Mark McDermott

The Charger Self-made Mayor Drew Boyles

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Drew Boyles on the beach in El Segundo. Photo by Brad Jacobson

First of two parts

by Mark McDermott

The sun had gone down and all the guys were out of the water after a long day of surfing in Nicaragua. They were at the tail end of a surf trip, celebratory and stoked, not quite ready to come back to the South Bay. It was time to eat a big dinner and have some beers when somebody noticed. Drew Boyles was not on land.

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Nobody was particularly surprised. Over the course of many surf trips —  to Mexico, Central America, the Mentawais — Boyles was always the guy who put in the most hours in the water. He wasn’t known as the best surfer in the crew, but nobody surfed as avidly.

“He’s good,” said Eric Nepomnaschy, a friend who has surfed with Boyles for more than 20 years. “He’s no Kelly Slater, but he’s relentless. He will do anything — big waves, small waves. He is definitely always the last one out of the water. He’s a charger.”

This particular incident, two years ago, was a little different. It wasn’t dusk. It was actual night. His friends peered out into the darkness. The surf was crashing pretty mightily.

“It’s big out there,” Nepomnaschy said. “We can’t see shit.”

Finally Boyles appeared, out of the darkness.

“He comes out of a wave, smile on his face, ready to go,” Nepomnaschy said. “That’s classic Drew.”

Drew Boyles near the El Segundo jetty. Photo by Brad Jacobson

Boyles is a charger in all aspects of life. He is a successful entrepreneur, one who turned heads in the business world during the first decade of the 2000s when he seemed to appear from nowhere to complete 26 mergers and acquisitions of the 1-800-Got-Junk franchise and in so doing built a small fortune. After barely surviving the Great Recession, Boyles bolted out of the gates by launching a waste hauling start-up, HazAwayToday.com, and attempting to revive another franchise, YouMoveMe.com.

In his adopted hometown, El Segundo, Boyles was a well-known quantity long before he became mayor earlier this year. He’d arrived as a single-dad with two young boys in tow in 1995, fairly fresh out of the Navy, and earned an MBA at USC’s Marshall School of Business  while working full-time as a manager for the then-fledgling Starbucks franchise. After a brief career as a consultant for the former Big Five firm Arthur Andersen and a momentous flameout as a first-time entrepreneur trying to reinvent the dry cleaning business, Boyles started building his hauling empire from a warehouse in Smoky Hollow while simultaneously working on the most important merger of his life, starting a second family with his new wife Lee, with whom he’d have two more children, a boy and a girl.

Over the last decade, he emerged as a local community and regional business leader. He served as chairman the Economic Development Advisory Council, an informal body that brings together the city’s business and civic leaders that some observers credit as a spark for El Segundo’s recent ascent as a hub of cutting-edge businesses. He served as regional director and president of the LA chapter of the Entrepreneurs Organization, a business network and think tank in which entrepreneurs share resources and stories. He also was active with the local Kiwanis club and served on the advisory council of the El Segundo Museum of Art and as coach for his kids’ AYSO soccer teams.

As if he didn’t have enough on his plate, Boyles was elected to the City Council in May 2016 and became mayor two years later. His wife Lee says the key behind this ongoing flurry of activity is that her husband wakes up every morning excited for what the day holds.

“Drew loves what he does and is not afraid of risk or hard work,” she said. “He loves to accomplish. I do not know anyone who does more than Drew. His plate is full all of the time, and he has a hard time saying no, but he always finds time for family.”

Central casting could not have made a better match to lead El Segundo in its current incarnation than Boyles — a tech-savvy businessman with a strong community ethos. Former mayor Bill Fisher, who first encouraged Boyles to enter local politics, said he is the right man at the right place at exactly the right time.

“He has built companies and knows the challenges businesses are faced with,” Fisher said. “In our city, where over 85 percent of revenue comes from business, you need someone who can relate to business leaders, and also has the acumen for how business truly operates and can apply that to the city. He has done that beautifully. He’s perfect.”

But there’s another, less apparent quality in Boyles, a grittiness that belies the apparent ease with which he approaches life. The fuller story is that Boyles comes from a broken background and encountered enough setbacks and challenges to fill a couple lifetimes — a disappearing father, an abusive stepfather,  becoming a father himself at 17, an early marriage lost to a spouse’s infidelity, a home and business lost to an earthquake, an entire career lost to a national scandal, Enron, he had nothing to do with, and a second career, as an entrepreneur, that began with a fairly epic failure.

