becoming A Businessman-
As things were moving in his mind there was going to be bigger and better things for Talbert and the Denney’s.
Talbert was not afraid of hard work, after all, he and his family were from the Dust Bowl of rural Oklahoma, had to trek 11 miles just for water, endure stifling heat, and no shoes in summer. Him and his siblings even walked to a two-room schoolhouse 3 miles in the sweltering heat and freezing snow. He and Barbara were tough, hard-working people of great faith in family and God. Each understanding their commitment to life and family meeting it head-on without hesitation.
Talbert would take on a new job selling spices during his 5-week long route that encompassed the territory Reno to Bakersfield for Crescent Manufacturing.
The Crescent Manufacturing company were in the spice business so Talbert sold their products to stores, ice cream parlors, and bakeries. Talbert remembered having a product in high demand he was selling for the new company.
The Mapleine product was very popular as Talbert recalled. This item by Crescent Manufacturing Co. was his biggest seller at the time. Talbert also personally liked the Mapleine product which Barbara his wife and the family frequently used at home.
This corporate level job gave him more experience and time to formulate his upcoming moves in life.
Talbert would meet Sam Craig in Sacramento and both would move to Portland to purchase a ServiceMaster Franchise. Sam proposed that Talbert take his success with Crescent Manufacturing and that Smile he always carried and go to work with him as a partner. Sam doing the work and Talbert selling. This was a move up in that he was a partner. This job would again solidify his incredible ability to generate enthusiasm and loyalty from his customers.
Talbert knew and understood, there was never a failure as long as you tried to be the best. You see Talbert knew you learn from mistakes. Think about it, when you win do you really spend time analyzing what made you win. Talbert understood it’s analyzing the failures so as to not repeat them. To repeat them and expect different results is the signature of insanity. Unafraid of failure, Talbert was polishing all the skills he would need to propel the man from Leedey to the pinnacle of American business.
What will turn out to be interesting in his road map to success was a detour. Sam was not particularly enthralled with diligently performing his job in this business relationship as agreed. There were a lot of resources expended unnecessarily as Talbert saw it. This was also another lesson he would carry forward on his march to his rise and prominence in American business.
A year after starting together Talbert suggested Sam take the reigns of handling all the sales and Talbert would do the work. Again, another piece of brilliance is that Talbert would now learn and piece another part of the puzzle for his future achievements. Sam would buy Talbert out and he would proceed to another level in his business trek to greatness.
Talbert would take his resources to Santa Barbra and buy three ServiceMaster counties for himself as a Master Franchise Coordinator. Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo. He knew everything had to be sold before you received the opportunity to perform the work and that’s what he excelled at. Later he became known as the man who smiled all the time. Talbert would go on to set up 10 more sub-franchisees under his Master Franchise. He was charming, disarming, and endearing as Barbara his wife would tell you. For all this hard work Talbert was recognized by the ServiceMaster headquarters as the highest earner of the ServiceMaster Franchises. Single-handedly he arrives at the top in this swift move in his developing career.
Building An Empire-
While being recognized by ServiceMaster at the ServiceMaster Conventions he will meet Ted Isaacson. Ted’s father, Gus Isaacson, had set him up in the ServiceMaster Franchise coming from Chicago the HQ of ServiceMaster.
Talbert and Ted would have another mutual interest. Both loved flying and Ted had a Bonanza V tail. Talbert was enamored by Ted’s fancy plane. This will be the start of another business relationship that will be fruitful for both men. It will be a good business relationship but as a business relationship, it had its trials and tribulations. Ultimately, this will be the ride and vehicle for the ascendance both men will embark on.
In 60-64 while Talbert was in Santa Barbara when another man will enter the picture. This was Doctor Milton Klotzbach who was a prominent physician in the Malibu Area. Dr. Klotzbach wanted to be in on this money train Talbert created from nothing. As Talbert told his wife Barbara, he was constantly inquiring and soliciting Talbert to buy his business. Tired of the constant inquiries Talbert tossed a big number to Dr. Klotzbach and with that Dr. Klotzbach said, “I’ll have the money on your desk in few days.” Somewhat stunned, Talbert would Agree. It was enough to retire. So he and Barbara had made it. Made it to the top in what seemed as of late, a quick climb.
