<font color=orange>LEADERSHIP 2008:</font> Attitude is Everything

With a perpetual smile and can-do demeanor, Jen Lemcke helps lawn care operators – both in the Weed Man organization and out – grow their businesses.

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November 6, 2008
Marisa Palmieri

When Jennifer Lemcke first began with Weed Man at age 23 in 1993, she was known around the industry as Roger Mongeon’s daughter.

At the time, the father and daughter were Weed Man franchisees; today Lemcke is COO and Mongeon is CEO of Turf Holdings, the franchising arm of Weed Man USA.
 
These days when Mongeon meets industry associates they say, “Oh, you’re Jen’s dad.” He wouldn’t have it any other way. 

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Jen Lemcke is one of Lawn & Landscape and Bayer Environmental Science's six Leadership Award winners for 2008.

“Her mother and I are very proud of all her achievements with Weed Man and her role in PLANET [the Professional Landcare Network],” Mongeon says. “It’s hard as a father because you don’t want to brag too much, but every time I talk to people in the industry about Jen, they always put her at such a high level.”
 
So many people outside of Weed Man know Lemcke because she’s a frequent speaker at industry conferences and seminars, and she’s on PLANET’s board of directors. The topic she usually speaks about is her passion – business systems and organization. Colleagues often refer to Lemcke, who favors color-coded binders and provides franchisees with shopping lists, as “The Spreadsheet Queen.” Fittingly, her primary responsibilities at Weed Man are creating systems, support and training programs for subfranchisors and franchisees.
 
Though it’s Lemcke’s job to assist Weed Man franchisees in advancing their businesses, she has cast her net much farther than her job description requires, says Phil Fogarty, subfranchisor for Weed Man in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. Because of all the time she’s devoted to helping other companies – whether it’s a Weed Man franchise owner or someone attending a speaking engagement where she’s volunteering her time – she’s changed hundreds of people’s minds and attitudes about management skills and systems. “I’ve seen her work with brand new franchisees who own little landscape companies,” Fogarty says. “By the time she’s trained them with Weed Man systems, their landscape companies have taken off. Then those guys become more active in the industry and it proliferates in all of us becoming better business people. She makes everyone around her want to be a better businessperson.”
 
FIRST TASTE. Early on, Lemcke had no interest in lawn care. In 1986 when she was 16, her father left his job as a chemical engineer at Union Carbide to purchase a Weed Man franchise after a neighbor had met success in the business. Though she had done odd jobs for Weed Man during her teenage years, Lemcke told her father she no intention of working for him in the future.
 
Her position today would certainly surprise her former self. Despite an early lack of interest, Lemcke says she leads a satisfying career because, though in an indirect way, she has the career she’s always wanted. When she entered Ottawa University, she didn’t have a clear career focus, so she chose to study political science. “I thought it would be a stepping stone to law or teaching,” she says.
 
Though Lemcke didn’t end up in the education profession, in many ways she is a teacher. Her first job after college sharpened her interest in this area and prepared her for her future role specializing in developing training and systems. Lemcke took several communications courses in college, which helped her get a job with the university’s telecommunications department. Here she served as a teacher-student liaison and was responsible for maintaining a system that broadcast televised classes to students studying remotely.
 
Lemcke learned a lot from her first post-college job – especially from her former boss, Don McDonough. “I don’t think he knows just how much he’s impacted me,” she says. “If I had an issue he’d say, ‘Don’t come to me unless you already have the answer.’ He always made me realize that no one’s going to help me but me.”

LEADERSHIP 2008

    This is the fifth installment of a weekly series that recognizes six green industry leaders. Lawn & Landscape, along with Bayer Environmental Science, honored these professionals at a reception Oct. 24 at the Green Industry and Equipment Expo in Louisville, Ky.

    Click here to read the welcome letter from Neil Cleveland, Bayer's director of U.S. green services.

Possibly as a result of that experience, and certainly as a result of her upbringing and indoctrination to the Weed Man system, Lemcke carries with her a can-do attitude wherever she goes.
 
GETTING STARTED. Because of their close relationship, Mongeon had shared many details about Weed Man with Lemcke. “I think she began to see the business wasn’t just about fertilizing and controlling weeds and insects,” Mongeon says. “There was a lot of marketing, administration and employee relations, and that intrigued her.” Though Lemcke’s husband-to-be, Chris Lemcke, was studying criminology, he was interested in business, too, as some of his family members are entrepreneurs. By the time Mongeon approached his daughter and future son-in-law about their interest in joining his growing Weed Man network as management trainees, they already knew their answer.
 
Parent-child relationships often can get complicated in business, with favoritism and entitlement at the forefront of many co-workers’ complaints. But the intense training Mongeon gave the couple was more than enough to prevent anyone from thinking Lemcke was getting a free ride. The trainees did everything there was to do at the franchise level – including answering phones, making lawn applications, telemarketing and more.
 
“I may have been harder on her in the sense that I was making sure people didn’t think she only had the job because she was my daughter,” Mongeon says. “I was extremely conscious of that. I wanted her to earn the respect of people before she got the job. Everyone I’ve ever talked to about that issue has said, ‘She’s earned everything she’s got.’”
 
Lemcke calls that experience her greatest asset. “He truly worked us from the bottom of the barrel,” Lemcke says. “When Chris and I opened the next year, our training put us in a great position,” she says. “We knew what to do and how to do it.”
 