Another former mayor, Eric Busch, who is a partner in HazAwayToday.com, said he’s never met a human being with greater perseverance than Boyles.

“I think that his family is the best example of perseverance, as far as being part of a great family, raising his children,” Busch said. “But perseverance — you imagine Sisyphus pushing that rock up the hill and sweating, not having any fun. But when you know Drew he is that guy who is dancing in a blue wig with the guys from 1-800-Got-Junk in the Christmas parade going down Main Street in El Segundo. He has a ton of fun while he’s also performing at a high level. He’s just that guy. Everyone wants to have fun and everyone wants to accomplish something great. He’s mastered the ability to do both.”

“I was at a party, my wife and I, at the Boyles’ house, and he broke out the cardboard and he started breakdancing… Something he learned as a kid in Chicago. He’s just that great guy. He’s got all these hidden skills nobody knows about. That is who he is. He never brags. He’s just always there to help.”

Drew Boyles during his Navy days. Photo courtesy Drew Boyles

Broken beginnings

Boyles was born in 1970 in Evanston, Illinois. His father, Dave Pushman, was a cab driver who disappeared from Drew’s life when he was four years old. His mother, Val, remarried five years later, to a man named John Boyles. Thus began a time of formative turbulence.

“This guy was super strict, from the South, a Southern Baptist kind of disciplinarian to the fullest extent, really difficult to please,” Boyles said of his stepfather. “So things were really tough —  his temper, and getting physical, that kind of thing. Everything kind of came to a head when I was 14… He just exploded. We couldn’t do anything right.”

He’d obtained fireworks for the 4th of July and it greatly upset his stepfather. A physical altercation ensued. It marked both the end of his mother’s marriage and the beginning of a period of outright delinquency in Boyle’s teenage years.

“As soon as he was gone, the reins were cut loose,” Boyles said. “I had a lot of energy and a lot of anger, so I kind of went down the wrong path.”

He’d started high school as an honors student, so bright that he’d skipped an entire grade in elementary school. But as a sophomore, he blew out both his knees playing soccer. Now, on top of his issues with both his fathers, his main outlet, sports, were taken from him.

“It went really south from there,” Boyles said. “I got frustrated, disengaged, more angry, and became interested in all the wrong things — having a great time, friends, girls, all that stuff. I grew up a little too fast.”

He was nearly flunking out of school, but he had enough self-awareness to know he was making a lot of bad decisions. At 16, he applied for and was accepted into the Culver Military Academy, an elite college preparatory school in Indiana. It was a hard school to get into and his family —  his mother, grandmother, and sister — were finally proud of something he’d done.

“I quickly realized, ‘I am not mentally prepared for this,’” Boyles recalled. “I was missing my girlfriend and I quit after three days. I don’t have many regrets in my life. This is one of them. Everything else worked out great because of this decision, but at the time it was a real low point. I let my family down.”

Drew Boyles surfing in the Mentawais Islands. Photo courtesy Drew Boyles

It would be the last time he’d let his family down. When he returned home, his options were bleak. He was way behind in school, but he had a guidance counselor who took a special interest in him.

“I never understood why, because I was such a handful for her,” he said. “It was such a big school it was easy to kind of disappear until you really got into trouble and it was too late.”

The counselor helped devise a plan in which he took independent study classes conducted by mail from the University of Nebraska and could graduate within a few months of his peer group. So he worked painting houses by day, took classes at night. But in the midst of all this, Boyles faced another crisis. His girlfriend Abby was pregnant.  

“I’m 17. She’s 19,” he said. “I’m still in high school. I’m like, ‘Alright, I guess I need to make a major course correction in my life. Clearly a defining moment: time to grow up. So I joined the Navy.”

He graduated a few months after his classmates, in the summer of 1987, and a month later went into the Navy. He scored well on aptitude tests and was placed into an electronics program working on aircraft.

“From the day I went into boot camp and got that transformational buzz cut, where they shave all your hair off — seriously, that was me shedding my old skin,” Boyles said. “That changed my life.”  

That October, nine days into boot camp, he got word that his son, Ryan, had been born.

“He was also born in Evanston, Illinois, and I didn’t get to see him for about seven weeks, even though I was 20 miles away. I had to wait to meet him.”

