2004 LEADERSHIP AWARDS: Scott Brickman

As a third-generation CEO, Scott Brickman effectively grows a family business in an age of competition.

Scott Brickman Photo:The Brickman Group

Landscape crewmembers depend on each other. As teams simultaneously tackle mowing, trimming, edging, pruning and more, ensuring that jobs are completed on time, on budget and to the client’s satisfaction. If one crewmember falls behind, others can jump in to bring the team up to speed. When improvements need to be made, all team members push for progress. And when work is done well, everyone joins in the success.

Often behind these teams’ efforts is a single company owner or manager – a leader inspiring employee dedication, but one who rarely gets behind the wheel of a mower. These individuals have paid their dues and worked hard to create quality, growing businesses. The teams work for them now, rather than the other way around.


Name: Scott Brickman

Company: The Brickman Group

Location: Gaithersburg, Md.

Career Highlights:

•Bachelor’s degree, landscape architecture, Penn State University

• Member, Young Presidents’ Organization

• Board Member, Landscape Architecture Foundation

• Member, American Landscape Contractors Association

• Member, American Nursery & Landscape Association

• Member, American Society of Landscape Architects

• Took over CEO responsibilities at The Brickman Group from his father Dick Brickman in 1998


With these two operations models, combining the concepts of teamwork and leadership is difficult. Leaders stand out from a crowd and make definitive decisions, while team members work collaboratively to reach a consensus. When a group of people comes together to work on a project, should any team member choose to go his or her own direction on an issue, that teamwork can be disrupted.

As an organization of nearly 6,000 people, employees of The Brickman Group, Gaithersburg, Md., tread the fine line between working as a team and singling out individuals as branch, regional and corporate leaders. As chief executive officer, Scott Brickman is a leader among leaders and just one collaborator among many as he heads the 65-year-old company where leadership and teamwork collide.

TEAM MEMBER IN TRAINING. Part of the reason Brickman is able to steer his company with a unique combination of leadership and teamwork is because he grew up working alongside other Brickman employees, some of whom are still with the company. "My grandfather started the company in 1939 and my father joined him as a 50/50 partner after receiving his landscape architecture degree," Brickman explains. "I really grew up in the business. I worked every summer in the nursery starting when I was 8 years old."

By age 12, Brickman was allowed to work on job sites with other crewmembers and, starting when he was 14 years old, teamed up with a driver’s license-bearing intern and became a crew leader on a handful of accounts. "At that time, my dad told me that if I was going to work with them, I had to be willing to work harder than the next guy because my name was on the work," he remembers. "In reality, can a 12-year-old work as hard as a man? Probably not, but I tried."

Needless to say, Brickman continued to follow in the horticultural footsteps of his father and grandfather. After receiving a landscape architecture degree in 1985 from Penn State University, he promptly went to back to work – for Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based EDSA.

"I didn’t go back to work with my dad right away because I wanted a little different experience," Brickman says. "Being at EDSA allowed me to work for a company that was an allied business but not a competitor. Plus, my starting salary was $14,000 – I was at the bottom of the totem pole."

THE BUSINESS OF FAMILY. Two years later, in 1987, Brickman returned to The Brickman Group and began to focus on sales and marketing rather than field work. Specifically, he took over leadership of the Baltimore/Washington region. All the while, a close father-son relationship reinforced Brickman’s focus on building and preserving company integrity.

"My father has, far and away, had the greatest impact on my career," he says. "Since I was a kid, he’s been teaching me about leadership, service and values. He’s been a great role model and he still gives me advice, mostly about staying focused on what has made us successful – providing great quality service while nurturing an environment of trust, honesty and respect."

After 65 years, The Brickman Group remains very much a family business. Brickman credits this feat to two guiding principles he learned from his dad. "When making leadership decisions, my father taught me to keep two things in mind," he says. "The first is the Golden Rule – treat others as you would like to be treated yourself – and the second is that the overall health of the team is more important than any one individual." These values were key to certain business decisions in the late 1990s that could have led the company down a different corporate path.

