Ask Bill Arman about leadership and he provides a patchwork of traits that comprise the ideal employee’s DNA.
This individual, according to Arman’s definition, is a communicator, coordinator, collaborator and coach. He or she should be a good listener, but at the same time provide crystal-clear clarity of what is expected of the team and from each individual. A leader is achievement-oriented and has a can-do attitude. He or she is passionate, yet humble.
This is the first article in a series that recognizes six green industry leaders. Lawn & Landscape will feature a different Leadership winner each day until the Green Industry Expo, Nov. 2-4, where we'll honor these individuals.
“A leader is one who inspires people to aspire,” says Arman, the president of landscape maintenance for Valencia, Calif.-based Landscape Development. “They help people get excited about being something better than what they are.”
Ask people to define Bill Arman and they repeat many of these same traits.
“Bill is a real people person and deals with people in a very positive way,” says Bob Scofield, a mentor, confidant and friend. “More than anyone, Bill gets nearly 100 percent effort out of the people working for him, and that’s because he’s a good leader.”
“He loves interacting,” says Gary Horton, Landscape Development’s CEO. “He loves motivating. He loves crafting business systems that empower employees to work together within a group and succeed. Bill is very goal-oriented and is gifted in simplifying complex business strategies into steps and goals that every employee understands and relates to.”
“Bill has a very outgoing, positive personality and he’s a very good cheerleader,” says Bruce Wilson, former president of Environmental Care and former vice president of ValleyCrest Cos.
This regard is a testament to Arman’s time in and impact on the green industry. Arman has shown leadership as an employee, as an advocate for the client and as a manager of people. And he has shared his attributes in the green industry as a business coach, mentor, educator and overall cheerleader, as well as in his community endeavors through groups such as Habitat for Humanity and Second Harvest Food Bank.
PASSION BLOOMS. All of his life, Arman has always been an outdoors guy. So in 1966 he couldn’t resist the opportunity to fill in for his friend, Johnny Cox, for two weeks on a mowing route. He became a member of a landscape crew that tended to 90 homes. For those two weeks, Arman mowed lawns, picked up trash, edged and pulled a ton of weeds. While many 13-year-olds cringe at these physical chores, Arman loved it and excelled.
“When my buddy came back, they hired me full-time and let him go,” Arman says, adding he continued to do this work for nine summers in a row.
After high school graduation, Arman enrolled in Pasadena City College and eventually transferred to California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo to take part in the school’s ornamental horticulture program. “I didn’t know if I’d every make any money, but back then I was just running on pure passion,” Arman says.
Name: BILL ARMAN
Company: Landscape Development
Location: Valencia, Calif.
To this day, Arman still feels this passion for working in the green industry.
“I recognized that in whatever I did, if I did it well, I could have a positive affect on people and what I did had a positive impact on the world around me,” Arman says. “If I took care of a park or a plant or a tree, I helped create an environment that people could relax in and enjoy.”
SAMURAI LANDSCAPER. Following graduation from Cal Poly in 1976, Arman planned to work for a reputable landscape company, learn the ropes and then start his own firm. “I had my future all planned out,” he says. “Little did I know...”
Bruce Wilson, who managed operations for Green Valley Landscape, a commercial landscape maintenance company serving the San Francisco Bay area, which was owned at the time by Environmental Industries (now known as ValleyCrest Cos.), recruited Arman a few months before he graduated from Cal Poly.
“In those days, we were trying to recruit the top students out of Cal Poly and Bill was the top student in his class,” Wilson says. “He was not only very competent as a horticulturist, but he was pretty aggressive business-wise as well.”
Despite his experience and degree, Arman started out on the bottom rung with a San Mateo maintenance crew. “I started off with a blower and hand shears,” he says. “We had to hand trim around everything back then. I didn’t get to drive a truck or work one of the cool lawn mowers.”
If a new worker, such as Arman, showed promise, confidence and competence, the company assigned him to South San Francisco’s West Park Projects. There, they hoped to make or break Arman under the guidance of the notorious Tak Ishida, a 5-foot, 4-inch “samurai-type garden warrior” superintendent, who had a reputation for being hard on newbie maintenance guys. In particular, he ate hort-grads for breakfast.
“Tak was tough,” Arman says. “You really had to earn your stripes from him. He wouldn’t talk or relate to you until you’d worked your way through the menial labor. He was tough as nails, but boy did I love it.”
Arman excelled and soon left Ishida’s crew for a supervisory position in the East Bay office, primarily working for Wilson, then the branch manager, two days a week. The experience exposed Arman to another facet of the business – management, purchasing, estimating and sales.
“Bill learned quickly,” Wilson says. “He was more aggressive than many of our other people in wanting to push the company forward. Bill was always thinking about the big picture. For example, water has been an issue in California for years and Bill pushed us on our need to develop a water strategy.”
