The owner of Millenium Irrigation takes over her husband’s company after he loses his battle with cancer.
Irrigation started as a side business for Gregg Poe. But, he did it so well, his reputation as a troubleshooter continued to build him a following in the field. By 2009 it became obvious that the work could become a full-time job, and with his wife Carla’s help, Millenium Irrigation was launched. It wasn’t terribly long after that when Gregg was diagnosed with lung cancer and those plans would need to change. Though he lost the battle with the disease, Poe has carried on the Atlanta company’s mission, creating a legacy that is supporting Gregg’s dream.
As the owner of Millenium Wiring, a wiring company that was contracted with Comcast, Gregg got his experience repairing damaged irrigation lines that were hit in the field during wiring work. Over time, he learned so much that he started installing and repairing irrigation systems as a side business. Since his start was based around repairs he became known as a good troubleshooter. Poe said he was the guy that would never back down from a challenge. He began tackling a lot of tough repair jobs that other contractors didn’t want to attempt.
In 2009, Atlanta was hit with a severe drought and the number of calls Gregg was getting began to increase significantly. There just weren’t as many irrigation companies in business and Gregg had proven himself as effective and reliable. That was when he started to think about going full-time. That same year, Gregg launched Millenium Irrigation. Not long after, the water restrictions were lifted and Gregg was in an excellent position. But just as business began to really take off, Gregg got some life-changing news. He had lung cancer.
“During the course of Gregg’s treatment, we began preparing for what was inevitable for our business – I would be taking over,” Poe said. “My specialty was marketing and that’s where I’d always helped out but I had to become completely educated in everything from design to auditing. I knew how the systems worked but I’d never sat down to design one. Gregg walked me through everything.”
Saying goodbye, carrying on.
During Poe’s crash course in irrigation, Gregg was fighting the battle of his life. While Gregg responded well to treatment initially, the cancer came back and he did not respond to the second bout of treatment he received. He was put on hospice July 2, 2011 and passed away July 12 at only 41 years old. He would have been 42 on July 22.
“When I told my guys that Gregg wasn’t going to make it, the big question was: ‘Do we keep doing this?’” Poe said. “If we did, we knew we had to do it like Gregg would have and that meant radiating the energy and the excellent customer service that he always offered. So that’s what we’ve done.”
In keeping with Gregg’s initial mission, Poe puts an emphasis on providing the very best customer service. “We are trying to build customers for a lifetime,” she said. “That was part of Gregg’s legacy for this company.”
Poe said that she and the employees get to know customers on a personal level. They’re always available for follow-ups and keep in regular contact with clients. “Our customers have become like our extended family,” she said.
While the primary focus is residential work, Millenium also does some commercial jobs. But Poe said they are hand-picked. “We’re a small company so we are selective about what commercial work we choose to take on,” she said. “I really try to choose jobs that mean something. We have a close relationship with our residential clients and we also try to select commercial work that is meaningful. For instance, we’re doing the Girl Scouts of America. I take into consideration what Gregg might have done with each job.”
Millenium also handles quite a lot of repair work as that’s where Gregg got his start and built the company’s reputation. “The difficult stuff that nobody else wants to mess with has sort of become our niche,” Poe said. “Gregg never gave up. He always figured out the tough jobs and that’s the attitude that our guys have. If they have a tough day I remind them that Gregg never gave up – even when he was dying – and they take that to heart. We’ve become known for those difficult repairs that require a lot of troubleshooting.”
Making a difference
Besides running the business, Poe has also gotten involved with the Lung Cancer Alliance, a non-profit focusing on advocacy work and fundraising. “Lung cancer has a terrible stigma associated with it because a lot of people believe you only get it if you were a smoker,” Poe said. “Because of that stigma, we don’t get as much funding and people just don’t know that much about lung cancer.”
Lung Cancer Awareness Month is in November, but with so much going on for breast cancer awareness in the month of October, lung cancer has the ability to get overlooked. But Poe is determined to change things. She started a facebook page called “Wear Pearls in November for Lung Cancer” (clear or “pearl” is the color for lung cancer awareness) and continues to work with the Lung Cancer Alliance on fundraising. Prior to Gregg’s passing, in 2010, $5 of every sale was donated to the Lung Cancer Alliance during Smart Irrigation Month in July. Last year, all employees and their significant others participated in the “No More Excuses Run/Walk” to raise lung cancer awareness. As a team they raised more than $5,000.
It hasn’t been easy taking over full reign of the company that was once shared by the couple, but Poe has had a lot of success at the helm. She brought in her sister to help run the office. She said that while many businesses have found that working with family doesn’t click for them, it always worked for her and Gregg, and is now working for her and her sister. “People used to joke that Gregg and I would fight like cats and dogs while holding hands,” Poe said. “We had a great partnership and when the business day was over, we were back to husband and wife. We made a good team and at the end of the day it made our relationship stronger.”
Poe feels much gratitude to Gregg for the business he created. And she feels an even greater responsibility to carry on his legacy. Even though Gregg told her the business was “her baby now,” she’s carrying it on in a way that she knows Gregg would have respected. “An amazing man is no longer here anymore but because of him, I have this great business,” she said. “He helped me build it, and now I feel confident I can do it. We are carrying on in a way that would have made Gregg proud.”