I found myself in Maryland last summer and swung by the Ruppert Cos. headquarters in scenic Laytonsville. Driving out of downtown Baltimore and into the Maryland countryside on a sunny day in June, you feel like the entire world is just rolling hills and horse farms forever and everything is perfect.
If you ever have a chance to visit with the Ruppert crew, I highly recommend it. The company uses its headquarters – a cluster of neat LEED certified buildings set on immaculate lawns next to the company’s nursery operation – as a place to host parties and entertain large groups of clients. It’s a landscape shop dressed in its Sunday best.
Ruppert’s president, Chris Davitt, gave me a tour of the place at his only speed – fast. He’s tall, and his long legs took steps two at a time up and down and through all the buildings and around the grounds and answered all my pesky questions in his slow Mid-Atlantic drawl.
Davitt helped start Ruppert Landscape with Craig Ruppert more than 30 years ago. Together, they grew the business, sold it during the buy-ups of the 1990s and then started it again in 2003.
But to talk to him, Davitt seems just as excited as a guy who just started his first business. His eyes still gleamed as he showed me the green roof testing Ruppert is doing, the company’s new aluminum-body trucks, and introduced me to some of the next generation of managers and foremen.
Davitt announced last month that he’ll retire at the end of the year, so I called him up to talk about what he’s going to do next, and what he’s learned after 30 years and starting two very successful landscape companies with Ruppert.
The answer: No matter the market or business, success comes from solid relationships and good communication.
“A good handshake is stronger than any contract out there. That look in the eye and feeling right still outweighs all that,” Chris told me. “I think we were able to teach it a little clearer the second time round.”
And what about advice to smaller contractors or guys just starting out?
“The limiting factor to anyone comes from within,” he says. “I don’t think there are structural problems that prevent people from being successful. It’s people’s approaches to the problems that prevent them.”
The world is full of things you can’t control. So this month, stop thinking about the bigger guys and the smaller guys, and think about the company you’re in – about your own guys – and what you can do to improve that.
– Chuck Bowen