Under Burton S. Sperber's leadership, a tiny nursery with three workers grew to more than 100 locations around the world with 10,000 employees and $1 billion in annual revenue.
The gig: Head gardener and founder of Calabasas-based ValleyCrest Landscape Cos., the nation's largest landscape services company. At 81, Sperber no longer heads the company he founded as a teenager – he handed that responsibility to son Richard several years ago – but under his leadership, a tiny nursery with three workers grew to more than 100 locations around the world with 10,000 employees and $1 billion in annual revenue. ValleyCrest has worked on projects including the gardens at the Getty Center and Disney's Animal Kingdom and California Adventure theme parks. It counts resort developer Steve Wynn, real estate mogul Donald Bren and shopping mall magnate Rick Caruso among its key customers.
ValleyCrest's roots: Sperber became interested in horticulture early in life. His father owned a retail nursery, and he was a member of the Future Farmers of America in high school. When Sperber was a teenager, he worked after school at MG Nursery in North Hollywood, which was owned and run by Italian nurseryman Mossimo Giannulli.
"He took me under his arm and taught me the landscape business," Sperber said.
When Giannulli died, his widow offered the business to Sperber for $700. Sperber bought the nursery with his father in 1949.
Greener on this side: Sperber renamed the company ValleyCrest because of its San Fernando Valley roots but also because the Sperbers were aiming for the top, thus "Crest," he said.
It was steady growth over decades that turned ValleyCrest into the nation's largest landscape company, not sudden expansion or acquisitions, Sperber said. It has grown on average about 15 percent a year. The steady growth has allowed the company to keep its small-roots character.
"There's no difference," he said. "It's just a little bigger."
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