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Cintas president and chief operating officer embraces change

Phillip Holloman found his way to the top of his profession, but getting there required a leap from his comfort zone.

After graduating from UC with a degree in civil engineering in '78, Holloman took a position with Procter & Gamble, where he had co-oped as a student. "I was very fortunate to start my career in such a large company," he recalls. "There were a lot of places you could go in P&G, and it taught me at a relatively young age to keep my options open. I was also lucky to have the co-op experience under my belt -- it really helped to set myself apart from everyone else who was hoping to get hired."

Holloman made the most of his opportunity in the years that followed as a project manager at P&G, then at a number of other companies that held close working relationships with key P&G products. Over time, he gained additional responsibilities in the engineering and design divisions for a number of iconic brands, starting with disposable diapers.

Even though he earned numerous accolades, Holloman decided it was time for a change in 1996. Thanks to fortuitous timing and recommendations from former and current clients, he joined the Cintas Co., an international business supplier in Cincinnati.

As vice president of engineering and construction, he oversaw the growth and process automation of the company as it expanded into new markets. Over a four-year period, Holloman helped coordinate the construction of 37 new plants in the United States and Canada.

"As a manager, there's only so much you can do to ensure processes are being carried out correctly," Holloman says. "By taking the extra time to ensure everyone else is happy and understands their role in the organization, you ultimately benefit."

Holloman's performance and reputation as a strong manager -- and the company's growth into one of the largest uniform and apparel producers in the U.S. -- brought him to yet another new position. His new role, however, would require him to branch out from his comfort zone in engineering and focus more on the business and operations of the company.

Thanks to support from fellow executives and his family, the decision to make the leap to a new role was easy. The ultimate stamp of approval and career wisdom came from an unlikely source, his son Desmond.

"Desmond pointed out that if I could have fun and make things even better for our family, that he thought I should make the leap," recalls Holloman. "I had been focusing on so many small details that I sort of missed the bigger picture, and I was grateful for his advice and support."

Determined to make his new role successful, Holloman began handling seven distribution centers and two underperforming production planning groups. In just a few years, he was able to increase efficiency and customer satisfaction, turning around a combined annual loss of $7 million to a $2 million yearly profit.

His willingness to take on a role that was in the company's best interest, even if not in his personal career plan, propelled Holloman to vice president of global supply chain organization in 2006. Just a few years later, he was named president and chief operating officer, overseeing the company's various business units in uniforms and apparel, as well as logistics, document destruction and promotional products.

As he looks back on his career, Holloman points to a few pieces of wisdom he's picked up along the way. "I would say the biggest key to success is realizing that you will never be doing just one thing," he says. "While you'll go through college and training to find your first position, those responsibilities will inevitably adapt. It's helpful to be on the lookout for new skills and knowledge you might be able to use in the future."

As president, Holloman has continued to build Cintas' business and expand into new markets. He has also worked hard to increase diversity inside the company and with suppliers and other service providers to Cintas.

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I’m proud to have continued a tradition that in a way started at UC when I helped found our chapter of the Society of Black Engineers.

-- Phillip Holloman, Cintas president

"Diversity takes many forms -- not just gender and race, but ideas, cultures and opinions, too," Holloman says. "By working to bring everyone on board, our company benefits substantially while we create opportunities for the next generation of leaders. I'm proud to have continued a tradition that in a way started at UC when I helped found our chapter of the Society of Black Engineers more than 30 years ago.

"I'm also extremely grateful for the education and opportunities I received at UC. I know it's been a big part of my success, and I hope my story can show today's students that almost anything can happen if they are willing to keep their options open and work hard. It may seem cliche, but I'm living proof that it can and does pay off."