A year after its sale, TruGreen LandCare has a new CEO and a new focus.
Vidu Kulkarni came to LandCare from UTC Fire & Security, a global product & facilities services firm that in 2011 posted overmore than $6 billion in revenue. He was most recently president of the Americas for the company.
Kulkarni was appointed president of TruGreen LandCare in December of 2011 by Los Angeles-based Aurora Capital Group, the private equity firm company that bought LandCare from ServiceMaster last summer.
LandCare, one of the green industry’s first national landscape firms, was created 12 years ago in an unprecedented and high-value merger. Aurora bought ServiceMaster’s landscape division for $38 million – a fraction of the $250 million ServiceMaster paid for it in 1999.
According to the 2012 Lawn & Landscape Top 100 list, LandCare ranked 7th in the nation with revenue of $248 million.
In an exclusive interview with Lawn & Landscape, Kulkarni explains what’s new with the company, emerging as a standalone firm and how he sees his team going head to head with Brickman and ValleyCrest.
L&L: Tell me about what you’ve changed since you took over TruGreen LandCare.
Vidu Kulkarni: Part of my reason in joining the company was that I saw a compelling opportunity here. I saw in Aurora a supportive and committed investor. There’s a great fit between the business here and some of the things I’ve worked on in the past. As an independent company, we can be very focused on what we do best and our customer set and our people. That has allowed me to do quickly set a set of very clear, focused priorities.
Secondly, we have been building the management team out. Today, we have an extremely strong management team at all levels – industry vets and people who have worked for the company in the past. We have a flat structure – eight regional managers who report to me – and have “delayered” the company. It allows us to be extremely responsive internally and externally. It allows for very clear communications
L&L: What’s your take on the commercial landscape market right now?
VK: Just as landscape maintenance is a multibillion dollar business, it’s also extremely fragmented. There are macroeconomic issues in terms of people holding back on spending, and the way it manifests itself is not people cutting back, but it creates margin pressure and pricing pressure that is exacerbated by irrational pricing behavior by a number of companies.
L&L: What are you doing to avoid that?
VK: Our focus is on what we do best. What we focus on is making sure we do the basics right each and every day.
L&L: LandCare always seemed to struggle as part of ServiceMaster. How will you improve the business?
VK: Being independent is great for us. What we need to achieve short term – if you talk to pretty much anyone down to branch managers and people in TruGreen LandCare, the message in terms of what we need to focus on is very consistent. Our 2012 focus is resetting the foundation, getting back to the basics, making sure we do them right every day. Ours is a relatively straightforward business. We’re not building rocketships. Longer term, our focus is on profitable growth, not being the biggest dog on the block. I want to be the best dog on the block.
L&L: When LandCare was sold to Aurora, the company had about 60 branches and 4,200 employees. How do those numbers compare to today?
VK: Those numbers are pretty much the same. When it comes to growth, clearly within certain regions and cities … I can see the opportunities to grow. Right now we’re focused on the organic growth of existing branches and longer term we will consider inorganic opportunities as well – beyond that, I don’t want to speculate at this point in time.
L&L: How do you see yourself fitting into the market with Brickman and ValleyCrest, both of which have new management teams?
VK: What I will say is companies like ValleyCrest and Brickman have been in the business for some time. They are the founding fathers that grew into successful enterprises. I respect them tremendously. Like any company, they have things that they’re really good at and they have some issues as well. Based on what I have seen … we’ll have our share of successes.