The experience allowed Arman to hone his leadership style, which he attributes to Wilson’s influence. As an emerging leader, Wilson encouraged Arman to remain patient, listen carefully and exercise compassion toward others. Likewise, when managing people, Wilson taught Arman to learn all the facts before taking action, avoid overreacting to situations and, most importantly, stay calm when under fire.
Effective leaders possess certain hallmark qualities, says Bill Arman. Some of these include:
In 1978, after 18 months in the East Bay office, Arman accepted a superintendent position at the Orange County office in Southern California.
Bob Scofield, the office manager at the time, was immediately impressed with Arman’s enthusiasm and passion for the job, both rare qualities in up-and-coming personnel. In fact, Scofield had problems filling the position because many young employees at the time were less interested in a maintenance career and more focused on landscape construction.
“Bill’s knowledge of horticulture and his deep interest in field work immediately impressed me,” Scofield says. “He’d also taken the time and effort to learn and become good at conversational Spanish. With Hispanic workers making up a large part of our workforce, this became a great asset. It allowed him to relate quickly and receive the respect of those workers.”
In 1982, during a growth push into Southern California, Environmental Industries promoted Arman to Orange County branch manager. Improving service consistency became his first order of business. “I launched a basic fundamental training program that took place every Saturday for two hours and lasted 52 Saturdays,” Arman says, adding that he also developed a quality assurance program that measured jobsite quality and gave each worker six fundamental questions:
1. What are key activities or actions I am supposed to be doing?
2. How well am I supposed to do them? How am I measured?
3. How well am I doing? I know what is being measured, but how do I stack up?
4. What do I need to learn/how do I need to behave to be successful? What skills do I need to develop?
5. What should I expect if I do all of this? What is the payoff? Recognition? Money? Promotion?
6. Where do I go if I fail? Is there room for failure? How do I get it back together? How can I get help to be successful?
“Every person who works for you needs to know the answers to each of these questions,” Arman says. “If they don’t, then you’re a bad leader. The objective is to eliminate any misunderstanding as to where you stand. One critical component of a leader is to make it crystal clear what the expectations are.”
Scofield observed Arman’s evolution at Environmental Industries, both in the company’s hierarchy and as a manager and leader.
|BILL ARMAN ON GIVING BACK|
Q. What does the term “giving back” mean to you?
A. “It is far greater to give than to receive. To give back from where you have received is of the highest importance. I have truly been most fortunate to have been raised within a positive family, received a great education, enjoying a prosperous career and am living a very comfortable life beyond my expectations. To give back so that others may enjoy some bit of comfort or become better is one of the greatest satisfactions in life I have found.”
Q. Describe a situation where you feel you gave back to the industry or your community due to a cause or effort you believed in and how this impacted you in your career.
A. “Within the industry, I participated in the PLANET Membership Adopt-a- Contractor where I adopted a local small landscaper and have served as coach and mentor for seven years. Whenever you help teach others you learn more than the student. And with Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, I’ve served as guest lec- turer for 28 years, advisory board and chairman for six years, internship sponsor for 30 years and fundraiser for 20 years. God, it’s great to go back to the school I love and help students select careers and develop success behaviors. It is truly gratifying to meet students who I may have had an impact on after they gradu- ate. I’ve also participated as a PLANET Student Career Days volunteer, I’ve certi- fied schools as part of PLANET’s school certification, and given numerous pre- sentations and workshops over the past 25 years for PLANET, CLCA and other organizations. “The great lesson on giving back is you get to meet great people who usually become great friends and/or help you become better. The more you give the greater you receive. I have more fantastic things happen to me as a result of giving than anyone could imagine.”
Q. Who is one person you admire most for giving back and why?
A. “Rick Warren, the author of Purposed Driven Life and the creator of the PEACE world-wide program. Warren’s attitude in life is, ‘It’s not about you.’”
Q. What is one thing you do to teach your employees the value of giving back?
A. “It’s ‘Lead by example. Lead and they will follow.’ You need to allow time and opportunity to give back. Our company did an Extreme Makeover and donates time and talent to community projects. You need to have this as part of your company’s culture, doctrine and vision.”
Q. What are the top three things a lawn care operator or landscape contractor can do to establish a trend of giving back and start experiencing the benefits?
A. “Lead by example; allow time and opportunity to give back; and make giving back to your industry and/or community a part of your company’s culture, doctrine and vision.”
Arman brought a positive approach to the workplace. He always positioned himself in the middle of strategic discussions, offering his views on the situation at hand, Scofield says. When a decision was made, Arman backed it 100 percent and executed it to the best of his ability, despite his views to the contrary. “This attitude helped Bill in his career because backing these decisions, whether he agreed with them or not, didn’t bog him down or distract him,” Scofield says. “It was more common with other managers to hear through the scuttlebutt that so-and-so was unhappy with this decision or with what was happening. You never heard that about Bill. The people who worked with him saw him in a positive way. They saw a person who was always positive and not filling their ears with disagreements over what the company was doing.”
