Tips from the Top: David J. Frank

Departments - Top 100

President and CEO

October 4, 2013
Lawn & Landscape

I remember being poolside with Dick Brickman. He was such a gracious man and such an industry promoter. He never refused to take my calls. He was always an excellent mentor.

It was February of 1977, he called over Don Syneecsvedt, one of his longtime superintendents. And Dick said, “Well, I know you have a strong business, and I’ve been coaching you on your design and build. We are looking to get into the maintenance business.”

And he said, “I want you to talk to Don the same way I talked to you about design/build. You coach him on maintenance. I’ll continue to coach you on design/build.”

I thought Mr. Brickman was nuts. I was looking at greener pastures. I was looking at the glamorous, sexy work over there – big-ticket jobs. And for the life of me, I could not understand why he would want to get into the lawn mowing business.

I was fortunate to live in a nicer neighborhood and a lot of more affluent people who were also older. And their backs didn’t work very good anymore. So I was young, and I had a back that still worked, so I was able to maintain people’s gardens and their properties.

In 1973 I made a career decision to build a quality green industry company. And I really haven’t looked back.

I went to college, although I never graduated. I understand accounting very well. I understand financials, cost management and things like that. But the landscape business was taking so much time. It definitely slowed down my collegiate career.

In 1973, I was running five crews. My sales were probably $300,000, $400,000. I was actually making a really good living because I was working out of my parents’ house, with low overhead that was probably the bane of many of the more professional contractors.

I love the green industry’s tangibility. We put in a flowerbed and step back and immediately admire it. And I don’t know if everyone in this industry knows how lucky we are.

Even if you’re doing reclamation of brownfields, you’re improving the environmental situation of a destroyed area. We’re the good guys. We’re the stewards, literally the stewards, of the environment. There are so few people that can say that.

We acquired Lieds’ Landscape last year in late spring. Growing up in the industry, I most admired Dick Brickman and Tom Lieds. They were great mentors.

I don’t know everybody in the country, but those two individuals have done more to improve the professionalism in the landscaping industry than anyone else I know. They invented the design/build industry.

The yes and no are so powerful. That no is a big risk eliminator, because if you say no to something – no, don’t do that, no, don’t write that policy, no, don’t hire that individual – then you can’t have any disappointment.

I tend to take on a little bit too much, and again, it’s a mistake of saying yes. That’s certainly tested me and tested the people around me.

I wasn’t smart enough possibly to accept this until I heard it three or four times from different clients. But without hesitation, I would have to say: Keep your word.

I was new to getting exhausted. I had another hour of work to do at (a customer’s) house. And here this old guy, he was very old, he put his arm around me, and he said, “Your word is your bond.” And I had no idea what he was talking about.

He went on to explain that I had promised repeatedly to trim his shrubs, and I hadn’t done it. He took a little black book out of his pocket, and he showed me, he said, “David, you have to write it down. When you’re talking to your customers, talking to your colleagues, you write down everything that you agree to do, because that is your product. That is your bond.”

It was very good advice. I never forgot it.