Talbert laments once they retired they spent twice as much money per year than they ever had and Talbert soon realized he wasn’t finished in business, yet.
Pinnacle Of American Business-
Ted Isaacson had stayed in close contact with Talbert occasionally suggesting they join in a partnership. Talbert’s previous experience with partners had turned out to be a mixed bag. He entertained the idea each time Ted would elude or suggest that a partnership would work between them. Ted understood as well as anyone who meets Talbert he has an irresistible demeanor that has defined him his whole life. You see Talbert never felt he was selling a bag of goods to anyone. He felt that he was improving their lives and giving them opportunities. It was a genuine feeling you could sense was coming from deep inside him. This is possibly related to his upbringing and of course, his faith.
Ted was finally able to coax Talbert to team up with him in Sacramento where Ted’s ServiceMaster was and selling half of that business to him.
Both men worked out of a small office in Sacramento and the business also had an ancillary rug cleaning business. One day a local governmental agency proposed a new section of road to be built and that lead them to the rug cleaning company that was now owned by both Talbert and Ted. The company sold the land to the agency and both men received their 50% share of the proceeds. This was a windfall for both but Ted seemed miffed that Talbert had also realized his percentage of windfall. Ted even went so far as to ask Talbert to forego his portion. Talbert unequivocally said no and that’s the way it stayed, both 50% partners took 50% each on that deal. However, the seed was sown there may be other issues that could arise. Both men continued to build the business.
Both men collaborated on the continuation of building something that had potential. Both brought something to the table of success. One day the Union came to them and said they were going to form a Union with their little company’s employees. Ted and Talbert were a bit surprised as they were small and certainly not making a fortune. But both realized there was a way to make this work even better as a business. They would make all the employees owners.
Several things blossomed from the thought of this. Each employee would essentially be commissioned thus enticing them to work harder and drive more business in. It was the American way of opportunity and hard work generating results. It also gave them the opportunity to tell the Union they could speak to who they wanted about unionizing. They were then presented with a list of the owners they could speak to. It’s one of many brilliant pieces of business strategies that was implemented by both of these men. Each bringing something to the table in a great collaboration.
Talbert believed the map to millions was to sell franchises. So Talbert took the lead in that area. After selling all the franchises he could in the area allotted by the Master Franchise, Talbert went to the headquarters to ask for more territory. SeviceMaster refused to allot anymore territory because they didn’t want anyone getting too big. This permeated their philosophy since their inception in 1947 in Chicago Illinois.
Talbert felt stymied by that and both he and Ted had a dilemma. They had a proven plan to generate millions for themselves but were now being thwarted by the very company that would’ve made much more on their efforts. This will prove to be another motivating factor and genesis for Talbert Denney’s thinking but what will also turn out to be a terrible idea for ServiceMaster HQ.
Talbert consulted with Ted that there’s more money selling franchises than working the franchisees themselves.
So the two of them decided to combine all the sub-franchisees they’d created for ServiceMaster enticing the sub franchises to become Servpro’s and started their own empire. They would start a new company and parlaying from the ServiceMaster name they collaborate the new company name, Servpro.
Servpro will start innocuously enough as a cleaning company in Talbert Denny’s home at 4247 Maple Lane, Carmichael CA with both men working out of it.
(pictured left Servpro 1st office on Orange Grove Ave N. Highlands CA)
Later they would move to a 69,000 square foot building that finally afforded enough room to work out of.
Talbert thought of the brightest color he could for the logo. Porsche green and an accent color of orange and viola, Servpro Industries Inc was formally founded. Later customers were seeing the Servpro truck of which there were only two buzzing around town, many customers would say they saw all their trucks all over town.
