PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – FMC has recently announced that by purchasing now through August 15, green industry professionals will receive instant rebates on Dismiss South, Dismiss CA and both sizes of Dismiss.
In February, I sat down with Andrew Kerin and Roger Zino. The two men headed up Brickman and ValleyCrest, respectively, before both companies were bought by private equity firm KKR. Now, they are leading the creation of BrightView, the largest landscape company in history. In an exclusive interview with L&L, they talked about how they’re integrating two already-huge companies, how they see their place in the industry and what it means to carry on the legacy of two of the landscape industry’s founding families. – Chuck Bowen
Chuck Bowen: Let’s talk a little bit more about how these conversations started when initially KKR came invested in Brickman and then seemingly the next day invested in ValleyCrest. How did you guys get into a room and start talking?
Kerin: Fortunately, Roger and I had met sometime before then and when KKR got involved and obviously MSD Capital on the ValleyCrest side, we had an opportunity to visit and Roger and I first talked to see how we feel about that.
Now we are together providing more comprehensive service, providing more opportunity for our people which is clearly a top priority. Being more local. If you think about it, we have so much density, we’re so much more local in many markets.
Chuck Bowen: Can you give me an example of maybe one of those markets where you’ve been able to really strengthen those local ties? Because I think the legacy companies never had that we’re-the-local-guy reputation.
Kerin: One great example is the community work that we’re doing in Dallas, as well as the work we’re doing for our clients. Maintenance service is now adding tree services. Where there was development work going on, now they add maintenance.
And I think importantly just the sharing of resources that we have across horticulture, irrigation, maintenance, development, we are the local company in Dallas and we’re all stronger for it. Our people are stronger for it, our clients have better service because of it. And we’re there to respond both reactively and proactively in a much deeper way.
Chuck Bowen: So as you guys have brought the two companies together, what surprised you the most?
Zino: When you get people in the room, how excited they got about being in the room with each other. I mean you have a bunch of landscape people coming together, right? And just sort of unprecedented in terms of people saying, “Hey, how do you do this?” And, “Here’s how we do this,” and, “Let’s compare notes.”
And I think that the instant desire to kind of share knowledge and learn from each other really was – I mean it was just fun to watch because both companies always had a great interest in each other and everybody wanted to just find out more and where to take and how do you do this, oh, wow. This sort of shared vision of how do we get and do things better and the opportunity to have so much experience, different in a lot of ways but similar in so many ways too. It was really cool to see.
Kerin: An example I would give you, you think about Boston and the record snow year they had. We are so much stronger together with our assets and our resources to help our clients than we were independently. And so we’ve been much more able to deal with those challenges on behalf of our clients as a collective than we were independently in a real-time situation that may happen never again or may happen next year.
Chuck Bowen: Sure.
Kerin: I think to Roger’s point interestingly about what’s been surprising, I think what’s important to understand and you asked about the process is, A, we as a senior team spent a lot of time together during the effort, right. So we got to know one another.
Chuck Bowen: Tell me what that was like. Tell me what you guys did.
Kerin: Two senior teams getting together. We got together multiple times to begin to explore how we might work together, to understand who each other was. We understood and we came together what we were all investing in and what that future would look like and what we were to aspire to.
That brought us to BrightView later on. And I think importantly as soon as we closed, we began getting input. The first day we got over 6,000 inputs from our team members out in the field about what they thought about certain things. During the branding process, during the priority-setting process, we had thousands of interviews with clients, with our team members, and so we’ve been very proactive about getting perspective.
So the other thing that Roger said, “Look, what’s not surprising is our people get up every day, they want to do a good job for their client, they want to keep our people safe, they want to take care of each other.” That’s been the foundation of both these companies for one for 75 years and one for 65 years. With Brickman, with the Sperbers as ValleyCrest but more importantly now as BrightView. So that carries now with 20,000 people strong.
Chuck Bowen: So when you guys were talking about spending time together as an executive team, were you playing golf, you going to dinner, what are you doing?
Kerin: We’re not playing golf.
Zino: We’re not playing golf. As leadership goes and sets a tone, that’s how the organizations believe in the possible. So we have to come together to form relationships, form friendships, get to know one another.
Chuck Bowen: Sure, because if you two don’t get along it’s not gonna work.
Kerin: That’s correct and we happen to, but the whole senior team does. And I think what’s important is we now have one operating structure where we operate as one company even though today we go to market with the ValleyCrest brand and the Brickman brand until we transition to BrightView.
But what’s really important is those teams get along, right, and those teams are doing better for their clients and those teams now deliver tree service in a part of the country where they couldn’t before or they could come together and serve a larger client than they could independently.
Zino: It was nothing fancy at the end of the day. We get together and talk about some set of topics about how we do X or how we do Y, and some social time. It was very important not only that we did the same things but we saw the world the same way, we cared about the same things.
And in the end we keep it pretty simple: We love the industry, we love developing our people and we like serving our customers and found a lot of alignment on that. And then you get into specific topics and say, okay, what really matters? Well, having our people work safely matters not just to us but the whole industry, right? So let’s talk about how we continue to be leaders in the area of safety and how we can continue to do that for the whole industry ‘cause the safer we are, the better everybody is. And topic by topic, you just get a lot of energy and a lot of great ideas around it.
Chuck Bowen: What happens with ValleyCrest’s other groups for golf and tree, nursery and all that? Are those going to stay as part of BrightView?
Kerin: They are BrightView today, although as I said, we operate as one company and go by different names. Part of what we talked about in coming together was again, the value we could bring to clients through the breadth of services and I’ll tell you, we were chatting earlier at the level of cross-selling that’s already gone on between development, clients that became maintenance clients, maintenance clients that became development clients, maintenance clients that became tree clients, maintenance clients that became golf clients and on.
