Leadership Lessons

Features - Leadership Lessons

May 31, 2011
Brian Horn
Tom Fochtman, co-owner, CoCal Landscape   

What have you been up to since winning the Leadership Award in 2007?
I have been trying to preserve my wealth and hunkering down and retooling our business to survive this downturn. I say my wealth, I mean the wealth of the company and my own wealth because it’s been a very difficult economy. We have restructured our company; literally how we compensate the owners.

What we have done is change our model. CoCal Landscape is strictly a landscape management company. We are not in what is commonly called bid build construction anymore. We still do a lot of installation. We used to do multi-million dollar bids against five contractors. We are out of that business. We are primarily a landscape maintenance, renovation and snow clearing organization.

When did you get out of the design/build business?

It took two years. We got out during this downturn. We were working on leaving that end of the business, and when the economy turned and we fully understood how bad it was going to be, we accelerated our departure.

How has the restructuring helped the business?

It took a lot to get out of that business and, as we’ve done that, we just keep finding maintenance operations, working on the density of our routes, finding ways to be more efficient.

We’re doing more training with our people than we have ever done. We’re working on our brand, marketing wise, to enhance our ability to attract work, potential jobs. We have our best sales team ever; (we) hired our first sales manager.

We’ve gotten very lean – we’re not staffed the way we use to be in large part because half of our volume we have turned off. And we’ve just gotten back to people wearing more hats and operating extremely lean.

So the end result is CoCal Landscape is in the best shape it’s been in probably 10 years, financially and as an organization. We’re very excited about 2011.

Do you have advice for others going through a restructuring process or who might be shedding services?
You have to understand where your opportunities are and what your sweet spot is: What’s your niche? What do you do well?

The two owners of CoCal, our heritage is in maintenance, and we kind of got lured into construction through some relationships and it’s not really us. We’re not passionate about it and, quite frankly, we didn’t do it particularly well. As we became a big company, it became a big drain on us. So understand what you’re good at and don’t go off into areas that you might not be good at.

You have to have a culture of efficiency. When the economy was very good, and this is true in many industries, people were making a lot of money and just got a little fat, dumb and happy, you just kind of breed sloppiness.

What is the hardest part about restructuring a company?
The hardest part about all of this is probably the people. Not too long ago, we let go a nine-year and 11-year employee.  Good people. We really looked hard; we just didn’t have a spot for them.  The one gentleman I helped get a job with a very good company, he was only out of work a month. But it’s letting the people go and what that does for the morale of your company. So you have to stay very close to your team and be a cheerleader. When you’re going through this, naturally employees are looking over their shoulder a little bit, who is going to be next.

We’re half the size we were in 2007, and if we perform, we will make more money in 2011 than we’ve made in the last four years.

It’s a function of returning to what we do well and doing a lot more with less, on the equipment side, the people side, everything – there is no fat in CoCal Landscape. There are no B or C players in our company anymore, only the best people remain. Actually, people are pretty excited and anxious for the coming season because they know we are positioned properly.

It’s quite exciting really. After a couple of painful years, 2011 is like our coming out party. L&L