There were only two trucks but Talbert’s design of the new corporate identity and logo was hard to miss. Every time someone saw one of the two trucks people got an impression there were hundreds of them.
Ted would set out copying all of ServiceMaster’s agreements and procedures. Talbert explained this is a bad idea because of a potential action being brought on them. This was a precursor of more issues to arise between both men as they worked to create something few business people ever would.
70-71 Talbert decided to approach Sears subcontract division on Holman Ave at their Headquarters in Chicago. Sears had indicated there were many customer satisfaction issues and didn’t know how to remedy them. Talbert knew they were with ServiceMaster so Talbert approached many of them across the United States to learn what he could do to make Sears customers happy and satisfied. It was just a simple matter of working harder to satisfy the customer and motivating his franchises to do just that. After all, it was wholly in their interest as they were owners of that particular Servpro.
It was what Talbert Denney did best to lift everyone up to achieve for themselves their dreams and aspirations. Talbert never really was a salesman but a motivator, a teacher like his high school teacher, Mr. Louis, a mentor to be the best and reap your earned rewards. In the end, Talbert grew the company exponentially with that massive deal and both men acquired many more sub-franchises and achieved their own wealth from this deal. A harbinger of more to come.
Now there was a new process, protect their new franchises. To do that Talbert embarked on a mission to retrain the thinking of the franchisees by holding seminars of P.O.S. what Talbert called the Principals Of Success. Hundreds of franchisees would show up for these extremely insightful presentations of how to be successful long before anyone ever thought about it. Talbert was again far ahead of his time by feeding the flock the Principals Of Success, and he did just that !
Talbert bought a Bonanza V tail like Ted, painted his Servpro colors on it, and flew around the country teaching these in-demand, powerful presentations of the Principals Of Success to all the franchisees. More and more franchisees came so much that this was Talbert’s main job for the expansion of the Servpro company.
One day as he was teaching a class he was summoned to a call from Bristol Myers Corporation. He was told it was two Vice Presidents of one of America’s biggest conglomerates. They called and were on the phone and needed to speak to him immediately. Talbert handed the teaching to an assistant and took the call. They told Talbert they had spent months speaking to all the Servpro sub-franchises about how and why that Servpro was so successful. To their chagrin, they were told by each one that Talbert Denney was the reason. They said he was the best teacher for their success and was extremely well regarded by how he endeared himself to every single franchisee. The VP’s said they were shocked by the level of passion each showed towards Talbert. They requested a meeting with him as soon as possible which he obliged.
In the subsequent meeting with Talbert alone, the VP’s were somewhat perplexed by his ability from what the franchisees told them. Their experience with one of their spin-off companies, Domesticare was literally the exact opposite. There was constant strife, disharmony, vendettas, and overall consternation with all of them. The VP’s told Talbert they had thought they had the best combination and teams assembled to run the operation on a corporate level by some of the most well-educated college executives in the country to run Domesticare. But all of the franchises were a huge mess and they were bleeding money. Talbert, being extremely savvy suggested how can I help?
Essentially unknown to Talbert at the time Bristol Meyers was bogged down so much with Domesticare by internal lawsuits they just wanted out of the business to stop the enormous bleeding of cash it had.
Talbert, relying on his moxy, business acumen, and experience thought of Dr. Klotzbach and his eagerness to make a deal and what Talbert had done then. So Talbert as the Chairman of the Board of Directors for Servpro made an extremely low-ball suggestion of pricing and told the Bristol Myers VP’s there was a caveat to him taking over the troubled franchises. The VP’s ask what that was and Talbert explained he wanted nothing to do with the over-educated managers that he felt were plaguing the company. The Vp’s looked at each other then at Talbert and told him they were the brightest from the best colleges of business in the country. Talbert told them they were from the best colleges and so forth, but they weren’t doing their best ! That takes something different.
