2005 LEADERSHIP AWARDS: Harold Enger

Features - Business Management

Leading by example is the way Harold Enger chooses to advance his employees and his company.

February 23, 2006
Carol Wissmann

While it might appear logical to trace Harold Enger’s career in lawn care from its earliest beginnings as a summer job in high school to his current position as assistant director, franchise support for Spring-Green, such a succession would tell only half the story.

Harold Enger. Photo: Ron Gould

Enger’s success lies as much below ground-level as above. Granted, his 27 years of experience in the industry assures that he knows how to keep grass green and growing. But like a plant grounded firmly in the soil, Enger’s strength begins at root line. It’s his character and commitment to doing the right thing that defines him as much as does his career path.

“The values you have – your personal development and work ethic, even the Golden Rule – all those early experiences surface later in life,” says Enger. As a Star Scout with the Boy Scouts he acquired an appreciation for beauty in the out-of-doors and for the pride of accomplishment. And working for Spring-Green, a company whose mission statement includes “making the world a better place to live,” has provided a professional extension to Enger’s personality.


    COMPANY: Spring-Green Lawn Care Corp.
    LOCATION: Plainfield, Ill.

  • Spring Green Lawn Care, Plainfield, Ill., Asistant Director, Franchise Support, 1997 to present
  • Barefoot Grass Lawn Service, Arlington Heights, Ill., Regional manager 1995-1997; Branch Manager 1987-1994
  • Tempo 21/Lawn Beautiful, Carol Stream and Wheeling, Ill., Regional Manager 1985-1986; Branch Manager 1983-1985; Service Supervisor 1979-1982; Account Supervisor, 1978
  • Suburban Lawn, Nursery & Landscaping, Warrenville, Ill., Garden Center Manager and Landscape Foreman, summer 1973
  • Hopperon Nursery & Landscaping, Naperville, Ill., Garden Center Manager, summer 1972

CLIMBING THE CORPORATE TRELLIS. Because he enjoyed being outdoors, Enger worked in landscaping while attending Western Illinois University, where he graduated with a degree in elementary education. He was offered employment as a teacher after graduation. However, he wanted to marry, start a family and purchase a home, so he opted for a better-paying position with Tempo 21/Lawn Beautiful, a regional firm based in Chicago.

“I started as an account supervisor in 1978 – that means I sprayed lawns all day,” laughs Enger.


    Q. What does the term grassroots mean to you?
    A. “Grassroots” is basic, down-to-earth, and fundamental. I think the advantage I have when I’m training employees is that I’ve been there and done most everything in this business. A hands-on approach really lends credibility. Pushing a spreader with an employee makes all the difference.

    Q. Describe a situation where you feel you had to defend the industry and how this impacted you in your career.
    A. I’ve not had to really go toe-to-toe with someone to defend the industry. When talking with a customer or potential customer, and they raise pesticide objections, I just explain the benefits of a weed-free and insect-free lawn. Being informed and knowing your product goes a long way.

    Pesticide regulations will make up the industry’s biggest challenges. While the majority of pest control products are used by farmers, lawn care, which has no large voice or lobby, is an easier target for regulation. Yet, there are very few products used by operators that a homeowner can’t purchase at their local hardware store or garden center. Our biggest competitor is the homeowner.

    When they tell you to write your Congressman, do it. I realize it’s hard because you have other responsibilities pulling you six ways at once. But these are the important issues and you have to get involved.

    Q. Who is one person you admire most for taking a stand on an issue and why?
    A. There’s no one person who I admire most. There are too many to mention. Take Harry Hopperton, the man who hired me for my first job. He taught me the basics of the job. Then there’s Juan and Cruz, the two I worked next to, who showed me how to work. And there’s Bob Parmley, Bill Hoopes and Tom Hofer.

    And, of course, my wife, Roxie, whose been very understanding and supportive. Many springs, she’s put up with my 60- to 70-hour workweeks, with me sometimes coming home grouchy.

    Q. What is one thing you do to ensure your employees are reflecting a positive and professional image on your company when they are out in the field?
    A. I’m a believer in uniforms and following rules and regulations. Nothing makes me crazier than a lawn care vehicle with a dripping spray tank or someone wearing a T-shirt and shorts when spraying. First of all, not following the label is against the law. Secondly, it doesn’t project a professional image. I’ve been known to quietly ask an employee to turn an inappropriate T-shirt inside out or send them home to replace a torn one.

    Q. In your opinion, what are the top three things a lawn care operator or landscape contractor can do today to help defend the industry against negative perceptions?
    A. A beautiful work environment leads employees to feel better about, and show greater respect for their workplace, so having well-trained team members is important. I wore the same uniform the field staff wore when I was a regional manager. Today, I dress in business-casual clothes. When I’m with franchise owners, I wear Spring-Green apparel in an effort to encourage company identification. So, in general, I suggest combating any negative image of the industry with the following:

    1. Well-trained team members.
    2. Projection of a professional image.
    3. Involvement in PLANET or a state organization.