Our opportunity is to offer more services and more value to those clients. And ironically enough, we’re probably doing a better job now together than we were doing independently because it sort of became so I was like, ‘Why aren’t we doing more of this?’
Chuck Bowen: What was the initial response from longstanding clients of Brickman and ValleyCrest when you guys brought this news to them?
Zino: It was very, very positive. It creates in this industry a national platform of breadth and depth that they experience in some other service areas but have never experienced for in the landscape business. They said, ‘Wow, this really helps us out. This is what we’ve been looking for and we’re so glad that it’s here. Let’s talk to you about what happens now that evolves.’
Kerin: Yeah, to the point of we had more than several clients say, ‘It’s about time.’ Think about all the other service providers they have, think about your janitorial providers, your security providers – all of those industries have come together and created very large national and local companies. The landscape industry is one of the few that has not created that level of scale and breadth and expertise. So for a sophisticated client, yes, they’re positive.
Chuck Bowen: I would imagine you guys are gonna be on the acquisition hunt soon – if you’re not already.
Kerin: I think that what we’re focused on is doing great work, doing a consistently high quality everywhere, every day, all the time. What we’re focused on is engaging in a professionalism and raising the professionalism and the opportunities for our teams, right. And what we’re focused on is helping build the brand awareness of not just BrightView but the value that landscaping brings to clients.
Our job is to raise the level of the field, it’s not just about M&A. We will be inquisitive where we think it makes sense. But importantly our goal is to, as you said, raise the standard in the industry and have the breadth and scale to do that so that it actually moves the industry.
Zino: In simple terms: We think we do our job right, we make the pie bigger.
Chuck Bowen: I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but it sounds like you view BrightView now as sort of the standard bearer for the industry, a very strong advocate for the landscaping industry.
Kerin: I think we love the landscape industry and we love the opportunities that it provides people who want to take care of landscapes and create beautiful landscapes. And we love what it means for those clients and importantly, those customers.
And so in that way, right, we believe we should be at the highest quality and that should create advocacy for the craft, for the trade and for being part of that either as an employee or a team member or as a client. So in that way, yes, our charge is to do that.
Chuck Bowen: I think that’s a great position, and one that I think is slightly different from the average landscaper’s perception of what ValleyCrest and Brickman. When you wake up in the morning, what’s top of mind for you?
Zino: Well, the first thing always, and this is very simple, is do great work and take care of the customers day-to-day. And there’s nothing about the companies coming together that gets in the way of that because the first job is to take care of the customer base. So what’s on our mind right now? Well, as soon as the snow melts, things are gonna start rolling awful fast. We’re trying to figure out how we’re gonna get out there and get it done.
And then the second thing is really, how do we just continue to bring the teams together and continue to develop more people and just take the craft to the next level. But step one and job one is always getting the work done for our customers.
Kerin: Yeah. And if you put your lens with the lens of a branch, right, what are we focused on? We focus on kind of the right ready crews, right, making sure they’re safe, making sure they’re trained, making sure they’re enabled. We focus on doing great quality work every day, everywhere with every client. We focus on keeping the clients we have and we focus on getting the right new clients.
I mean day in and day out and everything we’re doing is about enabling that because, A, our clients told us they wanted quality service everyday everywhere, right? Our teams told us, all right, they wanted to be able to grow in their jobs, they wanted training or they wanted the opportunity to do great work in great places. So what do we do, right, we facilitate the ability to engage and grow crews and the ability to make sure we have the right clients where what we do matters so that our crews feel good about it, the clients feel good about it and the customers feel good about it. And to your point, we travel around the country 75 percent of the time. That’s what our teams are out there doing and they’re better enabled to do that together than they were independently.
Chuck Bowen: Is there an IPO in the future for this company?
Kerin: Right now we’re focused on doing great work every day.
Chuck Bowen: In Brickman and ValleyCrest, you’ve got the two most famous names and two most famous families that do landscaping, who arguably started the industry. And this next generation is difficult for a lot of people. What’s your take on that, and how you see that impacting what BrightView does?
Kerin: When you think about the legacy it’s important, all right? It very much lives on in the people of both companies. So we’ve got 20,000 plus people with a large number of years of experience in both companies that grew up and have the legacy in there, in their being and that’s part of carrying forward is the spirit of that moving forward. And it’s the spirit of both families believing doing great work, taking care of your people, growing the business and they love the landscape business. And that’s spirit very much is alive and well in the companies and it lives in people that lived it for many, many years.
Zino: We’ve talked a lot and the way that you honor pioneers who created decades of opportunity is to be pioneer and create the next five and six and ten decades of opportunity. So that’s what BrightView is about. We honor the Brickmans and the Sperbers and their pioneering by being pioneers – taking this industry to the next level and providing opportunities for thousands of people like both those families did.
CASE has announced the limited availability of a three-year, 3,000-hour complete factory warranty on its lineup of skid steers and compact track loaders at no additional costs to buyers.
efco is introducing the new split-boom brush cutter, the DS 2400 D. Designed to be used for private and professionals responsible for maintenance of green spaces around condominiums, residential complexes and resorts. Both user groups can benefit from a multipurpose tool that can be quickly setup as a brushcutter, hedgetrimmer, pruner or leaf blower.
The 2016 Western will be held on new dates and new days of the week - Thursday and Friday, Jan. 21-22 at the Crown Center Exhibit Hall in Kansas City, Mo. Attendees and exhibitors overwhelmingly told the Western Nursery & Landscape Association that the Thursday and Friday option later in the month of January is better.