Never underestimate the importance of a tree.
This has never ceased to amaze Scott Jamieson in the two decades he’s worked in the green industry. Regardless of culture or economic background, a tree is much more than a coarse trunk, outstretched limbs and green leaves.
Educating people about tree care enlightens them on the importance of trees. “When people have a sense of ownership with their trees, those trees, even in a tough neighborhood like Chicago’s South Side, they survive,” Jamieson says.
And this wasn’t an isolated incident. Throughout his career people have demonstrated time and again their emotional attachments to trees. Caring for trees is much more than making an environment look pretty. There are strong social aspects, as well. “I’ve had clients break down in tears if we had to remove a tree from their backyards,” he says. “It was literally a part of their family.”
Those are the types of clients Jamieson and the 500 people at The Care of Trees tend to work with – those with passionate, emotional connections to trees who see their true value.
And as the president and CEO of the Wheeling-Ill.-based arbor care company, Jamieson has seen it as his duty to not only relay this message to the people his company serves, but also to make sure his employees appreciate the fact that they are not just taking care of trees. They’re protecting an important piece of many people’s lives. “People put a lot of emotional investment in trees,” he says. “For me, the satisfaction is preserving the trees that have survived for generations and still remain standing. To preserve that is quite a legacy.”
This is the fourth article in a weekly series that recognizes six green industry leaders. Lawn & Landscape, along with Bayer Environmental Science, honored these professionals at a reception Oct. 26 at the Green Industry and Equipment Expo in Louisville, Ky.
Read the welcome letter from Bayer Environmental Science's U.S. Green Business Director Neil Cleveland.
ASCENSION. Gary, Ind., in not often associated with the great outdoors. Set in the shadow of steel factory smoke stacks, Jamieson’s hometown of suburban Miller was a tough place to grow up. But mechanized progress hadn’t yet caught up with this enclave and the region’s lakefront area remained relatively preserved. The interplay between pristine beauty and industrial pollution fascinated Jamieson.
“I remember standing on a sand dune and looking off to the left you could see the belching smoke from the steel mills,” he says. “Yet, here was one of the best preserved ecosystems in the United States.”
He was determined then to take back the areas destroyed by progress and bring them back to healthy, sustainable settings. Spurred on by this passion for the outdoors, Jamieson wanted to make a career out of understanding the natural environment. He attended Purdue University where he majored in urban forestry. “Scott was in the very first arboriculture class I thought in 1983,” says Harvey Hold, a professor of urban forestry at Purdue. “He was an exceptional student.”
Jamieson’s early perceptions changed as he immersed himself further into his education. “Early on I wanted to be out in a ranger’s tower away from everybody,” he says. “Most students, when we go out to recruit, that’s what they want to do, too. But I discovered it was cooler to be able to work with nature in the city where people lived and where most of the population is. I still have this attraction to make tough urban places better.”
Following his undergraduate work, Jamieson attended Michigan State University where he earned a master’s degree in urban forestry in 1985. Some years later Jamieson returned to school for an MBA, which he earned from DePaul University in 1994.
Following his masters work at Michigan State, Jamieson worked as a tree and shrub specialist for ChemLawn. He worked in the company’s Hickory Hills, Ill. office during the summers while in school. He later became sales manager of the company’s Mokena, Ill. office overseeing a fleet of 60 trucks. “I’d worked my way up the ChemLawn ladder and got away from trees on the lawn care side, which was what they were all about,” he says. “But that wasn’t where my passion was.”
Jamieson returned to tree care when he accepted a position as an arborist for Hendricksen, The Care of Trees in 1989. The company was being led by two industry icons, Larry Hall and John Hendricksen. “They had just merged their companies and had a laser focus on arboriculture,” Jamieson says.
Jim Kielbaso, a professor of urban forestry at Michigan State while Jamieson was working on his master’s degree, facilitated the meeting between Hendricksen and Jamieson.
“These two were a just a good fit,” Kielbaso says. “Scott’s a can-do guy. He’s a forward thinker with all kinds of ethics, values and responsibility. I knew he was good and capable of almost anything, but I admit I didn’t really know how good he would become.”
At The Care of Trees Jamieson returned to his roots spraying and fertilizing trees while at the same time learning how to climb. He soon was leading a pruning crew, an experience he says prepared him for future management roles because it gave him a greater appreciation for field operations and the estimation process. Most importantly, though, he learned how to deal with people, especially with work crews, which were largely staffed with Hispanic workers.
“When you’re out in the field, and you work alongside of anybody, one of the best languages is hard work,” he says. “If you can work hard alongside someone and support and care about them, you can gain their respect without knowing the language.”
Jamieson advanced to become a sales arborist for the downtown Chicago market. “Selling tree care in downtown Chicago was a dream,” he says. “What could be better than caring for trees in an urban environment?”
After a few years of cutting his teeth in Chicago sales, Jamieson became district manager in 1991, regional vice president in 1994 and chief operating officer in 1995, where he was responsible for all operations in the Chicago operating unit.
