Always Learning: Ewald Altstadt

Features - Leadership Winners

Ewald Altstadt has spent decades in the lawn care industry, and has never stopped learning.

November 19, 2009
Tom Crain

Ewald Altstadt believes that a good leader is one who is willing to share.

“I don’t know any good leader that hasn’t done that,” he says. “Knowledge is power. If you keep everything to yourself, you can’t help others.”

Altstadt likes to share that he got into the landscaping business quite by accident. He purchased his first business at the age of 19, owning and operating two retail stores for more than a decade. After 10 years he wanted to leave the retail industry, and he later joined one of the largest supermarket chains in the country as a store manager. Dissatisfied with that line of work, he answered an ad for a field rep position in Lawn Doctor’s eastern region. He got the job, and has been there ever since 1981 working his way up to vice president of operations for the entire franchise.

Altstadt benefitted greatly from working alongside Lawn Doctor CEO Russ Firth for the past 20 years. “Russ taught me about the importance of system standards, brand awareness and how to deal with the different personalities involved in franchising. I learned that no one is alike. You need to know an individual’s lifestyle and motivation first to really make a positive impact.”

Altstadt knows how to identify potential leaders for his company. “They must possess two key characteristics: Great people skills and a good work ethic. You can’t instill those traits in them. If they possess these traits already, then you can teach them just about anything.”

One of Altstadt’s biggest challenges is getting new franchisees up and running. “The last two years have been particularly challenging,” he says. “This economic downturn is different. There are so many more different factors involved that makes it particularly difficult.”

Altstadt looks at the last two years of a severe economic downturn as a great learning experience. “We have to take a harder look at everything we do. We have to have good systems in place with high standards and training,” he says. “We are looking more closely at how customers buy.”

In the future, Altstadt sees the industry becoming more technology driven.

“Customers’ buying habits are changing,” he says. “There are less new products being brought to the market because the process is too expensive and grueling. Even though more and more customers are buying products and services over the Internet, businesses can’t rely on the Internet alone to drive sales. Once you make the sale, you have to personalize their experience.

“We are also in an age of tougher regulations in our industry,” Altstadt continues. “We have to become all out activists for our industry. We need to make a commitment to be involved locally, regionally and nationally.”

In his nearly three decades on the job, Altstadt has been steeped in the business of franchising – doing everything that an individual franchisor has to do, from customer relations to learning new technologies to planning community activities. He also knows how running a business can affect someone personally.

“The amount of travel in my early days with Lawn Doctor made me miss some early milestones in Adrienne, my eldest daughter’s life,” he says. “With the help of Diane, my wife of 34 years, we made some lifestyle changes and redirected our priorities back on to the family.”