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The long journey to the top

Supplement - 2013 Leadership Awards

Scott Frith has been around Lawn Doctor since he was a child. Now he’s at the helm and taking the company to the next level.

Brian Horn | March 5, 2013

Scott Frith went from working at Lawn Doctor in high school to succeeding his father, Russell, (left) as CEO.

If you would have asked a six-year-old Scott Frith what he wanted to do when he grew up, there’s a good chance it would have had something to do with Lawn Doctor.

“My first recollection of Lawn Doctor – I was six years old and my father drove a Lawn Doctor van with a huge green thumb on the side home from work,” he says. “I’m like, ‘My father’s got the coolest job. What’s this vehicle all about?’”

In 1983, Scott’s Dad, Russell, would become CEO, and Scott would succeed Russell after the company was acquired by a private equity firm in December 2011. But before he would reach the top of the mountain, he had a long way to climb to become leader of the whole show.

Aside from working at the company in high school, Frith really got started when he was a marketing assistant in 1996. As an English major at Seton Hall University, he was tasked with writing letters for the company, cleaning up operating manuals and writing procedures.

But it was in that detailed work that he began to see an aspect of the company that greatly appealed to him.

“As I got into it and I really understood what franchising was – there’s a brand, there’s an operating system, there’s training and support – the three legs of the franchise stool, and then there’s this entrepreneur that comes in with their capital and their passion. When you combine these forces, people can do incredibly well.

“When I started to understand what that was, that’s when I caught the bug, and that was pretty early in my career. I really started to think that I wanted to make this a career and stay in franchising, and stay with the company and grow the brand.”

As Frith’s tenure at the company lengthened, he started to realize that it came down to one thing to make a successful company – relationships.

“He’s really amenable to change,” said Jeff Angus, who has known Frith for 15 years and owns 10 Lawn Doctor franchises in Connecticut and New York. “What’s impressed me is he’s willing to listen to somebody, take their advice and follow up on it, which you don’t run into in a lot of situations.”

One very important relationship for Frith is the one he develops with individual franchisees.

“I think often that if you veer off of that course of really building deep relationships with franchisees and being extremely collaborative in everything that you do – if you leave that course it’s not going to lead to a good outcome.”

Dear old dad

Scott Frith remembers a moment at Lawn Doctor when he realized his father was pretty cool.

I went to the International Franchise Association Convention for the first time, and I was walking down a hallway and I saw a table display with Dunkin’ Donuts’ book, “Time to Make the Donuts.” It was on the story of Dunkin’ Donuts, how they came up. And I stopped and I grabbed one of the books.

And a gentleman came from around the counter, and he looked at my nametag and he said, ‘Frith, as in Russ Frith?” I said, ‘Yeah. I’m Scott. I’m his son. Nice to meet you.’ And he says, ‘I’m Bill Rosenberg. I’m the founder of Dunkin’ Donuts.’ He said, ‘Your father has made one of the biggest impacts on the International Franchise Association of anyone I’ve ever known.’

And he started telling me these stories of how he turned around the IFA, which was started by a few entrepreneurs sitting around the table and they all threw $100 in the ring and said, ‘We’re gonna start to build an organization that has an impact in Washington.’ And that evolved over time, but there was a point where it wasn’t certain that it would be a sustainable association, and now it’s one of the most influential associations on Capitol Hill.

So I think seeing a company that wasn’t necessarily in the best long-term position when he started, and how he turned that around, and then going out beyond that and seeing the contributions he made to other organizations – that was a cool moment.

But it wasn’t longevity in the company that turned the light bulb on. It was a failed experiment that would have succeeded had the company more actively involved franchisees in the process.

“Many years ago, we were aggressively pursuing a new customer acquisition program,” he says. “And we launched it, I think, a little bit prematurely, and it wasn’t as successful as we would have liked. And I think that cemented in my mind that we would – to the extent that it makes sense – include franchisees in everything that we do. Doing so shrinks your adoption curve in the franchise system. You have a better quality product at the end of the day, and you’re able to just have a better relationship. People feel better about the program at large.”

When Frith was sitting at a large conference room table in a board room in New York City transferring some of the equity of the company to a private equity firm, he wasn’t nervous thinking about what the future held now that his father was retiring, and Scott would be in charge. He instead could only think about what his father did with a fledgling company, and where Scott could now take it now.

“I would say it was kind of a seminal moment where he took this company and grew it and did it the right way, and then I was able to have an opportunity to take it to the next level based on all the work and effort that he put into it,” he says.

But don’t expect Frith to let all the power go to his head. Dave Newman, vice president of operations at Lawn Doctor, has worked with Frith since he came to Lawn Doctor almost 15 years ago, and he says Frith is always focusing on how the employees are doing.

“I am always impressed that no matter how busy he is, Scott takes the time to walk the floor just to say hello and see how everyone is doing and, more importantly, to let everyone know that he appreciates their hard work and values their opinions,” Newman says.

“That is one of the many important things I have learned from Scott. No matter how busy you are, always make time for others. What you’re working on is no more important than what they’re working on. Take time to listen, understand and offer guidance when needed.”

As far as looking into a crystal ball, Frith doesn’t know where he sees himself in 10 years, but he has an idea of how Lawn Doctor is going to succeed in the future.

“I love building teams. I think that I get a charge out of growth and collaboration, he says. “It’s just that seed of an idea that’s planted, and then it gets bigger and bigger as the whole team adds their take on it. And so that’s what drives me is the franchise relationship, collaboration, working with teams and building organizations that are sustainable and truly offer value to the end customer.

“So I’d like to see Lawn Doctor be a much, much larger organization, potentially in other spaces beyond the space that we’re in now. We’ve got a long-term strategic vision that could make that a reality.”