Arman believes to achieve success he has to protect the interest of his company, provide value to the client and ensure a positive workplace for his employees. All are vital and none are negotiable. “It all starts and ends with people,” he says. “The relationship between the three needs to be at the core of everything you do. A happy team produces happy customers and contributes to an overall sense of gratification. All three feed off of one another and must be balanced and work in unison to achieve success.”
“Bill was always able to balance these three areas,” Scofield says. “His choices were well grounded in his commitment to not only do the right thing, but to do the right thing for all people – the customer, the employee and the company. I never saw Bill sacrifice one of those ideals for his own personal improvement. Bill always was the one to say, ‘Wait, let’s look at all aspects of this situation.’ That commitment is why you’d find it hard to find anyone who’d say anything negative about him.”
Arman’s forward thinking contributed to his success as a branch manager, Wilson says. “Bill was always looking ahead and managing for the future,” he says. “He was willing to invest in people today so that when growth opportunities appeared he could take advantage of them.”
By 1992, Arman had ascended to vice president overseeing all maintenance operations in Southern California – a nearly $25 million portfolio. During the 10 years Arman managed the Orange County Branch, business grew from $1.5 million to $8 million.
In 2000, ValleyCrest asked Arman to serve as its vice president of human resources where he specialized in the area of organizational development and was the primary architect for training, recruiting and performance management systems for the now $500 million, 6,500 employee operation.
He began heavily recruiting the best and the brightest minds from as many as 20 college horticulture programs.
At the same time, Arman established a performance management review system and at its core he had the six questions he believed everyone needed to know the answers to for success.
After 18 months, Arman left ValleyCrest to head Landscape Development’s maintenance segment.
Horton says Landscape Development was in search of a creative, ethical and gifted manager who was particularly committed to the landscape maintenance industry. Arman fit that bill perfectly, he says. “Prior to Bill’s arrival, Landscape Development had achieved great success in construction, but we had yet to focus on, nor achieve desired results, in maintenance,” Horton says. “In Bill, we saw the potential for a real ‘dean’ of the industry to craft our policies and procedures and to, quite literally, lead us into the 21st century of landscape maintenance.”
The position offered a new challenge and an opportunity for Arman to call the shots in a larger roll, Horton says, and to make a very strong imprint where his influence would be the primary one.
“Bill wanted to build a maintenance company ‘in his image’ from the ground up and Landscape Development allowed him to do so,” Horton says. “Bill has been able to refine his business strategy down to three or four main programs, and he uses creative repetition to get his point across and achieve buy in.”
As an example, Horton points to Arman’s Quality Counts system for gauging the appearance of landscape maintenance jobs. Arman devoted months to visiting every Landscape Development job in Southern California to get a first-hand grip on the company’s level of expertise and quality. “It’s an objective measuring tool that looks at 18 key areas,” Horton says. “The scores are used to focus attention on quality improvements, training, ranking based salary reviews, bonuses, sales presentations and terminations.”
As president of the maintenance division, Arman wants to grow the maintenance operations in the Southern California market from 10 percent of total sales to 25 percent. Much of this growth – as much as 80 percent – will be organic and internal, Arman predicts, coming from re-centering the group on customer service and reconnecting with the client base. Some of the programs Arman has instituted to achieve this include:
• Ag/Hort Program that calls out the type and timing of key chemical applications with preemergents and fertilizers.
• New Job Start-Up Program that gives a standard protocol for getting outside jobs started up and turned over correctly and professionally.
• Headcount Report, a quick labor budget tool performed monthly or when there is an addition or deletion of sales.
• Mind The Gap, a four step process to minimize the costs of untimely turnovers.
Key acquisitions of small- to mid-sized companies will generate the rest of the growth, Arman says. “We don’t want the client to view us as an institution,” he explains. “We want them to look at us as a mid- to small-sized company with high-quality abilities.”
THE GREATEST MEASURE. You can’t keep Arman out of the field.
Although he splits his time between recruiting trips, quality control, mentoring tomorrow’s leaders and customer relation issues, Arman still finds time to get out on a work site one day a week. “If it’s a big job, especially a new one, I go out and foreman the crew,” he says. “Mostly, though, when I get out I’m pruning trees, picking up trash or pulling weeds.”
Arman’s old superintendent, Tak Ishida, would be proud, although he might not say so. Throughout his tenure in the industry, Arman can count many accomplishments, yet he considers establishing industry relationships as his greatest. “Establishing and sustaining quality life-long relationships is truly the greatest measure of success,” he says. “The greatest accomplishment is to have helped others to be more successful and maybe, just maybe, they recognize that you had played a role in their success. Having recruited, hired, trained and mentored more than 200 people to supervisor, sales and manager positions has been an accomplishment of which I am very proud.”
Taking into account filling in for his buddy when he was 13 years old, Arman has been in the industry for the better part of 40 years. “God, I’m glad I picked a field for which I have such a passion,” Arman says. “What a way to make a living – OK, a great living.”