Jamieson excelled at each new assignment, which was propelled by a desired to better his management and sales skills. “I kept moving along,” he says, “and I kept taking advantage of training and opportunities to learn. Circumstances occurred and suddenly I’m vying for certain positions in the company.”
In 1998, Care of Trees named Jamieson its president and in 2003 the company added the title of CEO.
Jamieson’s advancement up the corporate ladder had as much to do with seeking out opportunity as it did with the synergy between him and the company.
“It so happened my values and the values of the organization matched up really well,” Jamieson says. “I really believe that in life what you do is match up your values. If there’s a match then magical things can happen. People call it a lot of things – The Secret, The Laws of Attraction – I think it’s a harmonization of your values, and that’s what has lead to my success within the organization.”
The year The Care of Trees named Jamieson its president the company reported about $26 million in revenue. This year revenue should near $53 million and the company will employ at 25 locations more than 500 people, a number that’s nearly doubled during that same time period.
LEADERSHIP. Jamieson doesn’t envision the traditional pyramid structure when he contemplates his role at The Care of Trees. Instead, he sees himself as the center of a ring of circles. Each circle in that structure is a constituent he, as CEO, must satisfy. Each is linked to the others in that same circle. “I have to serve a board of director,” he explains. “I have to serve the employees in the organization. I also have to serve the community and the industry. And then there are our clients.
“At times it’s very difficult to serve all of those constituents equally,” he adds. “For me, as a leader, I go back to that question of what’s the right thing to do right now for whatever constituent I’m dealing with. Ultimately, though, it comes down to what’s the right thing for the organization.”
Jamieson’s leadership is evident not only in his company, but also within the industry, says Cynthia Mills, CEO of the Tree Care Industry Association. “Scott lives out his values as a leader and he does not accept the status quo,” Mills says. “He shows through his leadership that no matter how successful you are there is always room for improvement. These are not only the values he holds his company to, but he also holds himself to.”
Being an effective leader also means encouraging and developing leadership.Typically a group identifies its leaders as the charismatic and outgoing people with followers. Jamieson disagrees. “You don’t build a successful company with only stars,” he says. “You build a successful company with ordinary people who you help create extraordinary results. Bringing out the full expression of people, their skills and talents in the workplace is what leadership is all about.”
A little bit of confidence is often all that’s needed to unlock the seeds of leadership. “I’ve seen a lot of people in our organization think they don’t have much potential,” he says. “Then you invest a little bit of time in them and a light goes off. The next think you know they’re some of the most successful managers in your organization.”
Jamieson remembers running the Chicago region and having a difficult time finding a district foreman. He wondered why a crew leader at another office, a prime candidate for the position, hadn’t applied. Jamieson drove to a job site and, taking the crew leader aside, explained he would be great at the position. “He looked at me as if he’d never heard anything like that before,” he says. “He applied, got the job and it was as if someone put the key into his ignition. He just took off. You don’t always get it right and sometimes people will fail, but that’s one of a leader’s main responsibilities – to put the key in the ignition, turn it and see if they can go.”
COMMITMENT. Family is another of Jamieson’s passions and he enjoys sharing his love for the natural world with them. He recently lead a field trip for his 8-year-old daughter’s class to the Morton Arboretum. “I’m committed to preventing nature deficiency syndrome in children,” he jokes, but adds an all too serious issue is a generation of children who don’t have the same exposure to the outdoors previous generations did. “It’s so easy for kids today to spend time in front of the computer instant messaging or playing video games. There isn’t as much open space where they can just run in the woods and explore.”
Remembering his own childhood, he sought the outdoors to escape living in a broken family and in a poor neighborhood. “It’s not a sob story, just the opposite,” he says. “That experience empowered me to create something different for myself.”
Part of that is fostering an appreciation for the natural world. To achieve this Jamieson has devoted himself to a number of professional and community service groups throughout his career, including the Illinois Arborist Association, Chicago Green Corps., the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association and the Chicago Botanic Garden, to name just a few.
He also devotes himself to guiding the next generation of tree-care workers. Jamieson serves as an instructor at Michigan State and Purdue, the Morton Arboretum and the Chicago Botanic Gardens. He’s also a mentor with the Elmhurst College Mentoring Program.
With regard to the industry, Jamieson is committed to increasing safety standards in tree care. As its top executive, he’s made safety a mission of paramount importance at The Care of Trees.
Tree care is one of the most dangerous professions in the nation. According to industry statistics, in 2006 tree care had about 53 fatalities per 100,000 workers – that’s roughly one death per week. “As the company’s new president Scott took the initiative for increased safety and he’s taken it to new levels at The Care of Trees,” Mills says.
The industry has a responsibility to ensure every worker comes home at the end of the day, Jamieson says. That’s why he has made safety a vital mission for The Care of Trees. However, the safety program’s success is only as effective as the leadership that carries it out, he says. “We view safety as a function of leadership,” he says. “It starts with me. If I am not credible or approachable, our safety program will not generate the benefits we want and our people will be at risk.
“Good, bad or otherwise, what happens throughout the organization is the direct result of senior leadership,” he says. “And, in my case, that comes down to me.”