The firm recognized Enger’s commitment to quality work. Within a year, he was promoted to supervisor; branch manager followed. In 1987, Tempo 21 was sold to Barefoot Grass. Enger was promoted to manager of their largest region in 1995, where he oversaw the $8 million revenue-producing Chicago operation. Two years later, the company sold again, this time to TruGreen.

When Enger saw a classified ad for a director of training for Spring-Green, he seized the opportunity to make a change and focus on the education end of the business. “Training’s always been my love,” he confesses.

Like a plant in the perfect pot, Enger blossomed in his training-focused position. Now, early spring finds him conducting workshops in 13 locations – from Seattle in the Northwest, south to Tulsa, and then east to Charlotte. Franchise owners send their employees to sessions on all aspects of the business, from sales and customer service to weed and disease control. And some states grant continuing education units for class attendance.

Enger keeps the workshops informative but fun – an easy reach for his playful personality. Afternoons are spent in team-building exercises. “It’s what they like best and request year after year,” he says. Past projects have included building an electric Mars surface rover, a helicopter and tinker toy creations.

Enger admits, “For the first couple of years, the trainees were a bit tentative wondering what it was all about. But now they return with smiles.”

They’re happy to see him and talk with attendees from other cities. Enger prefers that managers don’t attend, so discussions will be more open.

The training appears to pay off. Employees who remained with the company through the spring, exceeded their sales goals by 50 percent. The increase is impressive considering one of the biggest industry challenges is combating the tendency to shy away from talking with a customer in favor of concentrating on landscape issues.

“I realize they may not share the same passion for lawn care that I have,” says Enger. “But I want them involved, excited, and enjoying what they do. To me, leadership means instilling the enthusiasm of doing a good job because they want to, not because they have to. And it’s great when they return the following year and tell me how something they learned really worked.”

Enger stresses personal accountability “with your heart, not just your head.” Helping employees set goals, he reminds them that they’ve given their word, and he expects their integrity in seeing their goals through. Indeed, he’d be the first to recommend finding different employment if an employee doesn’t really want to be in the landscape business. People-person, yes; pusher-over, no.

Roxanne (Roxie) is Enger’s wife. “Harold always keeps up his end, and he expects no less from others,” she says. “If someone’s sloughing, he’s not afraid to let them know they need to improve, and show them how. But he always corrects in a positive way so they don’t feel bad about themselves. Harold likes people.”

She recalls that when Enger managed employees, he garnered a lot of respect from them. “He looks for, stresses, and tries to appeal to the best in others,” Roxie says. “I think that’s why he was successful with the people he managed. He treated them with respect and worked to build on their strengths.”

Tom Hofer, Spring-Green Lawn Care’s president, adds, “It’s important to Harold to do the right thing. It’s basic to who he is. He’s had to make some difficult decisions in his career, and he’s been very successful at it.”

Roxie remembers a particularly difficult situation when her husband realized he needed to fire a long-time friend. “But Harold’s a very fair and even-handed man,” she says. “Still, it was really hard on him.”

“I’m most frustrated with people who don’t want to accept responsibility for their own actions,” says Enger. “Instilling that character can be the biggest challenge with some folks. I tell them that as long as I’m talking with them, telling them what’s wrong and how to improve, they’re basically doing great. It’s the day I stop talking – when I’ve given up – that they need to worry.”

And when looking for leadership in others, Enger’s drawn to those with the ability to listen and discern before reacting. Quoting Stephen R. Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” he says he admires those who seek to understand before being understood. And you can add to that his favoritism for those who are passionate about their work. “You don’t have to be an actor or great orator to persuade or motivate others. But you need to be excited about what you do,” he says.

And Enger adds, “If there’s one lesson I wish I’d known from the beginning, it’s not to worry when you loose a perfect employee. People move on. Unless it’s something easily fixed, don’t try to sell them on staying if they’ve made up their mind to go. Always wondering whether they should have chosen the other job, they’re never the same employee. It may take awhile to replace them – or you may already have their replacement and not know it – but wish them well, and let them go.”


    Tom Hofer is president of Spring-Green, the lawn and tree care company for which Harold Enger works. “Harold’s a very people-focused person,” he says. And while he points out that Enger’s education degree certainly helps in his ability to conduct training sessions, he adds that his personality brings the fun, but meaningful, emphasis necessary in teaching adults.

    “Harold’s a very real-world guy,” Hofer continues. “He doesn’t bring a whole lot of idealism to the table. It’s all practical information that attendees can use the next day. I describe him as ‘the old pro.’”

    Spring-Green has developed an on-line learning center where franchise owners and employees can log-on at their own convenience to educate themselves in technical skills, office operations and customer service/sales skills. Enger has written a good portion of the material – a laborious multi-year project – highlighting not only what is important in the organization, but why.

    Spring-Green purchased the course design software, and then wrote the online program themselves. Basic, intermediate and advanced-level courses are available for three field positions: field service professional (eleven courses), customer service professional (nine courses) and sales professional (nine courses).

