Tips from the top: Robert Clinkenbeard

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Robert Clinkenbeard, Co-owner, Integrated Landscape Management

January 22, 2015
Chuck Bowen


I worked for one of the large Scottish city parks departments in Linlithgow. It’s a really cool place in Scotland with a lot of historical buildings, a palace and a castle.

I got fed up with the red tape and the lack of opportunities working for local government. My parents had a vacation house in Arizona, and I went out here on vacation. I loved it. I ended up moving here six months after vacation.

I sold everything – sold my car, all my furniture, arrived here with a few old suitcases and had a couple small part-time jobs, but my main job when I first arrived here was working with ValleyCrest as an account manager.

It was a great company, great training, but I got a little bit fed up with some of the corporate stuff going on. John Garigen, my business partner, and I decided to move forward and set up our own business.

We worked out of a lock up – a storage unit. We’d start at 4:30 in the morning, do all the stuff, and then when we finished at 2 or 3 in the afternoon, we’d shower up and do business networking at night.

We have three branches in Phoenix metro, we have some work down in Tucson and we have a branch up in in Vegas.

This for us has been our best year ever. This year we’ll do just over $16 million. The market’s definitely picking up here. People are now wanting to invest more into the buildings, do a lot more upgrades.

Vegas was definitely a learning experience for us, just trying to maintain the company culture up there remotely. It’s easy to keep here locally, but when you’re going somewhere else, trying to implement culture, creating systems, it’s a little bit difficult with that disconnect because of the distance. We’re trying to find better ways to do that.

We’re trying to create a lot of documents, a lot of procedures so that when we start expanding to other markets, we have a lot of them in place. We’ll almost have a manual.

In visits over the last year-and-a-half, where maybe John or I have gone up there and asked a bunch of probing questions and looked into stuff, and almost like a blank look in the face when they’re supposed to be doing it one way and they’re doing it another way.

Rather than getting frustrated at them, it’s made us realize that we didn’t do a good job of either training them or putting some of those processes in place at the beginning. It’s just that in the excitement of getting the branch up and running and taking care of the clients, we didn’t think about some of the back-office stuff – either billing or paperwork, that type of stuff. It’s boring stuff for us – John and I like the excitement of starting new things.

I think the biggest mistake is: John and I moved toward having a couple people looking after our business, almost like taking a sabbatical. We’d been running hard – running the business for 10-plus years and were slightly burnt out, and we had that unrealistic expectation that just by bringing in a couple people, everything would run smoothly and get on. That didn’t happen.

I was doing a lot of training for the Iron Man I was doing. It’s a lot of work. Twenty to 25 hours a week of training, up at 4:30 in the morning to try and get out before the heat. Four to five years ago, I could hardly swim one lap in the pool. Now I’ve done three Iron Mans – two-and-a-half-mile swim, 112-mile bike and then a marathon at the end of it.