Victor Parrales once managed an accounting department of 35 people, but at Professional Grounds, he was working with a wheelbarrow and a broom sweeping curbs. That was on top of working at a car wash and as a dishwasher.
For some, those jobs would be viewed as a step down – a job not worthy of someone coming from the white-collar world.
But Parrales, now vice president of operations, had the complete opposite approach the day he was handed that broom and shown the wheelbarrow.
“I’m going to grow my position,” he says. “I know I am going to grow with this company. With effort, I am going to show them I am the best employee they could ever hire.”
Parrales arrived in the U.S. in 1985 at the age of 37. He had a management job at a bank in Nicaragua but left the country for a better life in the United States.
He and his family chose Virginia because they had family in the area. While he was working as a dishwasher, Professional Grounds came to do the landscaping and he inquired if they were hiring.
He was hired by Professional Grounds and immediately the company’s owner, Bill Trimmer, who was on a crew with Parrales, saw his potential.
“If you don’t take challenges, you will never learn and you will never raise the bar.” Victor Parrales, vice president of operations
“He expects certain things from people and if he doesn’t get that, the employee will know about it so he can know what he needs to work on to reach those goals,” Trimmer says.
“You can start the conversation out by saying ‘You know what Jim, I have a bone to pick with you.’ Or you can say, ‘Jim, I have a problem and I think you can help me with.’ He has that second approach and is very good at it.”
Climbing the ladder.
When Parrales showed up for his first day of work, he didn’t speak English, but that didn’t affect the way Trimmer viewed him.
Trimmer was so impressed with his work ethic the company paid for his English lessons.
After a few months of cleaning up after jobs, Parrales was moved up to a mowing crew. There, he would make suggestions on how crews could mow faster, and would time himself on each lawn.
“I was trying to own each job,” Parrales says. “I always try to take the lead.”
In 1987, the company sponsored his U.S. citizenship application, and in the early 1990s, he was named head of the commercial maintenance division. Trimmer says what shot Parrales up the company ladder was the ability to look for the positive in every situation.
“He’s a coach and a mentor,” Trimmer says. “He looks for a positive out of everything. If there is a negative out there that happened, he’s going to turn it into a positive. That’s just the way he works.”
You’re in charge.
If words aren’t enough to illustrate Trimmer’s appreciation for Parrales, let actions do the talking. In 2007, Trimmer was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer. He would have to stay in Sarasota, Florida, for two months while receiving treatment. Trimmer was a self-described “hands-on owner” then, so the transition was going to be difficult.
“For me, even to take a week off – it was a big deal for me to be away from the company that long,” he says.
Trimmer chose Parrales to lead the company in his absence because of the respect all the employees had for him. “He held that together until I got back,” Trimmer says.
Parrales says he approached the situation as if he owned the company, and made decisions as such.
“It wasn’t easy,” Parrales says. “We had bumps and bruises but we got it done and our customers were pleased with my performance.”
Trimmer says the cancer diagnosis ended up being a blessing in disguise because he saw the company could run without him.
“Because Victor did such a wonderful job here, I was able to get away,” he says. “I started taking more vacations.”
David vs. Goliath.
Parrales’ actions during a snow event in 2016 would only re-enforce his worth to the company.
When weather forecasts started to show record-breaking snow on the way, Parrales began to prepare his team for the worst.
He organized a pre-storm pep rally where he motivated the team and told them they were David and the storm was Goliath.
Along with pumping them up for the long night ahead, he also unveiled a plan to give them the best chance to handle the storm.
He provided bagged food and reserved rooms at hotels next to key interstates to ensure access to properties while the roads were almost impassable.
He also rented additional equipment, including vehicles to shuttle drivers back and forth from the hotel to plow trucks instead of plow trucks going back and forth to the office.
While workers were out plowing, Parrales was at the company’s headquarters where he worked, slept and ate for four consecutive days.
“Since everyone knew the plan a few days prior to the storm there were no surprises and everyone was able to make arrangements with family situations since it was an all hands-on deck situation,” he says.
Professional Grounds dealt with the storm so well the company was able to help out a number of HOAs and commercial property owners whose contractors abandoned them.
The very detailed plan Parrales used was key in the company’s success in handling the storm, but it was his leadership that made employees buy in to it.
“They bend over backward for him,” says Jon Zalewski, business development manager. “You don’t want to let him down. He’s like your dad.”
Zalewski works with Parrales every day, and views Parrales as his boss, even though he isn’t.
“He is in charge of so much at the company. He literally is the reason we succeed or fail every year,” Zalewski says. “Thankfully, we don’t fail. He’s got a lot on his plate and handles it with an extremely positive attitude.”
Whether it’s a record breaking-snow storm, or some grass that needs to be swept off a sidewalk, Parrales is going to treat it like it’s the most important job in the world.
“If you don’t take challenges, you will never learn and you will never raise the bar,” Parrales says. “Take challenges, take responsibilities and have a lot of passion.”