From a runway in high school to now on track to make $1 million this year, Matisa Ullrich often describes her Miami upbringing as “unconventional” — but she attributes much of her success to her time in the Marine Corps.
Her father died young, and her relationship with her mother was not very good. Raised by grandparents, older siblings and other family members, Ulrich found a measure of stability when a recruiter noticed her in high school.
“I came to school one day in my tracksuit, and there was a meetup that day, and he stopped me and asked me what I was running,” Ulrich said. “I’d say I’m pretty good at the middle distance, but not a very good sprinter.
“He was really just interested in me, which didn’t happen a lot growing up. No one was really interested in the specific things I was doing.”
Going to college had always been a goal for Ullrich, but she didn’t think it was feasible, so the encounter with the recruiter meant a lot to her. The day after graduating from high school in 1999, she attended basic training and enlisted in the Marine Corps despite her family’s objections to her choosing a different course.
“Honestly, no one is ecstatic about it,” Ulrich said. “But I think they understood. I’ve always been super independent. But frankly, Marine Corps Boot Camp was a dream because I knew exactly what I was going to do every day.”
Nearly a quarter of a century later, Ulrich’s decision to join the army proved correct. She rose to the rank of sergeant during an eight-year tenure that included a tour in Iraq before moving on to the next phase of her life. While her initial foray into civilian life wasn’t exactly what she had hoped for, she was determined to change course.
She earned a college degree at Campbell College in North Carolina and landed a job with the IRS, but the threat of a government shutdown, and eventually the actual shutdown in 2011, steered her career in a different direction — to cleaning industry. By 2014, when another shutdown loomed, she had had enough.
“Some salaries were skipped,” Ulrich said. “But when the shutdown happened, I thought, ‘I can’t stay home.’ I’m a busy man.”
When one door closes with opportunity, another opens. It was during this time that she started a small cleaning business with some local clients to supplement her income from the IRS. But when the shutdown ended, the cleaning client still wanted her business, and it expanded.
As a small business, she thrived in the cleaning market, but knew she needed more resources to be further successful in the industry.
Earlier this year, Ulrich became a franchise owner of OpenWorks, a facilities management company that provides client services in areas such as commercial cleaning and disinfection, pest control and handyman services. Ullrich has provided many of these services before, but under the franchising umbrella she has expanded her reach even further.
Ullrich is located in Stafford, Virginia, just 50 miles from Washington. The location puts her in a densely populated area to attract clients. She has clients in Virginia and West Virginia.
The new business was a huge success, as Ulrich was on track to meet her goal of $1 million in revenue from business contracts.
The girl from Miami managed to overcome a rocky start to a bright future ahead.
“My grandfather always told me that unless you do it, you don’t know if you can do it,” Ulrich said of seizing the opportunity for a new career.
That sage advice also applies to her choice to go the military route, a decision not initially supported by everyone in her camp.
“Some of the most impactful things I’ve learned from the military, and the Marine Corps in particular, are that the Marine Corps works on such a small budget that it almost works miracles,” she said. “So this is my frame of mind [in business]. I haven’t done this perfectly, but I’ve learned to adapt to any source at my disposal. “