Be the Best

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Lawn & Landscape
February 2018
Sales Call
By Marty Grunder

Recently, one of our most successful Marty Grunder! Inc. clients asked me what actions the CEO of a landscaping company should take on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis. The head of a $5-million operation, this client is always looking for ways to improve and grow, as this question shows. And it’s a great question. So I put it to three of the smartest green-industry CEOs I know. Here’s what they had to say:

Strategic Planning

It all starts with strategic planning, according to Frank Mariani, CEO of the largest privately owned landscape company in the country. “We look at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and then it’s off to the races,” he says. “This drives our budgeting process, identifies our people’s needs and addresses our capital expenditures. Most important, we utilize (the International Organization for Standardization) so that all of this preseason planning is used daily, weekly and monthly as a living tool rather than as a report card where you just check your results at the end of the year.”

On a monthly basis, Frank’s management team gathers for a chart meeting, with everyone coming prepared to explain in detail any item that may be 5 percent less or 5 percent more than what their budget had in place.

Frank also cites the importance of networking for new opportunities by taking part in civic, charitable, and industry events, and of taking the time to connect internally with team members.

“Lastly, very few days pass that I don’t check out the competition,” Frank says, whether it’s local or it’s national, to see who is a trendsetter and who is doing work of the highest quality. “Great competition drives us all to higher levels.”

Growth

On a daily basis, as CEO your primary focus is always growth, says Mike Rorie, who started GroundMasters in Cincinnati in 1979 with a pick-up truck and a lawn mower and parlayed that into a $30-million operation that he sold to Brickman in 2006. Never one to sit idle, he now heads up GroundSystems in Cincinnati.

“Growth is the vehicle to provide opportunity to the entire organization,” he explains. “There’s a lot of areas that require attention, but strategic growth is paramount to the overall success and sustainability of the business.”

But, Mike reminds us, with growth comes new challenges, which requires being staffed at key levels of the business. You need a strong sales team, field leadership that can deliver to the customer, and well-planned account management and operations management. “Growth brings prosperity, but the demands it brings to manage and deliver are very real. If I’m doing my job well as CEO, I’m ensuring we’ve got the right people in place to do what we need to do.”

Vision

Think about scalability in every aspect, including yourself and your team, advises Jim McCutcheon, CEO of HighGrove Partners, Atlanta’s market leader in commercial maintenance. “If most decisions have to run through the CEO, you will limit the growth of the company to just what you can handle. I have four senior leaders and, as I always say, I have done all of their jobs but I can’t do them as well as they can do them individually. The team is stronger than any one person.”

Jim says he spends most of his time as CEO focused on the vision and on motivating his team to build the mission and reach success. They have strategic planning meetings twice a year, which he leads, and they meet at least once a month to ensure they are on track with their plans. He’s always got his eye on the future, too: What are the opportunities and risks? When do they need to make investments for the future that might have a short-term negative impact?

His last bit of advice on the role of the CEO is crucial. “I often call myself the ‘Protector of the Culture,’” he says. “I want to make sure the actions, tone, words, look and feel are all commensurate with the type of culture we want at HighGrove.”

And my advice? Wise CEOs do what I did here. They go and seek out guidance from other CEOs who are running larger and more successful companies than their own. They strive to learn from and emulate the best, because that’s how you get better.