Next Level University helps companies improve

Features - L&L On the Road

The industry’s leading peer group headed to Atlanta for its second development conference.

April 19, 2012
Chuck Bowen
The HighGrove house band, top, entertained attendees before two days of education and networking in Atlanta.

ATLANTA – The second annual Next Level University opened with a brief overview of Roman military history and ended with a country music cover band.

HighGrove Partners owner Jim McCutcheon, emcee of the opening reception and host of the weeklong meeting of owners and staff, welcomed his colleagues with a discussion of the Carthaginian general Hannibal, who defeated the Romans in the Punic Wars. Hannibal defeated the world’s most powerful military by taking a new approach to an old problem. He used elephants to cross the Alps instead of staging a sea invasion, and attacked the Roman army with primitive guerrilla warfare tactics.

“We’re not great companies yet,” McCutcheon said. “We are constantly trying to push the envelope. To hell with the economy – we’re going to grow and thrive no matter what.”

Next Level Network started in 2004 as a way for regional companies to network and improve. It’s not the first peer group in the landscape industry, but it is one of the most well-established and claims in its ranks some of the industry’s most innovative companies.

Member companies have different geographies, business plans and cultures, but share the same values – a focus on customer service, employee engagement and constant improvement.

Current membership includes seven companies: Stay Green, Santa Clarita, Calif.; Mariani Landscape, Lake Bluff, Ill.; HighGrove Partners, Austell, Ga.; Heads Up Landscape Contractors, Albuquerque; Enviroscapes, Louisville, Ohio; Pacific Landscape Management, Hillsboro, Ore.; and Lambert Landscape Company, Dallas.

The opening reception, sponsored by John Deere, Belgard Hardscape and Agrium Advanced Technologies, let each member company give a brief update on their market and introduce their teams. The HighGrove house band – 212 – closed the night with live music.

The event was the second that had the Next Level owners meet along with their top teams. They took their salespeople, operations managers and executive teams with them to network and learn from each other.

Jim McCutheon of HighGrove Partners hosted the weeklong meeting in Atlanta.

Other highlights from the meeting included presentations on improving sales, developing managers and improving sustainability from Kevin Kehoe and Mike Rorie. Other speakers were Keating Crown, who survived the Sept. 11 attacks at the World Trade Center, and Don Patton, a former executive at Abbot Laboratories.

Top landscape education programs – including Brigham Young, Mississippi State, Auburn, Oklahoma State universities, HInds Community College and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo – also have a presence at the event. They meet with the group of owners to improve recruiting.

Former ValleyCrest executive and current industry consultant Bruce Wilson facilitates Next Level’s meetings.


The author is associate publisher and editor at Lawn & Landscape. He can be reached at


For more coverage from Next Level University, including Heads Up CEO Gary Mallory’s nine guiding principles, visit our blog, From the Field, at