Everything came into focus. He excelled in boot camp and was assigned to what the Navy called “A” school in Memphis, Tennessee, to learn about aircraft systems electronics. He married Abby. They lived a mile off base; he hitched rides with friends and bicycled back and forth, a motivated young man.

“To go to the grocery store, we’d put Ryan in the buggy, go to the store and put the groceries in the buggy and Ryan on top of the groceries, and then buggy back,” Boyles remembered.

He finished top of his class and received what was considered a plum assignment — shore duty at Miramar base in San Diego, where he worked with an F-14 squad. He settled into both military and family life and in his off hours acquired a new passion, surfing. He and Abby had a second son, Patrick, in 1989. By the age of 20, Boyles was supervising crews. But an ongoing theme in his life is that Boyles is bent on self-improvement. Because he had the rare gift, especially for those newly enlisted, of shore duty, he utilized the Navy’s educational program and enrolled in Southern Illinois University’s extended campus program.

“When I went in to the Navy, I was really, really motivated to provide and to straighten out my life,” he said. “Most people going into the military, especially their first term of enlistment, are not thinking about education.”

He went into an upper level aviation management program with a notion he’d learn to fly. Classes took up every weekend with  professors who would fly out. During the week, Boyles worked graveyard shifts and did school work during the day.

“I’d sometimes sleep for few hours during the middle of the day while the kids were running around the house, these little rugrats,” he recalled.

In 1991, Operation Desert Storm was winding down, and there was a long waiting list for officers training school. Boyles realized reenlistment would mean working on aircraft carriers far away from his kids. He was two classes away from a bachelor’s degree and, for a young guy, already had a track record in managing people. So he again changed his plan. His mother had worked 33 years for the Brunswick Corporation, which had a well-regarded management program.

“It was a two year program and then you’ll be running your own bowling alley,” Boyles said. “I was like, ‘Alright, I’ll do it.’”

He worked as an assistant manager in a bowling alley in San Diego and six months in was handed his own bowling alley, a highly profitable, $3 million operation just north of LA, in Granada Hills. He had 45 employees, most twice his age, some older.

“I’m like this young buck coming in,” he said.

He was living out of hotel looking for a place for his family when he couldn’t get in touch with his wife and “sensed something was up.” He drove down to San Diego to discover she’d gone camping with a surf buddy.

“So I’m like, alright, my marriage is over, certainly in a way more dramatic and painful way than I can describe now,” he said.

He picked up his two boys from a babysitter and took them to LA. He found a cool little house with a swimming pool in Mission Hills and he and the boys made a new life for themselves. His first wife gave him full custody and financial responsibility for the boys. He was thriving with Brunswick, who sent him to an advanced training program in Florida. On the morning of his 24th birthday, January 17, 1994, he woke to word of devastation back home.

“It’s the Northridge earthquake,” he recalled. “I realize, ‘Oh my god, the bowling alley and our house are right in its epicenter.”

Everybody was safe. It took him a few days to get back; LAX had shut down. When he arrived, he received instructions from corporate. They weren’t going to rebuild. He had to layoff all his employees.

“I had employees who had been there 30 years,” Boyles said. “Again, talk about growing up really quickly.”

A friend he’d met at the bowling alley’s league competitions had just left Disney to go work for a new company called Starbucks.

“I’m like Starbucks, what is Starbucks?” Boyles said. “I’ll never forget, I’m interviewing on Ventura Boulevard in Encino and the district manager who is going to interview me for a position in management is running late. So I start drinking cappuccinos not really having ever experienced that before. I had three before she got there and I am talking a mile a minute… She must thought I was crazy because I’m like super highly caffeinated and had to take like three bathroom breaks during the interview like, ‘Excuse me, again?’”

He was hired. He was trained at the Brentwood store where O.J. Simpson and his wife Nicole would frequently arrive, he in his now-famous white Bronco and she in her white Ferrari. It was a reduction in responsibilities and pay from his previous job, but he saw possibilities —  another recurrent them in the life of Drew Boyles — and sure enough he quickly moved from managing the fifth and first busiest of the growing chain’s coffee shops, at 7th and Montana and at Main St. and Hill, both in Santa Monica. He then opened two new stores and became a district manager. Then one day in 1995, on a tip from a Starbucks colleague and friend who’d grown up in Manhattan Beach and knew that Boyles was a surfer,  he drove down to El Segundo. He was looking for a home.

Next month: New beginnings.

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