Jeff Dudan’s accounting professor at Appalachian State used to regularly give him a hard time about being a football player.
“When he would talk about the Securities and Exchange Commission, he would call it the SEC and then stop and say, ‘Jeff, that’s not the Southeastern Conference.’”
But Dudan quickly turned the tables on that comedy routine by scoring a 92 on his first test in the class. More importantly, he had an epiphany.
“I was a poor student through high school and college,” Dudan said. “He brought me up there and said, ‘You know, you’ve got one of the higher grades in the class.’ That was really one of the first times I thought, ‘You know what? I might not be a complete idiot after all.’”
Twenty-seven years later, Dudan has a marketing degree he earned with a 3.5 GPA and is the founder and CEO of AdvantaClean, a light environmental services company with 222 locations in 31 states. And on January 11 at 8 p.m. ET, he will be featured on an episode of the CBS show “Undercover Boss.”
“It was the experience of a lifetime,” Dudan said of being on the show. “While I thought I would find what I expected, you can’t help but be put back into the days when you were in the truck, in the driveway and under the house. It really did provide a meaningful connection back with our franchise system, our franchise owners and the realities of what they face every day. Moreover, I was extremely motivated and very encouraged by how our franchise owners and their employees were really living our values out there.”
Dudan’s disguise for the reality show led to some situational comedy, including his fake beard inside a respiration suit.
“Some of that is going to have to wait for the episode to air,” Dudan said, “but they did their best to disguise somebody that has relatively unique features. I’m not a small guy; I’m relatively easy to pick out.”
Dudan, who is also a passionate youth sports coach who has authored a book on the subject, had never played organized football until Schamburg (Ill.) High School got a new football coach prior to his junior year. The new coach asked Dudan to try out for wide receiver. He caught 87 passes in two seasons, helping the Saxons make a deep playoff run his senior year.
From there, he walked on at the University of Northern Iowa, and then played for two years at Harper College — a community college in Illinois that no longer has a football program. After being recruited by Head Coach Sparky Woods, Dudan earned a scholarship to Appalachian State in Boone, N.C.
“It’s a beautiful town and great people in the south,” Dudan said. “For me, coming from Chicago, it was like a little slice of heaven on earth. It took the town a little while to adjust to me.”
In addition to getting his act together in the classroom, Dudan also really came into his own on the field. Woods left to become the head coach at South Carolina, clearing the way for legendary Mountaineer coach Jerry Moore. His junior season under Moore, Dudan caught 14 passes for 147 yards and four touchdowns and earned All-Southern Conference honors to help Appy State to a 9-3 record and a playoff berth.
And that’s not all. Dudan also met his future wife and started his first successful business — a painting venture with his roommate. By the summer of their senior year, they were painting the majority of student housing in Boone. Dudan’s offensive coordinator even got in on the action as a painter one summer.
Dudan’s younger brother Mike and his roommate’s younger brother took over the business after graduation. By the way, Mike has done OK for himself, too; he’s the CFO of the Carolina Panthers.
A buddy called Dudan to see if he would come down to South Florida and help clean up after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 before Dudan had even landed a post-graduation job interview. That foundation led to the formation of the company that would end up becoming AdvantaClean two years later.
“When I started the business with the guys, I had told them I was doing this to become a national brand and do something big,” Dudan said. “Honestly, they nodded their heads in agreement, but I don’t think they really were committed to it. Everything that I’ve done very intentionally since we started this business was to try to grow it. Has it taken a lot longer than I thought it would have? Absolutely. Has it been a lot harder work and more obstacles than I could have ever imagined? Absolutely. But have I ever thought for one minute about giving up the goal or the dream? Absolutely not.”
Dudan ended up buying his other three partners out. And he still applies some of the lessons he learned on the football field to run his business, including the ability to find a way to finish strong and get the job done, no matter what.
“Football is a loud, fast, frightening game,” Dudan said. “When I coach kids and first-year players, it takes them a certain amount of time to acclimate to that environment. One of the things you learn as a football player is how to deal with fear and the adrenaline. Being a business owner, there are constant challenges and constant threats out there. More than anything else, I think playing football gives you that perseverance and that courage and the ability to say, ‘You know what? This isn’t going to kill me. It’s not going to be fatal. I just need to push on through.’”
Another aspect of football that plays a big role in Dudan’s professional life is the sense of community, which is the first core value listed by his company. AdvantaClean signed a national strategic partnership with St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital to help families in need in January.
“So many football programs have a community aspect to them,” Dudan said. “Through my experience with football was probably the first time that whole concept of servant leadership, a servant’s heart and giving back to the community. We’ve really incorporated that into our business.”