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An Estonian Immigrant Makes it  to the White House
by Ave Maria Blithe

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Mike Calamus. Photo by Ave Maria Blithe

 

Let me explain.


In these trying times, there is nothing more uplifting than hearing good news and finding out that in the midst of daily doom and gloom, somebody has found success. By found – I mean worked hard for it.


Small businesses around the country have struggled to stay afloat.

 

In fact, according to Yelp data, 70% of small businesses that were forced to close due to Covid restrictions have by now shut their doors permanently.

 

Over 100 000 companies in total have closed for good as of December 2020.


It is quite a miracle that Calamus Enterprises has not only folded, but has managed to bring in the same numbers as last year.

 

And in the year 2020, aka annus horribilis this is a remarkable success, especially for a company started by an immigrant with just a pocketful of coins to invest.


Mike Calamus was born and raised in a small village in Estonia, a tiny country by the Baltic Sea that for decades was illegally annexed by the Soviet Union.

 

As in any communist country, material goods and money was scarce, so Mike learned from an early age how to supplement his family income.

 

He became a bona fide businessman in third grade, selling glossy western stickers (sent to him by relatives from abroad) as anything not made in the USSR was a high demand commodity.

 

Mind you – that activity could have sent his entire family to prison, as any private transactions were strictly forbidden in the USSR, but that minor detail did not dampen Mike’s enthusiasm.

 

His entrepreneurial spirit then developed to DJ-ing in clubs he was too young to party at, making a monthly salary of an average worker in only one evening.


Befitting a true country boy, Mike then rented a plot of land to grow beets.

 

Insert your Dwight Schrute jokes here. (You know, “The Office” TV show).

 

The rent for the land and seed costs still enabled him to turn a nice profit.

 

No wonder then that after graduating from high school, Mike Calamus majored in Forestry Management and Economics at the Estonian Agricultural Academy.


In 2002 fate took Mike to good ole England.

 

Not one to sit and wait for welfare perks (which back in the 90s were not as readily handed out as they are now), Mike took a cleaning job at a NATO army base.

 

He was impressed with the high standards and innovative techniques like steam cleaning – effective yet environmentally friendly.


Ten years later, in 2012 an opportunity opened to join some compatriots in the US, so Mike Calamus arrived in Washington DC. Doing what he knew, he concentrated on the cleaning industry.

 

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Mike Calamus and his team.   Private photo

 

To his dismay, he quickly discovered the outdated techniques compared to what he was operating with in Europe.

 

That is when the genius thought sparked – why not start his own company in the land of endless possibilities!


Mike makes no secret of the fact that in the beginning, his winning strategy was based largely on hutzpah – promising a prospective client everything they hoped to hear.

 

Be it tackling a project he had not attempted before or agreeing to deadlines that were too optimistic.

 

He recalls that more than once Youtube tutorial videos came in handy.

 

But practice makes perfect and clients were always happy with the results.


Experience gained in the UK like familiarity with more progressive techniques of steam cleaning and the use of environmentally friendly chemicals gave Mike Calamus a distinct edge over other industrial cleaning companies.

 

The clients were pleased with the results and word spread.


Interesting fact – Calamus Enterprises launched virus and dangerous bacteria removal service already six years ago in 2014, offering disinfecting procedures as part of the kitchen deep cleaning and odor removal service.

 

Being able to combat Noro-virus, SARS, etc gave the company once again a huge advantage, especially this year when commercial kitchens and hospitals in particular battle Corona virus outbreaks.


Mike’s professionalism in managing all facets of daily operations made it possible to start franchising very quickly.


Now the company provides seven different services in Maryland, Washington DC, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Illinois, Southern California and Georgia.

 

The client list includes Whole Foods, Hilton, Pfizer, various federal buildings and army bases, the Pentagon and of course – the White House.

 

What a poetic American Dream come true of epic proportions and a testament to the fact that with the can-do attitude, great business sense and hard work even an immigrant can establish his own enterprise and be successful year after year.


Since starting in 2012 with a meager budget of a few thousand dollars, the company’s growth has fluctuated between 75% and 100% annually.

 

The majority of profit always gets invested back into the company, thus creating good jobs for many fellow immigrants pursuing their own American Dream.

 

Calamus Enterprises is a stickler about following all laws and tax codes though, so anyone wishing to apply must possess valid documentation and a right to legally work in the U.S.

 

Mike does truly believe in paying it forward and has assisted his employees of all walks of life and various nationalities in finding accommodations, giving cash advances for rents, car purchases or whatever his loyal employees have needed help with.

 

That in addition to constantly offering salaries above industry averages for even entry level positions.

 

Needless to say this has ensured minimal turnover of employees which in turn has created a seasoned team with substantial experience in their tasks.


On a personal note – Mike’s dream had always been a Porsche.

 

He had vowed to himself already back in Soviet Estonia that if he ever made it big, his first order of business would be to buy the vehicle that all successful capitalists seemed to have; from James Dean to 007 James Bond to Steve McQueen.

 

When the time came to make that purchase comfortably, true to form – Mike’s sense of practicality kicked in and instead of a small and glamorous roadster, he opted for a Porsche Cayenne.

 

“It is big enough for me to put cleaning supplies and work tools in, so I can still go and do the job myself if need be,’’ he explains.

 

And he does, never one to shy away from rolling up his sleeves and getting his hands dirty.

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