Tips from the top: Steve Glennon

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Steve Glennon, President, Cagwin & Dorward

November 5, 2013
Chuck Bowen

I worked for Sterling Landscape all the way through high school. John Sterling was from California. He told me that if you want to pursue a degree in landscape architecture, they have the best schools in the country.

And so, when I was 19, I drove down to the Bay area. I've never left.

My original intent was to come to California, get my degree and then go back to Boise and start my own company. Cagwin & Dorward was really what kept me here. I thought, “I'm probably never going to find a better company to work for than Cagwin & Dorward.” So I stayed.

Thirty-four years. We have a way of describing the culture at Cagwin & Dorward: It really feels like family. We probably have over 100 employees that have been with the company for 15, 20 years plus.

Four of the seven current owners of Cagwin & Dorward, myself included, all started at the very bottom of this company.

When you’re 19, oftentimes your goals aren’t real high. But my thought back then was, if I could get a job working in the office, I will have considered myself successful in this company.

We recognize that the customer may not always be right, but they're still always the customer. Tom Cagwin’s philosophy was, “Just make it right with the customer.” His point always was that maintaining our reputation is more important than a few thousand dollars.

We need to continue to keep growing the business so that we can provide opportunities for people to move from an entry-level gardener all the way up to become one of the owners of the company.

I just took over in August of this year. Dennis Dougherty was the former president and CEO. He had been with the company for 41 years. He started as a gardener as well.

We get constant solicitations to sell. But we made the decision long ago that Cagwin & Dorward will never sell. We'll always be a privately held company, and we will always be Cagwin & Dorward.

Several of our really good friends sold their businesses to LandCare, which was then rolled up into TruGreen. And some of them sold to TruGreen. I never really understood why. I mean, obviously, there was a tremendous amount of money involved, but I think being in business should be about more than just making money.

One of the things that I take a tremendous amount of pride in is that we have a very, very good reputation in our marketplace.

We're seeing signs of the recovery in Northern California. I think it's been getting better for the last probably two or three years. A lot more customers are starting to spend more money on extras.

They’re also becoming more aware of the cost of water. In a lot of areas, the cost of landscape water for customers has almost doubled in the last five years.

We were always judged in the past based on how green the landscape was. There was a lot less emphasis put on the cost of water, and much more emphasis put on the appearance of the landscape.

We're starting to see that shift.

It’s providing us with opportunities, not only opportunities to educate our customers, but to work directly with them on budgeting and irrigation retrofits and landscape renovations.

As the population continues to grow and water becomes an even more limited resource everywhere, there’s not going to be enough water to continue to keep putting in landscapes with – or even maintaining landscapes with – vast amounts of turf where it serves absolutely no value other than aesthetic value for the property.

In the next five to ten years, there'll be a lot less emphasis and focus on new construction and more emphasis on landscape renovation for our existing customer base.

The continued growth and success of your company is going to be highly dependent upon hiring good people. You need to make the effort and the investment to train them. You need to treat them well so that they'll stay, and your growth as a business is going to be highly dependent upon good people who care.