    The company is currently working on their manager-level course. Since the program launched in December of 2003, 342 people have enrolled and completed 534 courses.

    “The biggest obstacle to training is time and tools,” says Enger. The online program offers the means for learning at their convenience. He points out that skills are easily acquired. But a lot of workers have limited customer service abilities or experience in how to speak to people. Plus there’s a resistance to sales to be overcome. Spring-Green even has a session on what to say when you don’t know the answer.

    Enger reads, attends seminars and encourages others to do so also. Interestingly, his commitment to the development of others goes hand-in-hand with his own advancement. “Spring-Green, probably more than any other company, has given me the freedom to grow professionally, to improve as a leader and contributor to the industry,” he says. “It’s that freedom to progress that I appreciate the most.”

    “Moving up in Spring-Green is an extension of Harold’s entire career,” says Hofer. “He began on the frontline, then moved into various management positions, actually operating the business. That’s when he came to us. In his franchise support role, he’s part of our executive team. Except for training, he’s not working with employees anymore, but rather with franchise owners, influencing and leading them so they can be successful.”

    Hofer points out that Enger’s current position doesn’t have a great deal of structure. “Harold’s responsible for certain outcomes, but often with no guidelines as to how to accomplish them,” he says. “But, if Harold says something’s going to happen, it happens. He gets things done. With franchises, keeping commitments is critical. It takes personal discipline and dedication to be successful in his role.”

    Enger’s wife, “Roxie,” concurs. “People know they can count on Harold. He’ll do just about whatever someone asks. If they need his help, he’s there. He keeps up his end and requires no less from others. He’s always doing his best, and expects others to follow that example.”

Conversely, while Enger admits that firing someone is a difficult task, it’s also imperative (assuming there’s no discrimination issues) to let go of someone not meeting minimum standards. “If you’re not successful in helping them improve, they’ll only bring down the others,” he says. “Often they’re just biding their time, hanging on as long as you continue to pay them. The rest of the team is only getting frustrated. They know the loafer needs to go long before you do.”

He points out that while one laggard in a team of 10 may cause the remaining workers only 10 percent extra in exertion, a team of three has to cover 50 percent more work when one person doesn’t do their share. Enger recommends overhiring to cover such eventualities.

While some franchises have employees and some do not, Enger sees a smaller company with fewer employees, and consequently fewer personalities, as a bit easier to manage. “When you start to get 10 to 15 people, it’s more of a challenge,” he says. He recalls that as a branch manager for Barefoot, with 18 workers under him, he could expect to have a core of five or six great people, six to eight who do good work, but for whom it’s just a job, and a couple that he was always working to improve.

Enger sees turnover as an inevitable part of the business, affected by the economy and the job market. “When there are plenty of unskilled factory jobs available, it’s more difficult to find lawn care people,” he says. And it’s from personal experience that he has an appreciation for the difficulty of lifting 50-pound bags of fertilizer, and pushing a spreader across a lawn in Chicago’s 85-degree, 80-percent humidity summers, and during the 40-degree, 30 mph winds of October. “It’s just plain hard work,” he says.

Management responsibilities require a dedication of their own. “March 15, 1997, was the first Saturday in spring that I had off since I began in the industry. I felt guilty for about 10 minutes,” Enger laughs. “Then I got over it.”


    Harold Enger and Roxie met in college and married in 1977 upon graduation.

    For most of their life together, they’ve lived in Roselle, Ill., a suburb 45 minutes by train from Chicago. During the busy season, Roxie sometimes helped in the office of the lawn care companies where her husband worked.

    Today, they and their daughter, Sara, a recent special education graduate of Northern Illinois University, share a two-story farm-style home built in 1895 and now surrounded by giant maples. A rose garden, vegetable garden, and perennials are rimmed by the grapevine that clings to the perimeter fence. And, not surprisingly, the lush lawn is maintained by Spring-Green.

    It’s here that Enger spends off-hours working on an old house that demands perpetual projects. Whether replacing a staircase or fashioning furniture, such as a desk for his daughter, he enjoys working with his hands. And like a mailperson who relaxes by walking on his day-off, Enger finds enjoyment in gardening. It’s the same pride in accomplishment and appearances that he brings to his job.

    Both Harold and Roxie are active in church programs and mission work, and with what Roxie describes as “a beautiful singing voice,” Enger participates in the choir. “We’re very connected to the community,” she says.

    So lives Harold Enger, who Roxie describes as a happy, positive and loving man. Playful and people-focused, “he likes to have fun,” she shares. “Harold jokes around, and tells the same bad jokes over and over. He knows they’re bad. It’s just part of who he is.”

    But beneath Enger’s upbeat exterior lies a serious commitment to excellence. “I like taking a lawn that looked bad, and in a short time, making it look great,” he says. It’s not just taking care of grass, which even if left alone will return to green. Rather it’s creating an environment where there’s pride of ownership. I see that as my role – modeling for others that with hard work, they can move up through the ranks, if they have that same passion when looking at lawns.”