When Brickman took over for his father in 1998, he sold roughly two-thirds of the company to private equity firms that were keen on seeing the company grow. "We ended up making some acquisitions that weren’t as good as others that we have done and that reminded me that we had to slow down and focus on the fundamentals the company was built on," Brickman says.

This meant looking for individuals and companies that share the same values as The Brickman Group. As a result, Brickman’s longtime belief has proven true: Honesty, trust and respect will appeal to the types of people the company needs and when those people join the organization, profits and growth will follow. In the last four years, The Brickman Group has doubled in size and continues to grow by fostering the company’s culture where teamwork and leadership are often one and the same.

"We’ve got around 6,000 employees, so events like our annual managers conference are important to keep people connected to our organization, to our values and to understanding our vision," Brickman says. "Even though we do have a hierarchy, it isn’t so formal that people are afraid to share ideas. We don’t have that kind of whisper-down-the-lane leadership where what I say goes and our employees are trying to play "telephone" to decipher the message. We give people a lot of autonomy so there are hundreds of leaders within our big family."

Indeed, getting a group of Brickman employees together is a lot like a family reunion where catching up with old friends outplays business and financial talk. Brickman notes how proud he is that The Brickman Group has been able to grow dramatically without disrupting the company’s culture. "My No. 1 goal as the company’s leader is to protect and grow our culture of trust, honesty and respect for one another and our dedication to providing outstanding quality, service and value to our customers, as well as our commitment to be a learning organization that strives to constantly improve," he says.

How will Brickman find time to guide such a dynamic vision? With the love and understanding from his own family. "My wife, Patrice, is a huge support and she very much keeps me grounded," he says. "She has a marketing background, so she’s a great sounding board, but more importantly she does a fabulous job of taking care of our 8-, 6-, and 2-year-old daughters and our newborn son – and an incredibly busy house. As soon as I think my job is tough, I look at what she accomplishes in a day and I realize it’s not so tough."

Brickman says he cherishes the time he spends with his family and tries to instill in his children the same values he learned growing up. "The world is a lot different now than it was when I was going to work with my dad, but we’re teaching our kids the same values," he says. "My 8-year-old is in 4-H and shows pigs. She takes care of the animals, cleans out the barn and does all of the work associated with the organization. We know she’s learning about hard work and responsibility. My daughters aren’t concerned with playing in the dirt like I was when I was their age, but my wife and I know they’re gaining a lot from the experience."

INSPIRING OPPORTUNITIES. With a supportive family and a hardworking staff, Brickman successfully implements his own definition of leadership on a daily basis. "I would define leadership as having a vision of what you want to achieve and the ability to get people to follow that vision and take the necessary action to achieve it," he explains. "I believe a great leader sticks to his values and is there to serve and inspires the people he leads."

But Brickman says that inspiring leadership is a reciprocal endeavor. "Other leaders in this company and other companies inspire me," he says. "You can look at this group and say, ‘What a big business,’ but I read Fortune magazine and think that we’re hardly a speck compared to other companies. There are companies out there that make me wonder how people manage the work when there are 50,000 employees or $10 billion in revenue. Seeing how they do it reminds me that we can do it ourselves."

Moreover, Brickman reminds his staff that business mistakes also can inspire great work. "We’re fortunate to have a successful company and a great culture and people who stay with the company for a long time, but we also make a lot of mistakes," he says. "We make business mistakes and people mistakes, but what makes this company what it is is that we always see opportunities where things didn’t go how we had planned and we focus on those – we have the opportunity to continually improve."

For the future of the industry , Brickman sees the need for professionals to band together to promote service, quality and industry improvement. "The biggest challenge we will face will be regulatory with immigration policy being at the top of the list," he says. "The challenges many people faced this year with the H-2B program underscores this. We need to work together to influence these policies through an effective lobbying effort."