Her can-do attitude during that time proved she had a ton of leadership potential, Mongeon says. “She always had a smile on her face.” He recalls an instance when he knew his daughter would flourish in her role. After the year-long training, Lemcke was promoted to manager of the Ottawa franchise. Part of her new role was conducting sales training. Mongeon remembers the first three-hour training session Lemcke was slated to conduct. “I told her I’d do the first hour and a half, and she would take over after the break,” he says. His daughter was nervous, he recalls, unsure how the room of middle-aged men would respond to instruction from a 23-year-old. “When it was her turn, her voice was firm and everyone’s eyes were fixed on her,” says Mongeon, who was confident in his daughter’s abilities because her training had been so thorough. “She was magnetizing. After 15 minutes I called a break and said ‘Jen, you don’t need me.’”
 
Going into the session, Mongeon believed his daughter had the knowledge to succeed, but coming out of it, he knew she possessed that “something extra” that’s the hallmark of a true leader.

MOVING UP. Before Lemcke was promoted to manager of the Ottawa location, Mongeon, who owned franchises in Hull and Montreal, Quebec, had assembled a group of shareholders to expand into Ontario. After forming this group, known as 1051080 Ontario Inc., which is a holding company that operates Weed Man franchises across Canada and subsequently purchased the rights to sell Weed Man franchises across the U.S., with his daughter, son-in-law and a group of family members and friends, the Lemckes went to Ottawa to take over operations of an existing franchise.
 
During their five years in Ottawa, they grew annual revenue from $200,000 to $2 million. Much of their success came from what would become Lemcke’s specialty – developing and implementing standardized training manuals, PowerPoint presentations and ensuring operational consistencies.
 
Next, Mongeon asked the Lemckes to help run the Scarborough office. Part of Lemcke’s duties at this time, during the Y2K scare, were to convert the operations’ existing Unix-based software to a Microsoft platform. Lemcke says her experience on this project working closely with the programmer helped “round out” her management skills.
 
Part of the reason Mongeon brought Lemcke to Scarborough was to assist with the development of Weed Man USA, the rights to which the holding company had acquired from Weed Man founder Des Rice. By August 2000, Lemcke was vice president of operations, helping her father execute his concept of recruiting American lawn care veterans to be regional subfranchisors.
 
During the first year their U.S. franchising arm, known as Turf Holdings, aimed to sell three subfranchises and three franchises. They sold seven and 21, respectively.
 
Today, Lemcke is responsible for training and supporting Weed Man’s 14 U.S. subfranchisors and 100-plus franchisees. In many ways, her current role brings her full-circle to her first job out of college working for the university’s telecommunications department. “In the vein of education – that’s what I do now,” she says.
 
Though she’s been coordinating training programs and managing employees for nearly her whole career, Lemcke says it wasn’t until the time her now 13-year-old daughter started school that she had her “a-ha” moment in managing and communicating with people. “It came to me when I was sitting at the kitchen table with my daughter,” Lemcke says. “She was struggling a bit and needed hands-on work with reading and math. She just wasn’t seeing things the way I was. I came to the realization that I was trying to make her learn like me.” Once Lemcke pinpointed the problem – two different learning styles – she was able to focus on helping her daughter through alternative techniques. “Now she’s a straight-A student,” Lemcke says. “Her strategies are just different than mine.”
 
As a result of such experiences interacting with her children, Lemcke has broadened Weed Man’s training resources. “There are manuals, PowerPoints, Webinars – everything,” she says. “So if you have a different style than I do, you have an opportunity to learn and succeed just like everyone else.”
 
In some ways, motherhood is one of Lemcke’s greatest leadership assets, her husband says. “With employees, just like with our kids, she wants to develop and grow leaders,” he says. “She’s always asking, ‘How can I help to make my children or my employees the best they can be?’”
 
Because she believes people aren’t born leaders – they choose to lead, Lemcke characterizes her own leadership style as  focused on cultivating others’ talents. Part of that requires letting people make mistakes, but being there to help them with the resolution, she says. But before that, you set them up to succeed with the training, systems and tools required to get the job done. “Then you say, conceptually, this is what I want, go and do it. It’s good for people to explore, spread their wings and do what feels right. That’s when they’re apt not to make mistakes,” she says.
 
Lemcke recalls a recent decision to delegate the formation of an internship program to one of her detail-oriented employees. “I knew it was exactly what he would shine at,” she says. “He came up with the most amazing program. We sent it out to universities and associations and received rave reviews.
 
“Putting people in the right spot and giving them the opportunity to shine is a pretty awesome thing,” Lemcke says. “As their confidence grows their outcomes become so much better. The ultimate testimony of you as a person and as a leader is the success of the people around you.”

LEADING THE WAY. People respond to Lemcke and her leadership style for two reasons, Fogarty says: “It’s her positive, reassuring aura coupled with the incredible competence in everything she does.”
 
Others agree that it’s the right mix of intangibles like charisma and an upbeat attitude plus the quantifiable results she delivers that make Lemcke a leader to follow. “Her leadership abilities are probably the best I’ve seen from anyone,” her husband says. “She does everything to the hundredth degree; she makes sure she knows every detail inside and out and she works tirelessly, putting in a lot of hours. Because of that, it’s hard to doubt her.”
 
If you ask her, Lemcke says the greatest influence on her leadership style has been her father. “He’s always taught me to work hard and be fully committed to what you’re doing,” she says. “He’s also shown me that when you run a business, you always do it with integrity because at the end of the day that’s all you have left.”
 
Those around her say Lemcke’s compassion and kindness round out her leadership strengths. “When people talk, she listens completely until she understands,” Chris Lemcke says. “She’s so compassionate – I’ve never seen her be biased to anyone. She’s completely open-minded and that creates an all-around leader.”
 
People not only respect Lemcke, Fogarty says, but they love being around her because of her perpetual smile, reassuring attitude and kindness. He refers to an often-quoted saying that he believes encapsulates Lemcke: “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
 
“That’s Jen Lemcke in one sentence,” he says. “She just cares so much about every person, project, company and association she becomes involved with.”