Working in the sky over New Eastside
The architecture of the New Eastside may shape the neighborhood’s skyline, but window washers make it really shine. The squeegee-wielding glass-tenders who hang from the Aon tower, Aqua, Fairmont, Hyatt Hotel and several more local buildings are trained and employed by Corporate Cleaning Services, a company founded by a tireless entrepreneur.
CEO Neal Zucker was inspired to get into the window washing business by an epiphany that appeared before him in downtown Chicago in 1994. “I was walking around and I saw that there was a lot of glass around,” he says.
At the time, he was a trader pursuing a Kellogg MBA who wanted to avoid the road typically travelled by his peers. “I just knew, sitting in those classes, that I was not going to be an investment banker,” he remembers. “There’s so much more.”
So he “bought into” a housekeeping and window washing business. “I lived in a building and there was a need to hire housekeepers to clean the corporate apartments,” he explains. “It filled that need.” As the company grew, he increasingly focused on the window washing service.
Today, Corporate Cleaning Services is the largest window washing company in Chicago. “We have over a hundred window washers and a very diverse portfolio,” Zucker says. Roughly 1,200 properties rely on the company to wash their windows and perform interior cleaning operations.
Besides the top shelf properties in New Eastside, Corporate Cleaning handles the Hancock, the United Center, the Willis Tower and a list of condominiums, high-rises and universities that reads like a who’s who of architectural greatness.
Zucker’s enthusiasm for the company’s success is matched by a devotion to the “amazing staff of hardworking people” who make it happen. He is quick to point out that Corporate Cleaning is the largest employer of union washers in Chicago and one of the largest employers of Latinos in the city. Above all else, he seems proud to protect them.
“When we say safety’s our priority, we mean it,” he says. The company not only employs a safety manager — which is somewhat rare in the industry — but it also exceeds requirements prescribed by the government’s Occupational Safety Hazard Authority.
Executive Director of Operations Oralia Castañeda oversees this over compliance. She knows ropes and harnesses like a veteran, and hopes to hang from the side of a building for her first time this summer. She came to Chicago from Rockford for a career in law, but something about the company’s culture intrigued her.
Working in the window washing business.
“We thrive on each others’ success,” Castañeda explains. “That goes for the entire team. I know every single one of the window washers by name. I know the story behind them.”
Two in particular, Ernesto Rodriguez and Efrem Salas, were featured in a commercial for Blue Cross Blue Shield.
It shows them preparing and descending from the top of BCBS’ New Eastside high-rise on E. Randolph St. — another one of Corporate Cleaning’s customers — while a narrator explains why Anthem Health Insurance is so good for hardworking people.
According to Salas, he was “a little bit nervous” the first time he hung from the side of a building.
“But now I can do it,” he laughs. “It’s easy for me.”
Salas immigrated to Chicago from Zacatecas, Mexico, seven years ago and got the job at Corporate Cleaning with the help of his brother.
In conversation, he speaks with impeccable grace and kindness, a manner that filmmaker Nadav Kurtz found to be common among the company’s employees while making “Paraiso,” an award-winning 2012 documentary about window washers.
During production, Kurtz grew close to three of the men and their families. “I felt really welcome and comfortable,” he remembers. “They were always trying to buy me tacos and stuff.”
The footage of “Paraiso” is no doubt breathtaking, but the theme is even more powerful: “This is a film about guys who work really hard and take care of their families,” Kurtz explains.
As it turns out, these guys work hard for other peoples’ families as well. Twice a year, Corporate Cleaning’s window washers entertain patients at Kolmer Hospital and Lurie Children’s Hospital by wearing superhero costumes while scaling the exterior.
Immediately after the inagural event, says Castañeda, they started figuring out how to have more interaction with the kids on the next trip down.
CEO Zucker, who spends much of his success serving on boards for charitable organizations, could not be more pleased with the way business is going.
— Daniel Patton, Staff Writer
Corporate Cleaning Services · (312) 573-3333 · www.corporatecleaning.com