Also, Brickman says customer expectations also are more sophisticated now. "We have become more service-oriented as an industry and this is the area where we are going to see the greatest change in expectations and where technology will play a greater role," he says. "It will be an exciting challenge for us to keep up with these expectations, but I believe this is also the best way to grow our industry."

True to form, Brickman calls on the leadership of his colleagues to help boost the industry’s image. As a group, these leaders can inspire awareness and achievement while realizing individual success within their own organizations. Brickman agrees that teamwork and leadership go hand-in-hand. "I am by no means an expert on leadership, but one thing I know is that successful leaders all have great people around them who make them successful," he says. "That’s one thing I have going for me. I am very fortunate to have an incredible team."


1. What is your favorite book on leadership and why?

My favorite book on leadership is Good to Great by Jim Collins. It does a great job describing how great leaders lead and gives compelling examples. It also spells out how to create a great organization. We’ve studied this book extensively and work hard to apply what we have learned within our company. Monday Morning Leadership is another book that gets passed around the company and is really part of our culture. We have book clubs in different regions and it started with my dad who was always passing out books. If you’re not learning, you’re not growing.

2. Who has been the greatest influence on your leadership style and what did he or she teach you?

My father has had the greatest impact on my leadership style. Since I was a kid, he has been teaching me about leadership, service and values. He’s been a great role model for me and continues to give me advice.

I also had the opportunity in the mid-1980s to attend quite a few seminars led by Dr. W.E. Deming and to work extensively with some of the top total quality management consultants in the world. Dr. Deming’s philosophies (see sidebar on page 48) have had a great deal of influence on our organization and on me individually. As a result of Dr. Deming’s influence on our organization, we’ve worked to eliminate internal competition and work as one team.

3. How do you develop leadership skills in your employees?

We start by looking for people who have a passion for doing great work and provide outstanding customer service. We look for people who have proven they can follow through, get things done and earn their team’s respect. We look for leaders who are team players and have the ability to grow other leaders.

4. What has been your biggest leadership challenge and how did you overcome that challenge?

The biggest leadership challenge I’ve faced came when I took over as CEO from my dad. I realized at that point that the most important thing for me to do was to create stability by focusing the team on quality and service – the areas we’ve always focused on. There were a lot of changes going on and I think people were wondering what would happen with me in a new position and with new financial partners coming on board. It was my responsibility to make sure everyone knew that we would be sticking to our core values and that, even though a lot of organizational changes were being made around the company, the values that we stood for as a group would remain intact.

5. In your opinion, what are the top five foundations of being a leader and why are they important?

1. High integrity, trusted, walks the talk

2. Energy, strong bias for action

3. Energizer – ability to motivate and energize others, infectious enthusiasm to maximize organization potential, team builder

4. Competitive spirit, instinctive drive for speed/impact, strong convictions, self-confidence

5. Execution – gets results


With a background in electrical engineering, mathematics and physics, Dr. W. Edwards Deming, has had a profound impact on thousands of businesses and individuals with his philosophies on quality control. Though Deming passed away in 1993, Scott Brickman, chief executive officer of The Brickman Group, Gaithersburg, Md., still refers to the management expert’s 14 Points in both his business and personal lives.


1. Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service with the aim to become competitive, stay in business and provide jobs.

2. Adopt the new philosophy. We are in a new economic age. Western management must awaken to the challenge, must learn their responsibilities and take on leadership for change.

3. Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product.

4. End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag. Instead, minimize total cost. Move toward a single supplier for any one item on a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust.

5. Constantly improve the system of production and service to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs.

6. Institute training on the job.

7. Institute leadership. The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets do a better job.

8. Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company.

9. Break down barriers between departments. People must work as a team to foresee problems that may be encountered.

10. Eliminate slogans, exhortations and targets for the workforce asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations create adversarial relationships. Eliminate quotas on the factory floor and management by objective. Substitute leadership.

11. Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship. Supervisors’ responsibilities must changed from numbers to quality.

12. Remove barriers that rob people in management and in engineering of their right to pride of workmanship.

13. Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement.

14. Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job.

November 2004
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