The VP’s looked at Talbert and said they’d check with Bristol Myers HQ but eagerly wanted Talbert to wait for a response. (pictured right Bristol Myers Delaware HQ)
Talbert agreed to wait. Within a few minutes, they came back and said, “You have a deal, Mr. Denney.” In a matter of a couple of hours, Talbert Denney had negotiated and closed one of the biggest deals of an American service company in the country. The Domesticare company was owned by one of the biggest conglomerates in the world.
Talbert had just expropriated a company from an international conglomerate unable to turn one of their subsidiaries Domesticare profitable. In the first month, all of the former Domesticare franchises turned a substantial profit for the Servpro Industries Inc. company. It was Talbert Denney, Chairman of the Board of Directors for Servpro Industries Inc. that executed this deal with the international conglomerate. It was his innate business savvy that once again, had exponentially expanded the Servpro company’s corporate foot print with one fell swoop by leaps and bounds.
Somethings In The Air-
There was the friction that developed over the 17 years of working together as business partners too laborious to go into here. But needless to say, there was a change in the air. Talbert had set up the entire corporation and he was the Chairman of Servpro Industries Inc., and now there were too many chefs in the kitchen. Something was about to change but that will not be detailed in this story.
Talbert consulted counsel and they determined that it would destroy the company for a takeover and all that he created in terms of millions and millions of dollars of revenue streams. So Talbert Denney, listed in the book of Who’s Who (1987, page 176) edition as the first and only up and until his retirement as Chairman of Servpro Industries Inc. would make a fateful decision.
He later decided to retire once again and enjoy his many millions of dollars and vast real estate holdings. It was time for him and the family to enjoy the fruits of his endeavors, and that they did. He and his lovely wife traveled and enjoyed life. As it turned out it was the best for everyone they split so Talbert Denney turned the reigns over to Ted Isaacson and wished him well. But of course, Talbert had lifelong checks every month coming in of extremely nice revenue streams.
Servpro Industries Inc. was bought by Blackstone Investment Firm for 1 billion dollars.
Talbert would do what most people do when they come from nothing, they buy anything they want. He started an automobile collection featured on several national TV shows, had an estate with a horse farm, Was involved with Mel Fisher on the quest for treasure among many more real estate endeavors.
He now sits atop a mountain overlooking a lake with a view of the snow-capped sierras with his beautiful wife of 70 years Barbara.
But what would you do if you were him? Well if you were him you’d be going stir crazy wanting to build something else, another empire. Yes, that’s the way he’s built. He’s at the pinnacle of knowledge about American and International business and dreams of more enterprises. He will never stop thinking because he lives by what Mr. Louis said, do your Best, that Talbert Denney will, do his best.
Another Billion Thank You-
Talbert would run across another businessman in his once again retirement while meeting to discuss a real estate deal. Both of these men were successful in their own worlds and they struck a kinship based on shared values of hard work, honor, and faith. His name was Richard Ditlevsen. Richard Ditlevsen is the Founder and Chairman of No Fire Technology.
You could not stop either of these men from talking about business and as it would turn out Mr. Ditlevsen would ask Talbert to advise him on his quest to achieve great things for his company.
Talbert and Richard would start to discuss the fire fighting business and of course, both wanted to expand their business relationship. Richard told Talbert he could have any position he wanted with No Fire Technology. Talbert has since become Richard’s closest advisor and an official consultant to the Chairman of the Board of Directors.
The business side of things started to mature around 2015 and has grown ever since. Talbert has said the future of his newest company, No Fire Technology with Richard has an even brighter future than Servpro because of the voluminous amount of products, services, and pure cache of the business.
Talbert said his Servpro company was looked at as a janitorial service and there’s a propensity for people to be attracted to the shiny object.
Talbert believes No Fire Technology is that shiny object and has set out to help construct an even mightier, more profitable, and desirous business with Richard. Both men will always ‘do their best’, and working together is an extremely formidable pairing.
So for now, Talbert is back at it again building, engineering, endeavoring, and mentoring another Billion dollar company.
Do your best gentlemen !
The Talbert Denney Story
To Be continued-